Gritty and Detailed are easy. Or perhaps I should say they feel easy to me. My previous writing was non-fiction, so it tends to be filled with details. And it takes some care to provide enough detail to make sense of the material, but not all the details.

There are layers upon layers of details. Programmers like to say that a programming language is balanced on the back of a turtle. The turtle is actually standing on the back of another turtle. It’s turtles all the way down. Some turtles are layers of software. Some turtles are layers of hardware.

The work of technical writing is exposing appropriate layers. And summarizing the others.

Fiction is similar. There are details that are relevant to the characters and their choices. And there are underlying details that may provide some motivations. It’s possible to get very gritty in world-building. Very.

One hard part is balancing gritty details against the narrative imperative to have the story move forward. Exposition can be tricky because it can slow things down. My non-fiction writing gets in my way here, because I have an urge to keep things super tidy and overly complete.

In addition to stacks of turtles, another problem is described by carts and horses. In one sense, a world’s design leads to the story as a consequence of the way the world works. However. In another sense, a good story arc requires the world to work a certain way.

There seem to be two paths. But it may not be that simple.

  • I could try to design the world first, then write stories in it. This would lead to good grit and detail. But will it be a good story? Or will be it be an exposition of the design of the world?

  • I could try to design a story and let the world drop into place around it. This can lead to weird gaps and plot holes because we didn’t provide enough layers of details to make it all fit together.

Instead, I choose a middle path with world and story evolving together. This means that — 154,000 words or so into book II of Tales of the Red Ranger — there’s a problem. A book I problem. And it’s all about an immersive level of detail.

The good news is that rewrites are coming in the near future. And I’m comfortable finding all of the places where the change needs to be made.

The bad news is that I sometimes wonder if I need to spend even more time on world-building.