World-building and storytelling

Posting has been light while I’ve tried to meet my goal of finishing the first draft of my novel in six months.  I probably won’t make it, but I’ll come close.

This is a sequel to my novel The Portal, and the experience of writing it is interestingly different from my previous effort: writing another novel in The Last P.I series, which turned out to be Where All the Ladders Start.  Both novels are science fiction, but Where All the Ladders Start uses a future world (and a set of characters) that I’ve already created. The challenge in writing it was coming up with another mystery plot (or two) for my protagonist to get involved in.

The sequel to The Portal takes place in a parallel (or alternative, or maybe alternate) universe.  It’s an adventure story rather than a mystery, so the plot doesn’t have to be as tightly wound as that of Where All the Ladders Start.  But I have to do a whole lot of world-building for it, and that offers its own difficulties.  There are two things that have been happening in the course of the first draft:

First, I keep coming up with new ideas about the world.  Some are just local color to give the novel added depth; others are dictated by the plot (which, as usual, has veered off in unexpected directions as I write).  All that stuff needs to be worked into the second draft. This is pretty much business as usual.

Second, and more interesting, there’s material I wanted to work into the novel, but I never seemed to find the right place for it.  Now what?  Will I have better luck in the second draft?  The problem I’m having is the world-building does not always play well with storytelling.  For example, at one point in the draft I thought I had reached a good spot in the book where a character could spend a few pages giving some needed background, but my writing group gave the scene a unanimous thumbs-down: it slowed the action too much, I was informed.  Ditch the exposition and ramp up the conflict. The best science fiction novels make integrating the description of the fictional world with the action of the plot seem natural; but it’s hard work.  At least for me.  The challenge of the second draft is going to be making that hard work look effortless.

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2 thoughts on “World-building and storytelling

  1. Hmm… maybe you could use the background material for a few informative short tales set in the world of The Portal before Portal’s published? Not treading on the plot skirts of the new book, but showing us a little more info about the world in a short story or even a flashfic or two? And explaining that it’s from the same world as your forthcoming book?

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  2. I’m terrible at figuring out where to work wordbuilding in. I don’t even know how to describe what my characters look like. It feels like if I take more than a sentence or two to describe them, it breaks up the flow of the piece.

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