When one writes fantasy, setting is always taken to an entirely different level. Even if the story is set in “our world”, it is not at all fantasy unless the world has to be tweaked somewhat to allow for our fumbling fiction. Most fantasies are set in alternate universes, which means that a lot of authors find themselves having to dream up an entire imaginary world – from the ground up.
Therefore, in more professional fantasy circles, setting is known by a different name: worldbuilding. And that’s exactly what I’ve spent the last month doing.
On the eighth of December, 2012, I typed the last word (“Amen”, since you ask) of the first draft of Another Sword. By my current first-draft standards, it’s done well. Its characters are the best I’ve ever written; still probably not very good, but they succeeded in moving my sister to tears at one point (yeah, I do read all my first drafts aloud to her. I wouldn’t have any peace if I didn’t), which is a first.
The plot is also one of the best I’ve written. It has more holes than a cheese, of course, but at least it goes somewhere. The theme is definitely the best I’ve ever done, because it’s not my vague idea of how this half-life should be lived; it comes from the Bible, the only Truth there is. The conflict, well, sometimes it seemed that my poor old MC was at odds with everybody (including, of course, himself).
Is anyone seeing what’s missing here?
Yes. The setting. There wasn’t one. Oh, of course they traipsed out of the castle and into the forest and then went on to another castle, but that’s about as interesting as their world ever got. In fact, I knew before I even finished the first draft that the setting sucked to the point of nonexistence. It was the first thing I started working on once the draft itself was gone.
Naturally, once I got started I just couldn’t stop. Most people are happy with some research and a few notes, but oh no, not Firn Hyde. The next thing I knew, I had written a 10 000 word history spanning 300 years and drawn seven different standards and two different maps. (I love heraldry, even though I don’t know a thing about it).
Man, it was fun.
It was also insanely hard. And even now, that history is a cowering and terrified bacteria compared to the stamping, snorting, leaping beast that is the history of the real world. It brought home to me, one more time, just how amazing our God is.
For more than six months, I’ve been trying to imagine some tiny portion of an outline of an island that doesn’t exist. For more than six months, I’ve been trying to dream up the semi-realistic image of a human being, with just a handful of quirks, a shadow of depth to create a mere illusion of reality. And I’m still trying. I can’t even paint a picture of life.
And God made the real thing: He made not just an island, but a whole world, down to the last detail, the last feather, the last grain of sand; He made billions upon billions of people – more than seven billion alive this moment, dying and living and becoming and ending every second – and He made them all perfect and complete down to the last cell, the last heartbeat, the last twinge of pain, joy, fear, hope.
He made all this on a tiny turning planet spinning in the daring dance of the burning planets, and how many thousands more there are out there – every star could have a whole solar system, every solar system could have life. He made it all, and it was good. And how long did it take him?
I can not imagine a single room, down to every cell and fibre in perfect and infinite detail, no matter how long I live. And yet He made the whole universe in its intricacy in only six days.
Lord, how obnoxious we are. How stubborn. How arrogant, to begin to believe that we understand Your world, that we can dream to contest Your loving, sovereign will. Lord, forgive us. Lord, thank You that big as You are, tiny as we are, You love us.
You’re amazing, Sir. And as far as my stone speck of a heart can love, I love You, Sir.