Posted by: kshayes513 | January 5, 2009

Thinking Small

Worldbuilders tend to think big. Naturally! We’re playing god here, creating new universes, and cultures with expansive histories.

There is one time when its necessary to think small: when writing a short story. I’m still learning this in Khasran. One of the main critiques I’ve had from writing groups and (especially) from editors, is “This feels like a chapter from a much bigger story.” Which from the perspective of a magazine, makes it unpublishable, because it doesn’t stand alone.

I’m learning, when I write a short story about Khasran, that I have to ignore the massive amount of cultural and historical and spiritual detail that I know about this world, and just put in what’s relevant to the story at hand.

A couple of examples: I know what happens to Mirza and Jafar about 12 years after The Master Patterns. My original ending hinted at that future (no, I’m not giving away any spoilers!) and it cost me a higher placement in the contest, because the ending was too open. Like a chapter. So at the suggestion of the editors, I rewrote the last bits of dialog into the current ending, and a much better story.

I also had put in more detail in the description of how the magical forces work in kargat, and the nature of the cosmic forces present in the game. This proved too confusing, and too much detail for a very small story. We don’t need to know what the different energies are called or where they fit into the Khasrani cosmology, so out went the details, leaving only the necessary information that cosmic energy is present.

This issue of detail came up again in the short story I’ve just finished, The Thief of Twilight. It takes place in a village far out in the grasslands, and in the first draft, I portrayed the triadic political structure of any Khasrani village: the First Rider deals with the outside world, the Herd Mother or Father is in charge of the herds and village affairs, and the Kargat Player is the spiritual leader, in charge of keeping the Balance.

In rewriting, I realized this was at least 2 too many characters. So the Herd Father and First Rider have disappeared, leaving only the village Kargat Player to speak for the village. I know that in a real Khasrani village, the Kargat Player would be sharing authority with the other two leaders. But the economy of the story demands that I gloss over this fact.  When I get to novels, where there’s lots of elbow room, I can put the triad back in.

Thinking small also has one other benefit to the short story writer: it helps me keep the stories within the usual magazine word count of 4 or 5 thousand words. If you’re a DM trying to write a short game campaign, thinking small probably helps there, too!

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