NaNoFeed: World-building by making stuff up

Some people plan out their worlds, and some people make them up. I like a mix of the two, because it sets up a neat tension. Right now, I’m working on my fifth piece of fiction set in the Shape-shifter universe, but I’m still figuring out how that (very weird) world works.

The National Novel Writing Month challenge sharpens the boundary between the planners and the pantsers, but I’m still not sure which party I belong to. I wrote 65,000 words of character interviews and plot notes before I started, and I have a rough arc, but I’m still making stuff up.

Here’s an example, from today’s output (warning: this is raw feed)

The work consumed her, the sheer intricacy of it. The winter holiday came, and she assented unwillingly to a break.

With a catch.

She said to the Professor, “I have promised him that I would come in every day.”

The Professor nodded, offered her a cup of tea from the samovar on the sideboard. (His father had died at the Russian front, eighty years ago. The samovar was a gift from a colleague in Kiev.)

OK, pause here. Scene is set in Germany; why is the tea poured from a samovar? Backstory makes itself up, and we continue.

She sipped the tea, not tasting it. That was a fault of hers, she knew; ideas took her out of the body. She said, “The drawings have been satisfactory, then? What do they make of them at the Archaeological Museum?”

He said, “They find them interesting. The procession in particular.” Of course, everyone wanted to know more about exotic rites of sacrifice. Elsa thought that perhaps they ought to pay more attention to their own; though to be fair, the Professor and his colleagues did, sometimes at considerable risk. His young American colleague had been killed by her own people, for asking inconvenient questions. The more recent the sacrifice, the more dangerous to inquire about the details of the ritual or the identities of the priests.

Elsa is a sarcastic beast, one of the reasons I like her. The “young American colleague” is the forensic pathologist from The Shape-shifter’s Tale who is killed by witch-hunters, not a connection I was aware of until I wrote this.

The above is not my best writing, but it’s full of interesting discoveries. “Plan the flight; don’t fly the plan” is a byword for writers as well as pilots. I’m prepared to abandon the plan if something more interesting crops up as I go.

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One Response to NaNoFeed: World-building by making stuff up

  1. Sue says:

    Thank you. I’m not really a writer, I play at it. But I love watching someone else create stories out of seemingly nothing. I am an author voyeur

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