Worldbuilding, Part VI

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun
Notebooks detailing the Adaran continent.

Twelve or so years ago, I began outlining the antagonists for my unfinished story. I pulled old issues of Dragon magazine off my shelf and pored through the pages. I searched for the “perfect” plot devices for the half-orc twins that were to be the ultimate challenge for my intrepid band of heroes. I started a notebook with the details of which issue contained ideas I found to help round out the cult that my characters would eventually end. That notebook has been on a shelf, patiently waiting for me to remember it’s there.

I picked it up the other day, along with a few others containing ideas about the Adaran continent. As I re-read my notes, I realized how much information I’ve dumped into various notebooks and pieces of scrap paper over the years. Some of the pages are dated, others not. I have some research to do to figure out where I wanted to go with the story.

Over the years, I also took the time to transcribe the old printout that somehow survived the time and events that a lot of my past hasn’t. Since I’ve put the original story into digital format, I’ve added to it, trying to move the story forward and getting virtually nowhere. (Except that I figured out who and where the antagonists were.)

In a recent conversation with an online friend, I was lamenting about the unfinished works and how I felt it was trite, and blah, blah, blah. You know, the usual writer complaints. My friend’s response was one that I’m sure we have all heard a million times, “finish the story and fix it later; just reach ‘the end.’” That statement, of course, got me thinking about this tale and where I want it to go. OK, I know where I want it to go, but how do I get it there, and how do I resolve the major conflicts?

I’ve never been one to put time into a detailed outline. I’m one of those who likes to start tearing into a project and find out what makes it tick. I won’t say my approach hasn’t gotten me in trouble a time or twelve, because it has. But I learned a lot on those side-treks.

I’ll spend a few days reading through my old notes and make new ones. I’ll build a character profile or ten to figure out what makes the characters tick, and probably get a little bored before I get all the way through the project. In the meantime, I’ll get to know my characters, and I’ll have a better sense of the history of the land.

If you keep up with this page, you know that I’m subject to … SQUIRREL! (It’s no wonder my kids and grandkids have been diagnosed with “ADD.”) My mind can’t keep still, so I flit from project to project when I get stuck. It’s the reason I always seem to have several projects going at once. (Which is why Tech Writing was such a good fit for me, I had multiple documents on deadline.)

The writing magazines have tips on what makes a good hero or how to write a believable villain. Being a passive thinker, I absorb the information and let it simmer. Over time, an idea bubbles to the surface, and I need to find where it fits. Sometimes, I have to figure out what character gave me the idea, they aren’t always clear.

With two stories set in the same world, but at different times, I’m beginning to think that characters from the later time are telling me the history as they know it. I’ll be interested to see whether history got the story right. In a world where not everyone has access to a written account, ordinary people rely on an oral tradition in which some storytellers are known to embellish stories. The truth of history can get lost, most often when those tales are about other lands and peoples.

Bards and minstrels sing of past threats to the continent and recite sagas that tell of a banished evil that was both arcane and divine in nature. And the tales sound prophetic; the antagonists of both times are remarkably similar. But is history repeating itself, or has an enemy of old come back to complete what was begun a millennium ago?

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