I realized something Friday as I rode the train home. I realized what my young adult fantasy novel (of which I’m almost done with the latest draft! :-) ) was missing. All along, I knew it was missing something. Something that other fantasy books had, but mine didn’t. Something I couldn’t quite place my finger on.
The answer? Legends. Stories. Myths.
Let me explain. I was on the train, reading Robin Hobb’s The Mad Ship and I had gotten to a part where old legends seemed to be coming true. Without going too much into it, throughout the novel old legends are discussed in passing, hinting at a higher story but not diving right in. This makes the world where ships can come alive feel a bit more real, as everything about these beings is strange and mythical. But, at the part of the novel I’m at, many of the legends are finally explored in great detail, backstory is filled in, and I feel like I’ve come to understand these ships all the better.
This is what my own work was missing. Legends and myths. Stories about beings that the people who inhabit my world don’t fully understand.
This seems obvious now, but like so many things, hindsight is 20/20.
My main character is a half-demon, and while I explain what it means to be a demon in my world, I only explicitly state that people are afraid of him. Sure, I show people reacting to him (screaming, running away) but I don’t really show the reason behind that fear. I have my characters do some research on demons, but they blow off what they find as legends and myths. Rather than showing those legends and myths, I pass them right on by.
I did this because these stories didn’t seem essential to the plot. After all, I have characters to establish, a series of succession to explain, a friendship to develop, fights to choreograph, and so on. It never occurred to me that not having legends such as those Robin Hobb hints at and then fully explores would hurt my novel the way it did.
I’m dealing with mythical beings after all. They should feel…mythical.
Granted, a big part of my novel is about acceptance. The half-demon can’t change who he is, but just because he has a bad heritage does not mean that he should be hated for it. My goal is to show others come to accept him and see him as an individual, rather than just one of many. And while showing people react fearfully to him is a good start, I also have to show why they feel that way. What the stories were that they told each other to get to this point.
Once again, hindsight is 20/20.
Before I complete draft four, I am going to go back and not only write some legends (they exist in my head, they just need to be written) but I will stick them into the book as well. And I think my world will be stronger for it.
I’ve been told I suck at world-building. I couldn’t agree more.
But every day, I suck a little less.
Have you ever had a moment where suddenly, you knew what needed to be done?