Friday, 16 September 2016

N is for Novels - the iceberg under the surface of certain genres

N is for novels, of course. In particular the two I am currently working on; one in the planning and research stage and one in production. In practical terms that translates to a) worldbuild and b) formatting for the hardcover edition.

Worldbuilding is a completely new thing for me. Of the three novels I have published, two are contemporary humour and required no research other than the small amounts of incidental research that any book, sooner or later, will require. For example, sussing out the approaches and defences of the Dominican convent in Camberwell was something I needed to do for Dance of Chaos. These things are relatively minor. The third book, King's Ransom, is an historical novel and did require a humongous amount of research. I swore I would never write historical fiction again; if I had had any idea of how much work it was going to be, I think that, like Mrs Beeton, I would not have had the courage to start it.

Now, however, I am contemplating a Science Fiction novel, in the traditional way, with a race of alien people living on an alien planet, as well as a humanity projected far, far into the future. 

I didn't set out to conceive a science fiction novel. Last year, encouraged by the reception of my collected short fiction, I was scratching about for ideas for short stories. Wanting to plan the book ahead of time, I played about with my Automatic Story Generator and generated several story ideas with elements. One of these became the Sophie Green story, Sophie and the Frog, now available as a single on Amazon. Another became the children's novella, No Such Thing. Sometimes, a story idea just doesn't fit into a short story, and this was the case with what, lacking a title, I provisionally call Story 8. There is just too much of it to fit into short fiction; it's a full-length novel, and if I tried to make it smaller, I believe I would be wasting my idea, throwing it away, sacrificing what I hope will be a good novel for a second-rate short story or novella. So, the idea is completely useless for the purpose for which it was generated, and yet. And yet. I really love my idea, and I made the decision to write the book, knowing that it is going to be a huge project, and new territory, and all of that, but I'm in love with my story and I really want it to be a thing.

Therefore, I've bitten the bullet and embarked upon a worldbuild. I enrolled in Terri Main's writing course, Write Your Novel Your Way, because inter alia this course covers how to do worldbuilding, but we haven't yet come to that point in the course yet and I wanted to get started. 

Lacking even the faintest idea of how worldbuilding is done, I started by making a list of the headings I felt needed to be covered in my world. Economic structure, social organisation, marriage customs, and so on. It is the people on my alien planet that must be considered most of all, because to a great extent the plot of my story is driven by the nature of that alien society, and so I have to construct a society that is believable, sympathetic, and has no crime. Easier said than done. There are also certain biological imperatives. My alien people will not have been evolved from anthropoids, as we are, but from canids. Therefore, I have started by acquiring L David Mech's very comprehensive book about wolves. I'm reading through it, often struggling with the science, much of which is so far over my head that I don't even know what scientific discipline I'd need to be educated in to understand it, but getting the gist, and making notes as I go. Slowly and painfully, a picture of my people is starting to emerge - broad strokes at this point, but it's a framework. Down the track, I will be reading material about my own First People, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. I say 'peoples' rather than 'people', for our Aboriginals comprise many nations, like the First People of America.

Once I have done all this, I'll be ready, I hope, for the second stage of my worldbuild, which will presumably consist of writing what will basically be a reference work about the world and its people, with a supplementary section about what has happened to humans by about the year 3400 or so. I feel a bit sad at the prospect of doing so much work, not a word of which will ever be published, but it is, I think, necessary. It's a long-term project, like King's Ransom, and it will probably be years before the book sees the light of day. Like historical fiction, this is a genre that requires a huge investment of secondary effort, like the deep foundations under a building.

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