I am deep, deep, DEEP in Osten Ard history at the moment.
Having finished the first drafts of both THE WITCHWOOD CROWN and THE HEART OF WHAT WAS LOST — in the first case, most of a year ago — I’m in rewrite mode on both to finalize the stuff I left vague in the first drafts.
Dan Harmon, the guy who created COMMUNITY, is (like me) a very structural writer.
He refers to first drafts as “spit drafts”, saying that you should basically get it all down in terms of plot and suchlike and make sure it works before you try writing the jokes and adding character moments.
Terry Pratchett always said something similar — “The first draft is just you (the writer) telling yourself the story.” Ordinarily I have always written very complicated, careful first drafts that took close to 90 percent of my total work on the book in question. Up until now, I did almost all the structural work from small to large during that first draft, tied every knot and braced every bridge, but also tried to make sure all the character stuff was there as well, so my second two rewrites were always more for details and polish.
This time, because of the fact that I was working with material people already knew (and often loved, I’m thrilled and grateful to say) I felt it was more important that I spend as long as possible doing background stuff — worldbuilding, especially history — before making it “canon” in later drafts, because I was dealing with more than three decades of events that happened since the end of TGAT, and hundreds or even thousands of years of history predating MS&T.
Of course I won’t use every bit of worldbuilding I’ve done in the last couple of years, but I had to basically build the Norn civilization from scratch, just for instance, and figure out a lot of the early history of Osten Ard, as well as the history of the Garden (where the Norns and Sithi and Tinukeda’ya come from) before they even made it to Osten Ard at all.
And it all has to make sense AND fit in with things already printed back in the Eighties and Nineties in OUR world.
So, worldbuilding a-go-go.
I know so much more about my own imaginary environment than I did a year ago, despite the fact that I think it was already one of the more catalogued invented worlds.
I know the name of all the original Scrollbearers (the learned folks who make up the League of the Scroll) when King Ealhstan began it, two hundred years or so before Simon and company.
I know the history of the two great families of immortals, the Hamakha and Sa’onserei, all the way back to the garden, in far more detail than anyone else needs to know.
I know the order in which the Eight Ships came to Osten Ard, and I know what happened to Seni Ohjisá, mentioned only in a song in the first set of books.
I know the names of people’s horses when even the names of the people who ride those horses will remain essentially meaningless trivium in the final story, if they even show up. The balance point here, as in any worldbuilding, is knowing how much material you need to know to feel comfortable writing in that world — which will always be less than you’ll actually use.
Even though my worlds are generally long on history and convoluted recitations thereof, I obviously won’t cram everything I’ve figured out into the books themselves (although I am getting more resigned to having to do an Osten Ard Companion someday, with Silmarillion-like tellings of all this background material.
A good project for my old age, shortly before all the dog hair I breathe and cat scratches I suffer from every day finally kill me).
But with so much stuff I AM going to use in the books, it’s a fascinating balance to figure it out and tie it all together. I have to make the stuff up, then I have to link it to other stuff I already made up and put in the previous books, ensuring consistency between the two sets of made-up stuff, then reveal it carefully (but with impact) in the new stories, dribbling it out over the course of three long novels and two short novels to those who care — some passionately — while not overdoing it for those who go painfully exposition-blind after a sentence or two: “And in those days the Fudgedragons were mickle fearsome, and they did growl at the rabbit-farming settlers…”
And I’ve also been getting the first feedback from readers of the new manuscripts in the last half-year, so I’m trying to let that wash over me as well, influencing the rewrites in a good way without overwhelming my own natural trust in what I’m doing. That last part is particularly important, because I chose to let my first readers see a much rougher first draft (at least of TWC) than usual, so of course everyone pointed out the stuff that I would most liked to have fixed first before releasing, like “So-and-so has no personality”. I mean, it’s true — So-and-so is definitely a stiff at this point, but part of that is because when I was writing it I wasn’t exactly sure how old So-and-so was, or what he or she had experienced in life, or what was going to happen to him or her later on, and which of the character’s traits and what part of his or her life history would be useful and necessary to deepen the character, and so on. It’s the “and so on” that’s a killer, of course, with this kind of material.
I would like to be able to write an entire novel from the point of view of all my focal-point characters and many of the others as well, but of course I’ll never have the time to create that much detail. But damn it, I was raised on Tolkien: I at least need to FEEL that I know everything that well. Anyway, the point of all this is that I’m knee deep in minutiae just now, and half loving it, half hating it. I have spent so much time getting Osten Ard back into my head, and adding to what I already knew — I’d say I’ve come up with about as much new background material, characters, and history for this project as I did for the entire first set of books — that I kind of doubt now I’ll ever be free of it again.
Ah, well. Beats the hell out of any of the “real” jobs I ever had.
Yours in joy, despair, and a gigantic, smothering pile of Osten Ard trivia,