Jenny Gordon (jennygordon) wrote,
Jenny Gordon

The Trouble With World-building

Between 2002 and early-2008, I was writing novels in a dark fantasy series. I wrote two of them, and vast great unsalable things they were too, weighing in at 208K and 184K a-piece. And the later wasn’t even finished!

They were the second and third novels I wrote (I blogged about the first one here)

Agents and editors said some nice things about the first of these dark fantasy novels (which I had on submission for a time), but ultimately, they were no-goers, which contributed to me making the difficult decision to leave the sequel where it stood and turn my energies to writing something else instead. After all, what’s the point in writing a sequel if the first book is never going to get picked up? Unless you’re writing purely for your own enjoyment, that is.

And it was a hard decision to make, because I loved the world of those novels; it was made up of so many disparate elements that had been haunting and fascinating me for a very long time, and they came together into a world and a story that was uniquely mine. I have two lever arch files full of world-building images and notes, cuttings and articles. It was a fully-rounded world, with maps, history, really ancient history, mythology, you name it. Everything was there, all worked out. And I had SUCH FUN doing it.

Now, you may recall that I’ve recently printed up my old novels through Lulu, with a view to revisiting them for fun, and this week, I’ve been reading those two dark fantasy novels in all their glorious angst and complex world.

And man! Are they hard-going!!!!

It’s partly due to the fact that I was still learning my craft that they’re full of so much exposition, but it’s also because of all that world-building I did, and wanted to share.

It’s a rich, vibrant world to be sure, but did I really need to write so much of it into the stories?

Um ... I’m thinking .... NO!!!!! FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, NO!!!!!

There’s a balance to strike between having a fully-realised setting for your novel (be it high fantasy or literary fiction), and the amount of detail you share with a reader to conjure that world for them. And indeed, how you share those details.

Even though I had to give up on my re-reading of those novels because they were so dense even I was struggling, I’ll always have a massive soft-spot for them. I love that world, and the time I spent creating it and writing stories set in it was truly formative to my writing life. I learned so much along the way of writing and re-writing those novels (each one exists in many versions). I’m proud of the world I created, of my cast of characters, and the sprawling, multi-layered plot they weave through.


... it doesn’t mean to say that they’re of publishable quality, or that I’ll ever read the damned things in their entirety again!

But still, I’m proud of them.

Tags: dancingnovel, writing

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