I’m usually not much of a procrastinator, but when I’m visiting with my family, my inner-slacker comes out. It doesn’t help matters when my mom tantalizes me with the books she’s bought since the last time I saw her (yup, I know exactly where my booklust comes from). She set one down in front of me a couple days before Christmas that I couldn’t resist; I devoured it in just over 24 hours, something I haven’t done for years. And you know what? The book didn’t even have a plot.
Said distracting book was Scott Westerfeld’s Bogus to Bubbly: An Insider’s Guide to the World of Uglies. It’s a short, manual-like book that includes everything from fictional owners’ manuals to the gadgets in the Uglies series to a chapter on the science of beauty to insight into how characters got their names. And although much of the information wasn’t “new” to me (I have read the trilogy, after all), I couldn’t put the book down because it was so gratifying to return to a fictional world I had loved, and to have the feeling that someone else loved it as much as me (OK, maybe Scott loves it a little bit more). The book also has this wonderful, conversational tone that really does make it feel like an exclusive conversation between you and the author (I ignored the fact that it was written to me as though I were an adolescent – or maybe I loved it more because of that? My love of YA literature is certainly not my best-kept secret).
Of course an author should know more about her characters and the world they live in than she has time or space to reveal in the story. While that development is never wasted, it can feel like a shame that the work is only implied, and not explicit, in the version of your story the public sees. So as I was reading the book, I thought, This is like, an author’s dream: to have people so interested in his work that they’ll actually pay to read all the secrets he has stocked up in his writers’ notebooks.
But then I wondered – would I be able to write something like this?
I used to be a very methodical writer, keeping notebooks of character traits, settings, outlines, you name it. Then I got corrupted by NaNoWriMo and became much more of a “dive right in” sort of author, creating and building my characters and worlds more-or-less simultaneously. Still, I think the same rules apply: I should know all the little details of my characters’ histories, as well as the history of the worlds they live in – the cultural norms, the religious beliefs, the governmental structures. If you’re a writer, you should know these things about your story, too. So here’s something to ponder when you’re on a long drive or having trouble falling asleep at night: What would the “Insider’s Guide” to YOUR story look like?
You never know when you might become successful enough to need it.