I took some time this past week to look up one of my early novels. Partly to see how far I’ve come and partly to get a smile out of the totally-enthusiastic-but-deprived-of-anything-mature writing style.
It was set in England in the 1600s. I remember trying so hard to not include dragons in it, because it was supposed to be a historical novel, not a fantasy one. But then there were dragons. And then there were spies. And then there were secret passages, underground tunnels, cults, electronic technology, and a biohazard threatening to wipe out Earth’s population.
It was my first serious novel (I refuse to count the first two that shall not be named or ever let out of their obisdian prisons in the netherworld) and I was determined that it was going to be published someday. What I never really considered is that it wouldn’t be my only novel. So I tried to write about everything I ever wanted to write about in one book.
Smirking at my younger self, I remembered how small a view I had of the publishing world back then. I thought that a writer was someone who wrote one book, got it published easily, then sat back on their laurels raking in money as people absorbed their work and created fandoms about it. I definitely suffered from a case of trying to fabricate epicness in my work.
Today, of course, I know that the publishing world is very different from what I first imagined. And I’ve learned something about world-building for a novel: keep most of it hidden. Not everything has to make it into the book. There can be other novels that include the things you want to write about.
There was also a novel (one of the ones that shall not be named) in which I had no clue what was happening. I didn’t know where the antagonist was for three chapters and basically had him standing in a room for three months not doing anything. The flip side of the idea that the reader doesn’t need to know everything is that you, as a writer, do.
This is starting to border on writing advice, so I’ll pull back. Just let me leave you with this one bit of encouragement: You, as a writer, have every excuse to indulge your world-building tendencies and create a rich and wonderful realm with all the details your heart desires. So go to it! (Just make sure you keep that iceberg well-hidden and only show off what you need to in your novel.)