Current Vexation: Language? Culture? World-building is going splat.


One of the key things on my task list this week has been world-building–specifically culture building–for the novel that I’m planning, A Terrible Thing to Waste. I spent the month of May working on my characters and I had a lot of fun thinking about who they are and what makes them tick. Thinking deeply about their relationships has already given me a few ideas for plot points and conflicts. I know that I’m going to have a lot of fun bringing those characters to life.

I’m having a little trouble with the world that they live in, though. I’m finding myself wondering if I’ve created something problematic. I have a theme and a message that I want to get across, and I want to make sure that the nuance of the message is not lost in a poorly developed world–specifically the relationships between governments that I want and need to create.

I knew that I was going to run into a snag when I started doing this novel planning. I’m grateful for the challenge. I’d much rather figure this out now than get half way through the manuscript to come the conclusion that everything I’ve worked on is problematic, convoluted, and unworkable. Then again, I’m now at a lose of where to go and how to proceed.

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of Holly Lisle and her clinics. Her How to Build a Culture clinic has been helpful to me in the past, so I thought that I’d go back to it for some pointers. She strongly suggests thinking about language first and then figuring out the rest of culture from that. Language, she writes, is the soul of a people. She’s right. I totally agree. But I’m not a fantasy writer, really, though the novel that I’m writing takes place in a world and time of my creation. I’m not trying to write another LOTR. I don’t want a new alphabet and junk. I’m thinking about how I can choose specific words to have powerful meaning, giving a dialect and rhythm to the world that I’m creating without having to start from scratch.

So that’s a frustration at the moment.

There is also a greater problem: I want to think that the project of creating a whole new world will be fun, daring, adventurous. However, I’m finding myself resisting it. I’m worried about cliche, being trite, being boring. I’m trying to think of a way to write a world that is enduring–one that is interesting enough to revisit over multiple books. My logistical mind is stifling my whimsical and creative mind and I don’t know what to do. This works well with flash fictions and short stories (my logistical mind loves parameters) but not so much with novel planning and writing. I must break the barriers I’m putting up for myself!

I’m trying to dedicate June to world-building so I can give myself the entire month of July for plotting. August 1st is my start date. I want to start getting words on that pretty digital paper. Hopefully, after a writing free weekend (shocker!), I’ll have found inspiration and a tool to break the barriers. Though, I must say, it isn’t inspiration that’s holding me back–I’m getting little pops from the Muse seemingly every day–it’s the editor and critic in me that won’t let me move forward…

I hope that your writing this week has been barrier-free! Here’s to a productive end to the week!


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