What it Means to be a Writer – Part 2

February 14, 2011 By: Christopher D. Eldridge Category: Description & Setting

In my previous post, I wrote about what it means to be a writer and why it can take so long to finish writing a novel. Now I want to tell you why it’s taking me so long.

There’s a saying among us writers that you have to write a million words before you learn how to write commercial fiction. The average published book is around a hundred thousand words. That means, on average, you have to write ten novels before you even learn the craft. That’s a lot of words and a lot of time invested. In fact, I recently read that by using a few realistic assumptions about writing speed, it takes about ten full-time years to turn out a million words. Can you imagine being trained ten years for a job without getting paid? It’s a bit insane. Wait, didn’t I say something about us writers being mad?

But that’s not the biggest reason I still haven’t finished my first novel. The real reason is because of the genre I write: fantasy, which involves world-building, and in my case, an entirely self-created world far away from Earth.

Building a world isn’t easy. It takes knowledge and research on dozens of disciplines. There are literally countless things to consider. For instance, understanding how biomes are distributed across latitudes, and how rivers and lakes form. Major cities must be located near water or have a sophisticated technological system to bring water to the city. In addition, cities need to be capable of adequate food production–farming, herding, etc. Farms need water, too, and thus proper irrigation.

How long is the day in your world? How strong are the winds? What is the weather like? All of these are important questions to answer, because this will determine the type of flora and fauna on your planet.

One of the most important things in world-building is for your world to have a past. Its history will have been recorded by various cultures across time. How has your world changed? How has it advanced or regressed? Is your world populated only by humans, or are there other sentient beings? The depth and complexity of your world really comes into play once you start creating cultures and societies, even entirely different races, each with its own beliefs, customs, history, religion(s), prejudices, etc.

Another thing to take into consideration when building your world is technology, which affects culture and how a society is built. This will in turn affect things such as religion and language. If your world is built on a “medieval” society, is it wise to use modern slang or words that were created based on social and technological advancements? If so, what is your reasoning behind such use?

These are only a small fraction of the things, each of which I have barely touched on, that it takes to build a world. In future posts I will cover some of these items in greater detail and give examples from my own world and story. If you want to know more about world-building, let me know what you’d like to see me write about in the future.

10 Comments to “What it Means to be a Writer – Part 2”

  1. Nice post. My word-building is giving me fits at the moment. I’m writing about earth — a future earth altered by apocalyptic events — but even in a familiar setting there is so much to consider. It is vitally important to get the details right to make the novel believable, especially in fantasy when setting is almost a character in itself.

    • I hear ya. I’ve been building my world for over a decade now, and I’m still trying to get it right. Constant research, learning, and tinkering. Good luck on your own world-building. Your world and novel sounds intriguing. I love powerful female characters, especially ones with great depth. Outside of female writers there is often a shortage of them.

  2. Michelle White says:

    I hadn’t heard that million word thing. I like that. Thanks for the post.

  3. Daven Anderson says:

    Entire fantasy worlds are indeed the most ambitious to create (by far!), but integrating fantasy and reality poses its own challenges.

    Vampires, for example.
    You have to account for how they can exist in the ‘real’ world (mostly) undetected.
    You have to provide logical explanations for thousands of years of folklore beliefs held by virtually every culture on Earth (especially if you intend to bend or break certain standard rules of this genre, ie: immortality, daylight, garlic, etc.).
    Making the vampires “scientifically plausible” ramps up the difficulty level.
    I ended up having to create two types of vampire to keep the
    story plausible on both science and folklore levels.

    I could literally write a million words just to fully explain my vampires’ back story in their thousands of years of existence on Earth.

    • Ah yes, the complexity that goes into building a world, even one right here in our own backyard, can be a task of no less than monumental feats. Some of the most creative, thought-provoking, well thought out, planned out stories, were those that didn’t create something from scratch, that is an entirely self-created world or universe. But I figured I’d start out with the most difficult thing I can attempt and then work my way backwards. Not sure if it’s gonna work out for me. I might never finish. HAHA!

      Looking forward to seeing you turn the vampire world upside down, Daven. Hopefully you don’t have to spend a million words creating your back story in the process. 🙂

  4. Mindy McIntyre says:

    Wow – you really put it into perspective. My hunt-n-peck family members hate using my computer because I’ve literally typed the letters off of my keyboard. Good thing we authors have infinite imaginations to build, rebuild, write, and rewrite!

  5. kevin wolf says:

    On the million word theme, do you think being a part of a good critique group cuts ten per cent?

  6. Laura Chick says:

    Wow Chris…..keep up those million wonderful words!
    and take your time writing your book!!!!

    Good works of art always take lots of time…
    …. the bible is the best selling book in the whole world, and that book took THOUSANDS of years to write.
    keep writing, I am hanging on your every word!


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