What I Learned From Taking a Break

For a while after I had my baby, I was okay with not writing.

After a few months, I felt I should be able to get in a few hundred words a day, but I couldn’t. I felt lazy. Writers write every day. That’s what makes them writers. This maxim mocked me, making me feel even worse and lazier. I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. Who was I if I wasn’t a writer?

I started to think: maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Maybe I was just meant to be a crocheter, reader, and Facebook-scroller. So I applied myself whole-heartedly to those tasks.

Weeks went by. I crocheted feverishly (during naps). My projects earned me admiration from friends and strangers. It feels nice to be praised. To say, “Yes, I did,” when someone asks, “Did someone make that for your baby?”

But it’s just not quite satisfying enough for me.

I kept thinking about my story. About the characters, their struggles, thoughts, fears, friendships. Now and then I did some more research on birds and gliding. And two weeks ago I got back to work, not because I needed to “be a writer,” but because I love my stories. I’ve never been one to write “every day” (except during NaNoWriMo-induced frenzies and one crazy summer), but you know what? I think that’s ok. For me. For now.

How many times do I have to learn that it’s all about balance?

‘Till it sticks, I guess

Happy Yarning.

Family Dynamics in Fiction

family blur

With my in-laws in town this week, I’ve been thinking of fictional families and how to go about writing them. I’m lucky to have grown up in a family where we all got along well the majority of the time, and I have awesome in-laws. With this background, I tend to write very “functional” families. It sometimes bothered me that lots of families in fiction are stuffed full of conflict.

But in recent years, my immediate family has been afflicted with a few falling-outs. I’ve come to see that while I, as a rather easy-going person, never had much conflict with family members, there was sometimes tension between members of my family that I was unaware of until it erupted later.

So even my “ideal” family had tensions and conflicts.

Here are my thoughts:

First of all, give your characters families. It’s easy to make an orphan or estranged character with no ties to family. It simplifies the story. But in reality, there are very few of these loners. Even Harry had the Dursleys, and Pip had Joe and Mrs. Joe.

While family doesn’t need to play a large role in every story, you should know about your characters’ families and how interactions with them have shaped your characters.

Ask questions:

Where is there tension? Where is there not tension?

How severe is the tension, and is the main character aware of it?

Does it affect the plot? How?

My main advice for writing realistic families (and I need to be better at following this myself) is to avoid extremes. Don’t just write a perfectly loving and always understanding and tolerant family, or a completely dysfunctional and always bickering family. Both of these are parodies. Find the balance in between that is suitable for your character’s family, and let them influence him/her.

Just some thoughts.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

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Despite the growing number of books I already own that I still need to read, it’s always fun to pick something random off the library shelf and be delighted by it.

This story explored mirrors and multiple layers of reality, and it kept me intrigued all the way through.

The magic system and its costs were never described in minute detail, but neither did the magic become a deus ex machina when it was used to solve problems. Neumeier struck a balance that I’d like to figure out how to strike myself.

I’d recommend The City in the Lake for preteens and up.

How Much Worldbuilding is Too Much Worldbuilding?

Can you build your fictional world too much? Not really, no.

The more you know about the culture, customs, geography, dialects, religion, mythology, technology, creatures, magic, and what-have-you of your world, the more you’ll be able to make that world three dimensional for your readers.

You can think of your world in three “dimensions”: Geography, Culture, and Conflict. Pretty much any facet of your world can be stuck under one of those.

Here’s a lovely graphic:

worldbuilding in three dimensions copy

It’s important to develop in all three of these dimensions as you build your world. Also, the dimensions need to be balanced. Drawing a really neat map isn’t much good if it makes no sense in the context of the culture you built; coming up with a language for your main character’s society doesn’t help much if it’s incongruous with conflicts and changes in the society’s history.

Consider how the three dimensions affect each other. For example:

  • How do waterways affect your main character’s society? (Geography -> Culture)
  • How do barrier-type landforms, resource-rich regions, or climate affect current and past conflicts? (Geography -> Conflict)
  • How do religious or cultural differences between groups affect borders? (Culture -> Geography)
  • Do different versions of history create conflict between groups? (Culture -> Conflict)
  • What battle-scars or ruins have been left on the face of your land? (Conflict -> Geography)
  • What group does your main character’s society ridicule or fear because of past interactions? (Conflict -> Culture)

While we all like a well-developed world, character is almost always what keeps readers reading. Whether you build a character within an existing world or you build a world around an existing character, consider how the geography, culture, and conflict affects him or her.

You can’t do “too much” worldbuilding, but you definitely can do too little writing. Nobody’s going to care about your world unless you tell a story (even J. R. R. Tolkien had to tell stories to get people to care about Middle Earth). If you find yourself worldbuilding as a way to procrastinate writing actual words, stop. You’ve got enough to go on. Finish your first draft, and then go back to building the world. Revise accordingly.

In addition, while it never hurts for you to know more about your world, don’t bombard your readers with facts and histories that aren’t critical to the plot of your story. Again, nobody cares how such-and-such overthrew such-and-such unless there’s a story with engaging characters. Maybe you can write more books in the same world to tell those stories, maybe your readers will never know, or maybe someone will publish your notes Silmarillion-style after you’re dead. Either way, resist the urge to explain.

Happy Worldbuilding!