Recently, a reviewer mentioned some problems with my new story “The Hidden Institute”. Goodreads won’t let me link directly to it, but you can find it here: ( http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/156317501 ). Don’t worry, this is not a condemnation or defense against the critique. In fact, I welcome negative comments, as they help me determine what I need to do in future stories.
What I’d like to do here is explain why I allowed one of these issues to remain, even after I recognized it. I would like to explain it as part of how I write.
From the review:
“The major flaw, for me, was that there wasn’t enough of it. I wanted to know more — a lot more — about the world our hero Cliffy lives in. What is daily life like for the “commoners.” Do they work? At what? And what’s the deal with the nobility? How did they take power, and what are they doing with it? How did such an obvious gulf open between the social classes? And what exactly are these wars about that get mentioned but never explained?”
When I started writing this story, I put a lot of thought into what the world around Cliffy was like. I sketched little maps, drew aristocratic hierarchical charts on the backs of napkins, I thought about how much money each group should have access to, and how much power. I thought about the place of the clergy, and the military. I built up how the political power was distributed among people, and tried to make it balance out enough to where it would all fit. My main concern was that I built up a world that would work, would be plausible, and was not in danger of revolution.
Then, when all that was done, I threw it away. Well, not really, but I did put it aside so that I could tell the story. I knew that, in the end, this story was about one boy. In some places I had to describe how the world became what it was, but even when I had to do that, I made sure to tell the story in the context of the main character’s life.
The worldbuilding is important, of course, and I paid close attention to it. However, if the story is not about the world, that description must take a back seat to the character’s story. In a way, the world becomes a character in itself, which reveals it’s secrets only as they become needed.
In fact, there are points where I took a certain delight in hiding elements of the world. The “wars”, for instance, were deliberately vague. Throughout the entirety of the book, no reference is made to who is fighting, or why. All that is known is that there is a war going on, and that people continue to go about their duties, not even bothering to mention how the war is going.
That was a deliberate addition that I put in as a nod to one of my chief influencers, George Orwell. In his book 1984, Orwell made the argument that a government needs a perpetual war in order to stay in power. He said that, when people get used to sacrificing their own needs to help win the war, the government can hold them forever.
In The Hidden Institute, I created that same mentality. The people go on about their lives, knowing that somewhere soldiers are dying, but not being affected by the knowledge. That kind of mentality should be horrific to us, should stand out as impossible. If we look back to WWII, and we see the kind of involvement every individual played in the war effort, it becomes ridiculous to think that a people could just ignore a war. But Orwell said it could happen, and that governments would do well to make it happen.
And here is where I get myself in trouble. I put that in partially to show people, however subconsciously, that it is happening right now.
At the moment, the United States is involved in five active wars (that I know of). These are places where we have soldiers standing by because of an armistice, or in active duty. South Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Lybia. Without making commentary on how right or wrong it is that we should be there at all, the mentality that has grown from this situation is exactly the one that we were warned of.
America is involved in multiple wars, and no one talks about them. People are dying, but it doesn’t make the daily news. This is largely because the news of it would be wearying if it were told every day, but the alternative is that people enter this way of thinking where perpetual war is a fact of life.
I was never trying to make this book a call-to-arms, but at the same time, I hoped I could make someone think about the kind of mentality that accepts perpetual war without question. That’s why I made it part of my worldbuilding, and that’s why it was barely mentioned in the actual story.