the how of writing · writing

internal rules

I’m re-reading a manga series I somehow managed to fall in love with.  The first chapter didn’t thrill me, the worldbuilding didn’t impress me, and don’t even get me started on the plot.  In fact, I nearly put it down.  But there was one character that kind of interested me and…now I can’t wait for each installment.  If you want to read my (very detailed) review of that first volume, you can find it here on Goodreads.  (This is my first time linking to one of my reviews, so please let me know if the link doesn’t work.)

Why did I keep reading?  The character, yes, but as I read, I noticed that the story was actually consistent.  She just wasn’t telling it very well.  No matter what happens, it sticks to its own rules.  With one exception, it doesn’t suddenly reveal information, and by the time you get to that single eye-rolling revelation, you’re so invested in the characters that you’re willing to go along with what appears to be a soap opera twist just to see how things turn out.  And I thought it was worth it.

Which brings me to my point:  if you write speculative fiction, heck any fiction really, your world must follow its own set of rules.  Mainstream/contemporary fiction is pretty easy because you don’t need to explain the rules of your world.  It’s the same one everyone lives in.  In spec fic, you get to create your own rules.  That sounds like it would give you a lot of freedom, but it doesn’t.  In fact, if you don’t plan a fantasy or science fiction story out very, very carefully, you will end up breaking them.  This will annoy your readers, or at least confuse them, and possibly destroy the whole story for them.  (Just look at some of the user reviews that talk about Bella’s pregnancy in Breaking Dawn and you’ll see what I mean.)  This leads to a sticky problem for those who write spec fic.  How do you build a consistent world without going overboard?

I don’t have a definite answer.  I do know some of it has to do with the story.  A shorter story doesn’t need quite as much world building unless you plan on setting multiple stories there.  A novel or a series requires some definite thought and lots of notes.

However, this quote on Alec Nevala-Lee’s blog does a really good job of summing up the basics.  Numbers two and four are, in my opinion, the most important and the ones I find most lacking when I read a story that doesn’t seem to have any rules (or poorly written ones).  They’re also the ones I need to watch for myself.  Just so you know.

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