Sticking a Toe Back in the Water, and Worldbuilding

8 12 2011

Yesterday (or was it the day before?), somewhere 40k feet above the Pacific, I brought out my NaNo novel one more time, and it was next to impossible to get back in the groove. I went back several thousand words and re-read to the end (which isn’t the end at all), and jumped back in… and was completely uninspired.

It isn’t my intention that this turn into a whinge, so I’ll get to the point. I stopped working on the story, and turned my attention to the beings and the world that are my setting.

Late last week I had an idea – why not set this novel on earth… but in the Eocene epoch? First – why the Eocene? Because I was basing a large mammal (the sarkkussan) in my novel on the Andrewsarchus, which lived during that time. But that created a problem, because the Eocene falls after the K-T extinction event, which resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. The Umgonnan are rather saurian – dragon-like creatures – so wouldn’t they be extinct, too?

Um. well. No. Not necessarily… because it seems that they are some kind of proto-bird, and the saurian progenitors of the birds survived the K-T extinction event. So far so good.

If I choose to set the novel in that epoch, then the physical world is built. Simply surfing around Wikipedia I can learn about the landmasses of the time, the way the climate was, the way the climate changed over time, they way plate techtonics shaped the world during that epoch… everything. And last week I was in Half-Price Books selling some books that I needed to ditch, and I found a 5th edition of a textbook on all the above for $10 – the 6th edition goes for $130.

All that being said… I’m still not sure that’s the way to go. The Umgonnan are not based on any actual Eocene creatures (after all, they have eight limbs – four legs, two arms, and two wings!), and using actual historically verifiable denizens of the forests and plains of their planet might doom the scientifically-minded reader to confusion.

Since that is completely unsettled in MY mind right now, I started writing a detailed physical description of the Umgonnan, clarifying for myself exactly what it is that I’m seeing in my mind’s eye. I enjoyed the process, easily writing 1500 words, which morphed from a simple physical description to an outline of 2000 years of cultural history, and the relationship of the four main culture groups of the ‘people’. I plan on continuing that process in the coming days, as well as using Holly Lisle’s book on Language Building to make naming things easier.

What do you think about using a prehistoric era as a setting? How has worldbuilding worked for you? Are you able to get back into your Nano novel after setting it aside for a while? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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8 responses

8 12 2011
Rebecca Stanfel

I’ve never set any of my work in prehistoric times (or any other times except the present, except for some non-fiction magazine articles on historical topics). I admire your courage. Science fiction/fantasy/historical fiction have always daunted me. Your willingness to dive into research and let your imagination carry you is impressive.

However, I have had the experience of re-reading my work for the first time and not liking it as I first wrote it. Reframing it in a different time and place might be what you end up doing. I would caution you, though, not to make too many decisions on your Nano project right away. I always hate everything I write at first. I’ve been afraid to read my own magazine pieces, after they’ve been published and even won an award or too. Usually, after enough time has passed to clear my mind, I can return to a piece and like it. I wonder if it’s too soon to be tearing apart your Nano project? And reading on an airplane seems stressful too. Just a thought…

Whatever you decide to cut, tweak, or rewrite, don’t forget to celebrate your huge accomplishment of finishing Nano. You have a draft! Impressive!

I’m intrigued by word building. I am off to explore your link now.

Rebecca

9 12 2011
Julia Indigo

Thanks for the reply, Rebecca, and the caution. I’m not going to make huge changes in the novel just yet. And I *am* celebrating! I have 50k more words, and the beginning of a darned good story to show for my effort. I’m not tearing into my novel, I was trying to get back into the writing groove to finish it. I think I’m about 3/4 of the way to the end of the plot, and I have a good idea of what’s happening in the end.

I take that back. I don’t know the ending yet. That’s a problem. I need to get down with some plotting before I can actually finish it.

Right now it’s a ‘zero’ draft, not even deserving the name of a first draft. I was writing to get to the 50k words for Nano, and when I got there, I’d put off so much stuff that I needed to stop writing.

But writing this reply helped me realize, of *course* I don’t know where to go with the writing! I got to the end of my plotting, and that was that.

My reasoning for setting this up as a fantasy is that I didn’t want to do the research necessary for it to be Historical Fiction! That *boggles* my mind. At least with fantasy you’re making it up out of whole cloth, and there are no picky details to attend to… unless you’re writing a series… and then you’d better have made good notes! 😀

9 12 2011
Content Writers

Great post thanks. I really enjoyed it very much.

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9 12 2011
Julia Indigo

Thanks! I’ll check it out!

9 12 2011
Karen McFarland

Well Julia, I am amazed that you are blogging on your vacation! Flying over the Pacific huh? Would you be in the Hawaiian Islands or perhaps New Zealand or Australia? No telling.

My hat is off to you for writing and creating other worlds. I write in the present. That seems hard enough for me.

Have a great time on your trip and see you when you return! 🙂

9 12 2011
Julia Indigo

Karen, it would be Oz. I have a close friend who lives here, and that’s the only way I can afford to come – Sydney is expensive!
And as far as blogging on my vacay: If I’m going to build a social media platform for myself as a writer, I can’t really afford to be haphazard about it. I just started this blog, and it was almost nuked immediately due to NaNo. My desire is to present halfway decent content (I hope to get into some book reviewing in 2012), and if I don’t follow through, it won’t happen, and I won’t have any readers.
I enjoy blogging, though. It’s not work for me, more like having a chat with some friends. My problem is keeping up with comments, twitter, and OMG my live.com email addy. I’ve subbed to many blogs, and I want to keep up with them! 😮 The problem is that when I sub to the comments on one of Kristen Lamb’s posts – my email is DESTROYED. And most of the comments are saying the same thing. I like that my commenters are so varied. Oh heavens, then there’s Facebook. I have an account under my real name, and now one under this (pen) name… and I can barely keep up with my original one. And my dog has one too! And the protag from my first book! LOL o_O

My first book is set in the modern-day US, covering 1980-2013 (one person’s adventures), so I know what you mean about it being hard enough to write in the present! I did have fun researching what kind of mac computers my protag would have been using in 1994-5, though. LOL Thank heavens for the Internet!

And thank YOU for reading my blog ramblings, and commenting! I really appreciate it!

10 12 2011
Samantha Warren (@_SamanthaWarren)

I say go for it! It’s fiction, and you have a certain leeway there. You could always use that time as a guide, but not specifically state that it happened then. People will get the idea, but they won’t expect it to be exact.

11 12 2011
Julia Indigo

I like that idea, Samantha. Of course, there would be no way to say “this is occurring during the Eocene”, because the characters would not call it that – to them it’s the present! 😀

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