Writer Woes: An abundance of details

Sorry, needlessly complicated subplot. We're gonna have to let you go.
Sorry, needlessly complicated subplot. We’re gonna have to let you go. (creative commons, source: wikipedia)

This is the second part of my response to this blog post, asking about writing woes.

I write fantasy. And because it isn’t rooted in our world, that means I have spent a whole lot of time worldbuilding.

My current WIP deals with the interaction of three separate countries, as well as the influence of a fourth country that’s only mentioned in passing. Each of those countries has a dominant religion (or in Tarlam’s case, several dozen religions vying for dominance), creation myths, geography, technology, primary imports and exports, unique social structures, languages, taboos, dominant attitudes toward gender and sexuality, histories, virtues, vices, etc, etc, etc.

Each of the characters has their own backstory which shapes his or her attitudes and behaviors– and these actions have consequences. Some of those backstories overlap and influence other characters.

What’s frustrating is that many of these details will never see the light of day. I’ll know them, but they’re not relevant to the plot, so often they will sink beneath the surface, becoming little more than currents and subtexts. Sometimes one of the biggest writer woes is the struggle to know what to cut, especially when you really liked it.

Here’s an example from DREAMKEEPER:

Twenty years ago, one of the major characters helped send a ship full of refugees to a neutral country. While some of those refugees went into hiding, others banded together to form a resistance against the forces that drove them from their homes. The son of one of those resistance fighters grew up to become a spy, and planted himself as a footman in the same house as Aren, the protagonist. For years now, Aren’s been mistaking his attention for a crush, when in reality he’s been doing surveillance on her.

He’s still in her household, keeping watch– but in more than 100k words, he gets mentioned maybe twice. He doesn’t even have any lines. Because while he and the resistance are effective elsewhere, they don’t actually influence Aren’s story. And that means they got the ax.

Me, I like to think his story was interesting. But that’s what they’re talking about when they say to murder your darlings.

What about you? Have you had to cut any characters or subplots like these? Here’s a chance to share the darlings that might not get to see the light of day!

The thing about originality

I was just scrolling through my Reader on WordPress when I spotted this blog post, about a book called THE DREAM KEEPER, which involves a creature called a shifter.

In case you haven’t heard, my WIP is tentatively called DREAMKEEPER, and features a race of people called shifters. 

There was a time when this coincidence would have royally freaked me out. What if my idea really isn’t original after all? What if people confuse the two books? What if–

You get the picture. 

Image
I’m pretty sure that book doesn’t have one of these either… but that may have more to do with the fact that I can’t really draw.

These days, though, I just chuckle and take a closer look. Beyond the surface details, Mikey Brooks’ THE DREAM KEEPER has nothing to do with my story. One is a modern MG, the other is a NA that takes place in a pseudo-Edwardian war zone. They both spend a significant time dealing with dreams, but for completely different reasons, and with completely different rules attached. Though both may have some similar themes (like trusting your enemies), they’re entirely different interpretations on those themes.

I once took a writing class in college where three of us wrote stories to turn in on the same week, and completely independently we all came up with a story that revolved around a god masquerading as an elderly homeless man (okay, so in one story he was the patron deity of the homeless, but he still looked like one). But aside from sharing that detail (and a few other details that naturally accompany such subject matter) we all had overwhelmingly different stories. One was a reflection of Zen Buddhism, one was an epic adventure, one was more of a Hans Christian Andersen-style fairy tale.

And that’s the beauty of creativity.

 It’s said that there is no true originality– everything is just a rehash of something else. As Mark Twain said, “What a good thing Adam had–when he said a good thing, he knew nobody had said it before.”

But just because a subject has been tackled before doesn’t make it off limits. Nobody has every tackled that subject quite the way you will. And the more you study the works of others, the more you can learn which ways a thing has already been done, and which directions they haven’t yet thought to twist it. 

The things you learn when researching!

The things you learn when researching!
English: Giant Haast's eagle attacking New Zea...
Giant Haast’s eagle attacking New Zealand moa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My current WIP involved shapeshifters, and Michelle brought up a good question: Why doesn’t a shapeshifter just pick up the protagonist and fly her off, Hobbit-style, to where he needs to go?

I considered it a simple issue of physics: in order to pick up and carry an adult human, you’d need enormous wings, and eventually you get big enough that muscles wouldn’t be able to move them.

For reference I used the albatross, which is enormous but can only carry very small loads, and the extinct Haast’s eagle, which was believed to eat moa birds and occasionally human children before its main food source was hunted to extinction by the Maori several hundred years ago. Though it was relatively huge (roughly 45 lbs), it looks like it didn’t carry off its pray so much as dive at it, maul it like a tiger, and then eat it where it had fallen.

Now, I was under the impression that the Haast’s eagle was the largest predatory bird.

Turns out I was wrong. Continue reading “The things you learn when researching!”