Recently, my best friend informed me that all of my stories are complex. At first, I was all “What? No they’re not! Why would she say that?”, but then I thought about it, and was like “Yeah… you’re right.”
Which isn’t to say that they don’t start simple. They often do. And then a layer of complexity comes along and is like “Hey, can I join in?” and I’m like “Heck yes!”, which invariably leads to that layer inviting friends, at which point I say “Dude, you have got the best friends ever. Let’s have a party.” And then they invite their friends, who invite their friends, and, well, you see my point.
Case Study #1
The Storm-Dance (a four-book series that I’m planning to write/publish during/after the White Changeling series)
Each book will take place at a different time in the history of a single country on a made-up world, and it will not be written in chronological order because thematic reasons. The last book published will be, chronologically, the first book. Thematic. Reasons.
Within the series, there will be characters of multiple ethnicities dealing with personal, political, religious, and magical things, all which develop over the course of the country’s history as a response to the world they live in. It will deal with colonialism (though perhaps not in the way you’d expect), and
poke at stab all the holes in the idea that people develop linearly because everyone should develop like us because we’re so special and amazing and look at us this is the only way anyone can do things ever.
There will be thoughts on the differences in cultural values, how political systems develop over time (and how they’re never what we hope they’ll be, and that’s not a good thing), how values change over time, how people can take a truth and turn it into a religion, how people can take a lie and turn it into a religion, and how people can overcome even when everything is stacked against them.
Add a generous helping of the clash between what we think the world is like versus how it really is and how science can lead us in exactly the opposite direction dictated by scientific dogma, if we let it. Mix in a meditation on what it really means to be selfless/to die to self. Then bake it a couple of times, skim the excess fat, and let it age for a couple years because you’re still not sure what the missing ingredients are.
All this because I wanted to write a story about a woman who could turn into a mountain lion and who saves the world in some unspecified way when everything is falling apart.
Case Study #2
WWBTE (aka, a book with no proper title yet that has its start in the plot of the first novel I ever attempted to write. I was eleven)
This story is what happens when you have one story that won’t leave your head, so you dump in with it all your old story ideas that also won’t leave and then try to make a coherent plot out of it. I have no idea how many story ideas ended up in this stew. Easily more than ten.
For starters, there are six worlds and two parts to the dimension (for lack of a better word) between the worlds. Then there are eight main characters (or one, depending how you count it. No that’s not supposed to make sense without reading the story), more than eight point of view characters (I forget how many), and over twenty named characters, most of which I can’t get rid of without breaking something. Each of these worlds can be considered a different time zone from the others (morning in one is night in another), which is a tracking nightmare, but reduces the writing load on me because then there are a few characters who are asleep while everyone else is doing something. Except in the case where one of them has decided that revenge is more important than an early bedtime, another is up super early because duty waits for no one, and a third freaks out and wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming. So yay.
Imagine trying to keep track of all that, and all the independent storylines of each character as they are slowly weaving into the overarching storyline that is very much moving forward but has to be foreshadowed because introducing all these characters and all these worlds is already taxing, no matter how carefully and patiently you introduce new information.
Throw into that themes on identity, manipulation, hubris, people trying to become gods and shaping the world(s) to their own desires, colonialism (oh, hello there), dealing with both personal suffering and the responsibility you have for the people around you, and how it is that we’re really connected with the people in our lives.
Oh, and only one of the worlds has “humans” on it. The rest (and the two halves of the other dimension) all have their own native beings which are all hard to explain because I apparently dislike using stock fantasy races in anything ever.
*bangs head against wall*
Eleven-year-old me just wanted to write a story about a girl who went from our world into another world and had adventures. That’s it, I swear.
The Complex-Simple Pendulum
I could go on. The White Changeling series has its own share of complexity (which is mostly spoilers, so I can’t share it with you), but it’s relatively simple compared to the examples above, especially in the beginning of the series. This is due to the fact that I’m being super lazy about worldbuilding this time around, only building new things when I a) need new things and b) can’t conceivably steal them from other worlds I’ve made up.
For example: If you’ve read “Elf-Touched” (a short story in Dreaming of Her and Other Stories), then you’ll know that I stole Adren’s name from the Adren in that story, and you may even notice that the name Neidim sounds an awful lot like Nadin, and Reina sounds a lot like Rina. These stories are from completely different worlds, by the way, no matter how tempted I’ve been to combine them.
Which then makes me ponder about using the connections between unconnected worlds as either some sort of meta narrative, or that all the component parts are just part of my personal grab bag when it comes to worldbuilding. I’m still not sure which direction I’ll go (probably the grab bag. The meta narrative sounds a bit unnecessary). So, there you go. When I try to keep one thing simple, everything gets complex. When I try to keep everything simple, the one thing gets complex.
So long as it’s an interesting read, though, right? :)