Despite my better judgment, I have decided to initiate a lengthy project near and dear to the sort of work I want to be doing.
There is a discrepancy with the yearning I feel for some stories and my judgment of them. I, like some do, have taken exception to the writers who created book after book within the same world. Is it a lack of creativity? A fear of being able to sell it? Stand-alones get more credit than serials, and who’s interested in the same world with separate characters?
This wasn’t a conscious cynicism, which makes it all worse. I have long been aware of my so-called ‘guilty pleasures’—the way that I somewhat look down on something that brings me joy—and am not too happy about it, but it didn’t mean I always logically sit back before judging a book and saying, “Am I just being hypercritical? You’re prone to that, you know.” I realize people aren’t going to give me any more benefit of the doubt than I was capable of.
But the truth is my world building has always been lacking. It was about characters first and foremost, then plot, all set in a moderately interesting but decorative backdrop without an abundance of political intrigue.
I did not write about heroes; I wrote about humans.
And for a while, that was fitting. I wrote about what I cared about, and I’ve never been one to idealize impressive battles or Chosen One abilities. It wasn’t why I was reading those books.
But being honest with myself, the more I accept that my work would be closer to the stories that inspired me if I amped it up, raised the grander stakes, broadened the history, and just made it all the more magical. Yes, it’s still about the characters, but it could be more than just that. Writing in low-density fantasy with only humans and monsters that come from them, it’s sort of limiting me in my visual impact.
I recently started re-reading Girl Genius for the third time, a fantasy web comic that has been ongoing for around 13 years. It’s one of those things that gets better each go through, some of the foreshadowing and historical references not meaning much to you the first time you see them.
Slight spoiler, the protagonist’s parents are heroes of multiple legends and as I read along the more I want to see her father and uncle in action. The more I want to “meet” them, understand their real stories outside of what people are saying. It feels like there’s an entire other comic that exists in the creators’ heads (and maybe there is), and I’d love to see it.
I’ve discussed this idea more and more in recent posts, citing that the commitment is far too great, especially considering my low productivity in recent years along-side the fact that you simply can’t count on selling big scope projects; it’s a better idea to take it one book at a time.
Yet, at the same time, I have been reflecting on the happiness and creative success I felt creating as a teen versus as an adult, and one of my biggest issues is my obsession with not wasting time and matching expectation. I don’t criticize all of that—because of my desire to appear credible, my skills and control have increased greatly—however, you can take it to a certain point where you lose all flavor, inspiration, and spontaneity and come up with an acceptable blotch of homogenization.
Short and short of it, today I sat back and reflected on the kind of writing I wanted to be doing, the work that made me feel best, analyzing my intense jealousy/yearning of wondrous stories and what I could do about it.
I am starting a series of compendiums—stories set in the same world, starting from its incarnation and going down through generations. I make no promises with it, of course, as it will not take over from my other projects, and I imagine it will be years in the making with no hard end in sight. Each novel will be a story into itself, new characters, new problems, but they will affect each other, progress, regress, evolve, making the reader feel like he is watching a child grow up.
The characters will go to an ancient abandoned castle that you will have seen built, lived in, and destroyed. They will discuss the war that a former protagonist initiated, tell the stories of the gods who you know by their real names.
Having a rich history has always appealed to me, and readers who know more than the characters can make you feel like you’re important. The challenge of putting together dropped pieces here and there is fun, and while I know that some of the ways I would like to write is annoying, I have decided that the literary world is too big of a place to worry so much about having someone complain that, “That’s not the way it is done!” or that I’m just a hack who can’t get new ideas.
Do I care about that? Not really, when I think about it. I just know that it will be a perception I have to contend with.
Plus, there will be other books. I have manuscripts that don’t fall into that world, and ideas that won’t fit in. I am still working on several books in progress (including the ever slow manuscript I’ve discussed in my “So, I’m Writing a Novel” posts), and The Stories of the Wyrd, so this won’t be a priority necessarily. I’m not sure it will be able to make it, however, I’m extremely excited about it and already have the beginning of a manuscript perfect for the origin stories.
I’m not a big outliner, but after the gibberish of two first drafts I nuked through in attempts to get me motivated after two years of existential crisis, I sat down and really tried to pinpoint my goals, in which I immediately started getting ideas left and right.
I’ll be spending the next few years posting sketches that better force me to think about the abstract details in my images—locations, fashion, faces. Even if the compendiums never end up anywhere, the designs can be scavenged for other works. Previously I discussed my intentions to create a detailed, creative building that my characters would be limited to in hopes of crafting a better sense of home. The idea itself never got off the ground due to a lack of inspiration, but I took the drawings and included the painstaking labor in another novel.
In any rate, taking on this project has taught me a valuable lesson; sometimes self-control does not create better art, instead inhibits it. It teaches precision, it forces you to think critically, but sometimes, if you’re feeling yourself get dried up, you just need to be honest and not so damn judgmental.
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