The Short Version
tl;dr? I suck at world building but can’t seem to imagine on a smaller scale and it’s really depressing.
And I don’t usually abbreviate things here, but I’m going to in an attempt to save you from a typing hemorrhage of epic proportions. So click at your own risk to see the inner workings of my brain…
If you clicked that and you’re here, apologies in advance. I promise I’m not usually so angsty and crazy (at least not in public) and depressing – I try to keep things here entertaining, at the very least. But I just have to, have to get these thoughts out of my head where they’re greedily crowding everything else out of the way.
So. Turns out that the major road blocks I’m coming up against are the very basics of the stories I’m trying to write. Mary was pretty easy – all I had to deal with there were the limitations of Victorian England. But the two that I’m mulling over at the moment are fairly grand in scale because they involve magic and versions of the world in which things are just slightly, but still drastically, different. And why is that an obstacle?
Because you have to, like, come up with all the rules, especially when magic is involved which basically comes down to fucking with the very laws of physics! I mean, in my AU!WWII plot, they’ve got to be controlling the elements (you know, fire, air, earth, and water).
- What are the limits of their powers?
- Can everybody do it? Can only some people do it?
- Depending on the answers to those questions, how are people who can (or can’t, as the case may be) do it regarded?
- What are the parameters of their powers? What circumstances, if any, are necessary for their use?
- How does the existence of these powers affect society? Do they still have electricity? Running water? Cars? Or have we gone sort of steampunk because the fact that they can control the elements has put them on a completely different track invention-wise – like how China didn’t have glass for centuries because they invented, well, china instead? See, Europeans drank more wine which is pretty to look at so they invented glass for drinking out of which lead to things like windows and lenses and telescopes, so if these characters are not at the mercy of the elements, what sort of ramifications does that have for the world they live in as a whole? (Thanks to QI for the fascinating bit about glass vs. china!)
In my gold rush plot, I think it’s only the bounds of imagination that are their limits. But does that make them too godlike? And the answer to that question can be yes, they are godlike, so what? but you have to answer it like YES, THEY ARE GODLIKE, SO WHAT? But that’s no fun if everybody’s a Mary Sue. So then what are the rules? What are the limitations?
- Are the things they imagine real?
- Can they actually affect the real world if they’ve just been imagined into creation? Or is it all just sleight of hand and bluffs to use things that have been imagined?
- Do you have to consciously imagine something into creation or do you just suddenly find yourself face to face with the idle thoughts of your daydreams? Because I can’t see how anybody would get anything done if that were the case. I mean, think of all the fun things, yes, but think of all the random, horrific things that cross your mind, too. How long do they exist once they’ve been imagined?
- Again. Physics. You can’t create something from nothing, so how does that all work if you can?
- How long do they last? Just as long as you’re consciously thinking about them (if that’s how they come to be) or once you imagine it, is that it? Are you stuck with, you know, an eight-legged tiger that eats cotton candy and only quotes Shakespeare for the rest of your life?
- Could that eight-legged tiger that you imagined kill you? Could it kill somebody else? To what extent is it REAL? If you were hungry, could you imagine up some grub and would it actually sustain you?
- Same as above, how does the existence of this type of magic affect society?
I mean, a lot of the questions that you have to deal with are pretty obvious, but you still have to sit down and figure out how your alteration of the world affects the tiniest things because that way massive plot holes lie. And people will notice!
I’m trying to come up with just a nice, simple, quiet story because those are good, too. Something that just needs characters and a reason for them to be interesting enough to warrant their own story. That’s it. No fancy-schmancy worlds or magic or anything. For example, I want to write an epistolary novel – always have. But even though I JUST WANT TO GET SOMETHING, ANYTHING, ON PAPER because it has actually been, like, THREE YEARS since I finished Mary and I haven’t written a single thing since then, I CAN’T. And that’s just depressing. I can’t be a writer if I can’t write anything. But every time I sit down to do it, I have this weird feeling like my thoughts are moving too fast and I can’t corner one long enough for me to make sense of it. It’s like it’s there, but I just can’t reach it. SO FRUSTRATING I CAN’T EVEN BEGIN TO EXPLAIN.
So instead I scribble on post-it notes in an attempt to try and empty out my head a bit, I read about Holmes, I read other books, I watch TV, I spend way too much time on my computer, I write things here, and I bake things that I don’t need to have around the house all in an attempt to have excuses for not being able to get my thoughts together long enough to get them on paper.
Maybe I’m not a writer after all.