Worldbuilding on a Budget

Final INCAL_T1-P01 byn Ladronn

Final INCAL_T1-P01 byn Ladronn

There's a lot you can give in the details. A simple gesture, a flippant look. The way someone shutters their windows as you look up at them. This can paint broad strokes with characters, but more specifically, it can't tell loads about the world and the society. This is the type of reveal that I love.

I'm currently in the process of rebuilding my first novel, piecing together strands that I thought worked and putting into a setting that makes more sense. I'm not sure in the spectrum where this is supposed to land, but I'm finding it an odd bit of ripping me this way and that. There's a throughline that I'm trying to avoid, trying to make it different enough that I don't tread old ground when I write the thing, which fitting my old novel into this new setting would be nigh impossible, but finding that old characters and ideas, old setting are creeping their way back in. I'm actively fighting them, but it can be a bit of a struggle.

This is a bit of retread ground, but as I delve deeper, I can't help but find myself talking about it.

I recently participated in Rebecca Weston's Crits for Donations. There was a duality to this, one because my parents were hit by the tornado and (more recently) we had flooding at our house with the second wave that hit this past week. The other was that I could have the first 250 words of my manuscript critiqued. The number one request was that I add more details about the world around me, spend some time in the character's head.

I just can't do it.

There are a few things I try to challenge myself as a writer - limited time with characters' thoughts, details interspersed throughout the story, making sure everyone has a distinct reason for what they're doing. The second and third things are givens, something that comes with good storytelling. But the first, the first is a challenge in and of itself. Far too many stories have their characters spending all their time looking inward, rather than dealing with the world around them. Why would a character that's spent his entire life in this city, dealing with these people, suddenly become a whimpering sod who questions every movements and intonation from the characters around him? Now if that's a part of your character, such as Jordan Meadows in my third novel, then that's fine. But most of the time I find most of that blithering can be cut and your story suddenly becomes stronger, deeper.

Now, at some point, if an agent steps up, is interested enough in the story, but says they do need time inside my characters' heads, I know all their reasons, motivations, etc. As I've said before, I've spent years with these people, not necessarily by choice. I can do the good work and balloon my novel's wordcount, but as it stands, I think I've got a good thing that layers on and, by the end, you know that every character moved in that specific way for a reason, that their journey is complete, even if they didn't quite make the smartest choices along the way.

And can you really ask for more?


Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.