Viewing Editing as an Opportunity for World-building
I used to hate the thought of editing. In my younger years as a writer, I naively believed my work was perfect in its first form and I churned out new content rather than retouching something preexisting. I have, thankfully, grown and matured as a writer and have come to embrace the process of revisiting my work. Some writers take that process and look to sever words from their beloved manuscripts. I take a different approach, diving in with an eye on what I can add to my manuscript. Yes, I do make cuts, but I often add far more words than I remove. How does that happen? Because I look to expand my world-building during each revision.
I am a pantser all the way when it comes to writing. Sure, I sketch out some details and overall arcs in my mind, but I have nothing resembling an outline before the words begin to hit the page. I know where the story begins, its likely ending, and a few of the major things to touch upon along the way. So it should come as no surprise that my initial draft tends to be heavy on action. That is how I am wired, and the way my mind sees things: a chain of events unfolding over the course of the story. So it should also be no surprise that some of those other aspects of a story, such as dialogue and world-building, tend to be a little hollow at the end. It is something I am consciously working on improving as a writer, but there is something rewarding about adding information during the revision process. And something exciting about adding extra chapters that generate new encounters based upon that world-building.
There are so many aspects to a fantasy world. To be aware of them all, and consider everything ahead of time, would be overwhelming. There are many parts of the world that I probably need to know and be aware of, yet at the time the reader may not have any need to know about it. If the world-building adds to the character development or the plot in some way, it not only needs to stay but probably should get some focus for expansion. If it does not add to those things, I must consider the purpose it serves. If it is to stage the setting for a new location, then I need to make sure I have a good balance between providing information to the reader so they can envision the area, but not so much that they get bogged down with the unimportant details.
I’m currently reading the Wheel of Time series for the first time, and I think it serves as an excellent example for world-building. There is so much information in here. Robert Jordan clearly knew his world and many details and nuances within. Characters have traits and quirks that appear time and again to help define them in unique ways. It is a masterful series for details and description and there are many times where it works very well to create great depth that allows the reader to feel immersed. Yet it also has times where there are pages where the focus is so much on world-building to where the story itself takes the backseat and stalls. The series could also be used as a case study for balancing action with character development – there are entire books where nothing significant really happens until the final quarter of the book – but that would be another topic for another post.
Immersion without overload. That is the experience you want to provide for your readers when it comes to the world you are crafting. Give them a taste of the world you have created, direct them toward the areas and details that are significant in some way to your characters or the plot. But don’t let them overindulge on the details. Some readers will want to know more, but many will enjoy that balance which allows them to envision your world without detracting from the pacing of the story. The editing process is the time when I like to take a long, hard look at this area of my story and either add, or remove, details depending on the relevance and importance of those to the story.
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When do you do your world-building? Is it something you plan out ahead of time or are you more like me, where those things just fall in place as you go and get expanded upon as you revisit your work?