At my critique group this past week, fellow Chronicler J. Thomas Ross said that even though she had always thought she “knew” English grammar, she never really grasped it fully until she had to teach it to remedial students. In other words, even if you think you know something backward and forward, you really don’t until you can explain it clearly to someone else.
That’s a good litmus test for a lot of things in life, but I realized this is a great litmus test for world-building.
I likely had this epiphany because in critique group my story’s world-building came up short. Critiquers wanted to see, hear, and feel the world much more clearly than I had written it. As is often the case, I as the author had thought I described everything more than adequately. But, of course, I know what it’s supposed to look, feel, and sound like. This is why critique partners are so valuable—they tell you when you are skimping on things the reader needs to know.
They also had some questions about one of my two Point-of-View characters. They weren’t sure I had captured him as fully and completely as my other POV character. In parts he seemed forced or vague—like he was doing what I needed him to do, instead of what he as a real person would do. Again, valuable advice.
What it came down to was this comment: “I don’t think you know this world and this character as well as you think you do.”
And maybe I don’t. I need to revisit my notes and see what needs to be filled in.
But maybe some of it is simply a case of “lost in translation.” This world, these characters, have lived with me for close on 30 years. Perhaps I know them too well at times, and make assumptions that the reader cannot possibly make.
Ultimately, whatever the reason, if I can’t explain it clearly to my reader, I have some work to do.
So I’d better delve back into my world and my character and find out what it is I don’t know.
How detailed do you get with your world and character notes before you “get it right” for the reader?