One of my goals for the next two months is to read through the edits I paid for to the first novel and see what I agree with and will take and what I don’t agree with and won’t take. I already mentioned that I’m not necessarily convinced that I need to write my novel in such a way that it shows that I think the world I’m writing about is “a bad place.”
The other major high-level critique of the novel was about the level of world-building in the story itself. I have about two pages of questions from the person who reviewed it about the world. How did it come to be? What is this person’s role? etc. I know most of the answers, but they aren’t directly relevant to the story so didn’t make it into the text itself.
In a culture with no preserved history records that denies the merits of individuals, no one is going to walk around discussing the founding of the country.
Another example: the world where the story takes place includes a series of huts that travelers can stay at as they travel that have bunks to sleep on and emergency provisions. Nowhere does the story discuss who maintains these huts. To me, it wasn’t relevant to the story itself. None of the characters are responsible for maintaining the huts and I didn’t see the point of wasting three paragraphs to have two characters discuss it. The whole novel is in deep third person, so only two maybe three viewpoint characters would even think about it (and know the answer).
(Of course, as I wrote that paragraph I thought of about three different places where I could slip it into the story. The question is, do I want to?)
And I think this circles back to how much of a SFF writer I actually am. I’ve always read SFF. It’s by far my preferred genre. But the more I get into writing SFF, the more I realize that I am not in fact that deep into the genre as a reader nor am I that deep into the genre as a writer. (Even though I’ve read hundreds of books in the genre…)
I just finished reading Ready Player One and a couple of months ago I read Among Others. Both have received rave reviews, but reading them it occurred to me how little I actually am part of the SFF genre. There was a whole layer of experience and meaning in those books that wasn’t relevant to me. Sure, I’d played some of those games or read some of those books, but not at that level of intensity or focus. So, one of those books still worked for me due to the story telling behind those allusions, but the other really didn’t. Certainly not in the way it had for many others.
It reminds me of many, many years ago when I read the Waiting for the Galactic Bus series by Parke Godwin. (Pretty sure it was that series…) And there were people who were clearly meant to be historical figures in the books, but I (ten years old or whatever I was at the time) had no idea who they were. It was like the book was full of a series of inside jokes that I just didn’t get. I knew they were there to get, but I had no frame of reference for them.
So, when I think about my own writing, the question becomes how much I, a writer who maybe isn’t as firmly wrapped up in SFF as I might have thought, need to or want to honor the conventions of that genre. I know I can’t please everyone, but if I can’t find a way to write that appeals to at least some readers, I’m never going to get anywhere with my writing.
But if I try to please the core of SFF fandom, it’s quite possible I’ll actually lose the readers like myself who skirt the edges of it. (But if I don’t try to do so, I may never find someone to publish what I write because it’ll be too speculative for the fiction section and not enough SFF for the genre section…)
I think it’s important to have enough world-building in the story so readers know that you know the answers to everything they aren’t seeing behind the scenes. And I probably will include a bit more on those matters. But, for me, as much as I am writing about a societal structure and wanted to explore that idea, I wrote this as the story of individuals in that world and I think I need to honor that and stick to what they know and care about.
(This is not Les Miserables where Hugo decides to stop and tell you the history of the sewers of Paris for a whole chapter. Nor do I want it to be.)
Ah, if only this whole writing thing were as simple as just sitting down and writing…