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Creating depth in fiction

I’ve been reading a whole lot lately, and been exposing myself to some really well evolved worlds, which I think is excellent for my own writing, and has come at the perfect time.

Chasing Ascension‘s world was flat. The plot and characters were rich and interesting, exciting to write about, but the world I placed them in? Wow… I don’t think I’ve ever done so badly before. This is where a little more planning would have come in handy!

Except that on other occasions I have written by the seat of my pants and had the world fall into place around me – the Resurgence Trilogy is an example of that, but then perhaps that’s because the first book had been floating around in my mind (and been written in quite a different way when I was about 13) for more than a decade.

I think I was expecting that to happen this time around as well, but the reality is that the world I started out in and the world I really want my novel to be in are pretty different. It’s going to take a bit of work to change everything over, but I know I can get there in the end.

For me, this has really highlighted where I need to spend more time. I’ve never been an in depth planner (and probably never will be), but I do need to spend more time thinking about/visualizing the different aspects of the world that my novel is set in.

I have another novel idea brewing, it will be interesting to see whether the time it’s been given to develop will help overcome this little problem I have. I kind of think it will – which means I need to find a way to stop being so impatient to begin putting words on the page. I don’t want to be a writer who has to go back and add all these layers on the second draft, though admittedly that’s where I feel I’m at right now.

How long do you spend planning your novels? Are your worlds thought out in depth or do you just let the story guide you? And how much do you find yourself having to add in on a rewrite?

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14 thoughts on “Creating depth in fiction”

  1. I like world building, but it takes a lotta work, I think. And for me, it’s a matter of trying to create a world that I haven’t already read somewhere else. That makes it even harder. I almost never satisfied with world building either, so it’s something that never ends up done, because you can always do more.

    1. yeah, you can always do more that’s true, and you can totally get caught up in building a world and then not actually get any writing done!

  2. World building is great fun, it is the one time you have total control over the universe and I like that. Well over ninety percent of the planning and ideas I have for the world never actually make it into the story because my stories are character driven and I’m not going to slow them down by filling in paragraphs of world description that make no difference to the story anyway. But I think, by my knowing so much about the world, I write about it in a genuine way and it makes it more alive for the reader.

    1. I totally agree! You should definitely know more about your world than you put into your stories. While it can be tempting to put in all the snippets of info you have, it’s not really necessary to the story most of the time

  3. I tend to spend a fair amount of time planning my book before I get started. With the world building, I have started writing a separate document that just focuses of describing and explaining everything I know about the world before I get started as I found out I was doing way too much info-dumping in the first few chapters. Writing out everything I can about the world kind of helps me get it out of my system in a way so that I can then limit myself to letting the world unfold more naturally with the characters and story.

    Having said that, the world always expands and evolves as I write. No matter how much planning I do, characters always end up exploring new places and I get more and better ideas as I go along in the story.

    1. that sounds like a good idea, writing everything you know down before you start, would certainly remove the temptation to info dump – might have to try that I think 🙂

  4. Something I saw a couple of writers doing at a retreat once has always intrigued me. One of them described the world from her new book and the other interviewed her about it. It was semi-formal but the questions were probing and very soon started to reveal many areas where the world simply hadn’t been thought through in any depth.

    I’m having a similar conversation right now with my editor over my novel TimeSplash. Luckily, I’m a world-building fanatic and I can respond with plenty of detail to every query. But I would absolutely hate to reach this point and find there were gaps or, worse still, inconsistencies!

    1. For sure, I’ve had some of those conversations with readers – it’s a great way to highlight where your plot is falling down as well as where your world isn’t quite up to scratch.

      Do you find that you learn more about your world as you go or do you tend to build it completely before you start writing?

  5. I’m a broad-brush type worldbuilder. I put down the essentials, then let the rest develop as I write. I loathe writing pages and pages of dry statistics.

    Of course, this means I often have to go back and tweak scenes when I change my mind about something…

    1. haha yeah that’s me as well! It makes rewriting essential. I think my problem this time around is that somewhere along the way, I changed my world drastically and I’m having trouble meshing things up again.

  6. Mine definitely develop more as I go, too, though like Merrilee, I do put down the essentials beforehand. It’s not that things change in the world; as I go, it’s just that it becomes more vivid. Colors and details fill in what was originally a bare-bones pencil sketch. When they do, it’s fun. I like watching ideas sharpen before my eyes, and if I do have to change things, it’s usually for the better.

    I like Graham’s idea of conducting an interview about your world; I think it would be helpful and interesting to hear someone else’s questions, if for no other reason than to get out of my own head.

    Also, like Cassandra, most of what I plan doesn’t make it into the novel, but just knowing what is there helps me write a more rich tip-of-the-iceberg for people to see.

    1. Sounds like you have a good method, one that works for you! I can see similarities with the way I normally do things – this novel is the exception to the rule for me.

      I definitely recommend letting someone else question you about your novel! It’s so helpful! Even if the answers don’t make it into the writing, the fact that you have answers helps keep your storylines straight and your world from crumbling around you.

  7. I find my worlds are extremely flat, first time through. I can create semi-interesting characters in the first drafts and plump them up later, but my worlds are always drab and boring until draft 3/4.

    This is probably due to me never planning anything further than the next chapter =P

    1. hehe, planning… the bane of some writers lives 😉 I never used to plan at all, these days I do some outlining and thinking ahead, even if a lot of that doesn’t make it onto paper.
      At least you know that everything gets better with time!

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