Monday, March 21, 2011

World without a plot

Have you ever been in this situation?  I find myself in possession of a world I've been building for three or four years.  It started when I saw a documentary on Stonehenge.  This group of archeologists wasn't concentrating on the lithic henge they could see, but rather the henge they couldn't see.

They believed that 25-30 miles east of what we now know as Stonehenge, there was once a wood henge comparable in size and pattern, but instead of planting giant stones in the ground to form posts and lintels, they cut, shaped, and planted lumber there.  Concentric circles of giant tree trunks.  They speculated that for a procession moving on foot along the river, it would take roughly a day's walk to get from one henge to the other.

I don't remember all the particulars the documentary brought up -- I wrote them in a notebook somewhere -- but I remember it implied a life henge and a death henge.  That the procession could be a funeral march, or a ritual.  I started to wonder about the different events that could make a society obsessed with death to the extent that they built Stonehenge.  Albeit, the ancient Egyptians were so obsessed with death that they went to much greater lengths but that thought didn't cross my mind at the time.  And then I had it, a world shaped by one cataclysmic event: a race of immortals who lost their immortality, and that of their descendants, through their own actions.

So I went merrily about building this world.  I gave it a form of government, a couple of cities, some natural resources, a three- to five-thousand year history that could have should have filled volumes.  I gave one government sway over most of the continent.  Gave them a few grumpy enemies on their borders who were too small to act on their anger.  I drew a map.  Gave them a system of magic that was more about throw-backs to ancient misunderstood power than magician-based.  I already had their death-worship religion and therefore the mindset with which they live their lives.  Hell, there were even thieves guilds in the alleys and a pirate society living on the seas!

But there was absolutely no plot.

There were no character desires in conflict with other character desires causing a series of ever more harrowing attempts to achieve said desires.

Oh, at first I thought I had a plot.  I didn't.  But that didn't stop me from writing 15,000 words of scenes and explanations and character sketches.  It took me those 15,000 words to give up and back off because even uneducated-in-the-way-of-the-story me could see that this was a really weak storyline.  Partly because I couldn't figure out who the hell the antagonist was or what he was trying to do and why.  I just had four really amusing characters running around in the woods -- I even titled the Word doc I saved it in "Jaunt in the Woods" -- meeting terribly amusing dandies/pickpockets/minstrels and dragons.

Holy crap, I'd forgotten about the dragon!

And there was a girl dragon who ended up with a crush on the young protagonist.

The protagonist could, of course, speak to dragons.  A fact which would become terribly important in the climatic end sequence of events if only I could figure out what the end sequence of events was.

Maybe my problem was that I'd folded ever second-world fantasy cliche into one story.  But it's not like I wrote a novel full of cliches and then couldn't sell it -- I couldn't even find a plot (cliche or otherwise) to let me write the novel!

Since this world's initial creation, I've kept expanding it.  I made a south continent in addition to the first.  I've fleshed out different cultures of people (sort of).  I've created more characters that live in this world but that don't necessarily interact with one another.  I have the origin story for the high priestess of wood henge -- why we should care about her I don't know, but I could tell you about the village she grew up in.  And yet, no plot.

I thought about writing short stories set in this world, but they never end up feeling like short stories according to my critique partners, but  like prologues or epilogues to a much longer tale.

It is the lost world in my mind.  A world with no plot.  I refuse to abandon it, but neither do I know how to make it blossom.

Has this ever happened to you?

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