This post is about 600 words.
Seven years ago, I was shoveling my driveway for the third time in twenty-four hours. A blizzard was sweeping across the upper Midwest, making up for the lack of snow we’d had that season. I was happy for its arrival. The snow, not the blizzard.
I have a routine when clearing the driveway: first define the edges, then push the snow outwards from the middle. That day, it struck me as analogous to how I wrote fantasy fiction, which was different than the way I wrote everything else. I thought I needed to approach fantasy by rigidly defining all aspects of the world before filling in the storyline. I felt I needed to know the limitations of my realm, which really seems counter-intuitive for a story designed to exist completely outside our own reality. Here’s a quick list of the things I wanted to create first:
Races, political history, creation myths, alphabet and language, folklore, weapons, armor, architecture, landscapes and geography, clothing and fashion, fighting styles, music and poetry, racism, and heroic legends
That’s a monumental amount of detail to develop before the main character begins the Hero’s Journey. Even though some story ideas blossomed from this world-creation, I struggled getting to the serious writing before I’d defined every aspect of my new world. Until I’d found the edges.
That’s the real reason I never got far in my original fantasy novel. But man, oh man, I really enjoyed defining those things, which is part of the trap, right? It’s exhilarating to play god in your own little world, even if the devil is in the details. I might have put down 100,000 words on paper, but more than half were notes and definitions and guidelines and rules, rules, rules.
Consequently, I abandoned that epic fantasy novel, despite having created several maps, dozens of characters, and components of everything else on my aforementioned list. It was the right decision. It was too big for me and was going to get in the way of the rest of my life.
I knew I would eventually return to this world when I was ready.
Seven years later, on another snowy December day, a familiar sound rode upon the winds that howled along the streets and whistled through doors. Over the rising mounds of snow in the distance, strange figures began to appear. The giants were descending from their mountain refuges. Dragons had returned to the world. I had a new hero: a young girl clutching a walking stick and a sling – a pocketful of rocks to defend herself against a monster of living stone. The creative gears in my head had begun turning again.
I was ready.
Eight months and 97,000 words later, I’ve discovered that the edges have to be nothing more than clouds of fog on the horizon. They’re fuzzy, undefined. I’ll explore some directions now, saving others for later. I won’t know how far I can travel – or how interesting this are – until I start moving. And while new vistas become visible as I journey farther and farther, still that undefined region remains tantalizingly out of reach.
I understand that I must persevere when I suddenly don’t know the history of the Dorin clan or the etymology of the Dwarvish language. I’ll define these things as I go. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Eventually, I will reveal enough to present an entire world to readers.
And even then, I might still not have reached that precious edge of my reality.
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© Michael Wallevand, August 2016