This is the second in a series of posts about the redrafting process of THE LONG ROAD which will be composed and published as I rewrite the book. The other posts in this series are here.
To recap, my goal from last week was:
My plan of attack is to write a fairly dry wikipedia-style entry that tracks the war from start to finish: how it started, who shot first, the highlights and lowlights, how it ended and why it ended that way. Wish me luck!
What has actually happened:
I am still very much mired in the worldbuilding stage of things. The planning stage is far, far away – if I shield my eyes and squint I can just see it there on the horizon. That whole wikipedia entry idea? Apparently not in the cards (yet).
Last week, when I said I was going back to square one, really I should have said square zero. I thought I’d plan out the diagetic world events as they happened to specific characters in specific moments but that’s not shaping up to be the most productive approach. Here is a kicky chart that summarizes what I’m talking about:
Ok, so what does this (extra fancy) chart mean, exactly? Well, let me tell you! I think every book – every narrative – is an attempt to explain and explore a world event through the eyes of a handful of people. It’s a way of making the historical, the grand, the political, personal. It’s a lens to understand what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and what might happen next. That’s why stories are so powerful.
The top of the pyramid is the narrative. The plot. The actual thing you’re actually going to read. The rest of it all floats beneath the surface, supporting that plot, giving it shape and structure. One can think of the plot as that aforementioned distillation of large-scale events down to individual narratives that reflect the scope of those events. My problem was that when I realized I needed to do worldbuilding, I didn’t realize I needed to do worldbuilding all the way down to the roots. I had a couple of failed attempts at outlining, which turned into long lists of questions I couldn’t yet answer, and then I realized what I really need to do.
It was time to worldbarf.
To worldbarf is to simply vomit ideas and concepts and half-formed histories all over the page. It’s the getting-it-out-there-so-you-have-it-to-work-with-later thing. It is not structured, it is not clean, it is not particularly usable for much of anything but getting the ideas flowing.
So, I’ve been worldbarfing. Lots of guesses, lots of questions, lots of notes about names I need to come up with later, timelines to sort out, events that are still fuzzy yet that need more refining once I’ve got the overall gist of the world and the war down. When I’ve got a computer, I worldbarf in Evernote.
Right now I have a note labeled “Border Wars Bible” that is a very stream-of-consciousness vomitorium for the general context and conditions in which the book will take place. Because, infuriatingtly, there’s no highlight function in Evernote, I’ve been color-coding the text as I write it – diegetic phrases, locations, and people get their own colors. One truly lovely feature of Evernote that fits very well with this free-form creative outbursting I am currently engrossed in is its ability to stick a To-Do button anywhere in your text. This makes it extremely easy to scan through what I’ve written and take note of open questions and loose ends.
When I’m not near a computer, and therefore cannot worldbarf digitally, I use an old-school old-fashioned spiral notebook.
It is also color-coded and very stream of consciousness. Unfortunately as I am writing longhand on the bus it is also in places illegible.
So what am I worldbarfing about? I started way, way back. How did these two populations (the humans and the elves) meet? What was first contact like? Why did the humans start settling in elvish territory to begin with, and what effect did the conditions for settling have on the way they structured their society down the line? How do differences in biology between these two groups (lifespan, typical number of children, potentiality for magical expression, etc) shape the conditions for the war?
The thing about the worldbarfing is that it works. I’ve made a tremendous amount of progress answering many of these questions, and in the answering have found other blind spots and quandries to sort out. I am nowhere near divining the plot of this book yet, but the groundwork is clipping along pretty quickly. I now have – I think for the first time – a sense of the political and cultural context that led up to the war and shaped how it played out.
Next steps. Goals are always good to lay out, right? Let’s see…by this time next week I will have worldbarfed the war itself. Right now I have a solid sense of the conditions and context of it but still a very nebulous sense of what actually happened.