Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Adding On

I feel that my greatest strength as a designer is the ability to put things down when I am tired of them, while being able to pick them up again - sometimes years later - and continue where I left off without needing to change everything and start from scratch.

This is how the huge map gets made.  This is how I steadily form up the trade system or build the wiki.  This is how I am able to pick up the character generator after three years without losing heart that it has been too long since reworking it.  And this is why I don't feel bad that it's been 8 days since I last worked on the brand new tech system without a follow up post.

I do apologize - but I am taking a break from that for a while.  I worked hard on it for about a month and now I want some distance.  That does not mean the tech idea is dead or that it won't find it's place in my general system - it's just on the shelf.  When I'm ready, I'll pull it down from the shelf, dust it off and take it to the next place.

Beyond planning towards a specific goal, we sometimes need to look at long-term elements of our design with a wider perspective.  Does the reader suppose that something as complex as Bag End, on the right, was built in a single piece?  Of course not.  At some point the entrance hall served to keep Bilbo's ancestors out of the rain.  As they cleared out the space for the "Parlour" - that no doubt served for a year as both a kitchen and a bedroom - the one-day spacious and convenient entrance hall was full of timbers, tools, garbage and detritus that were simply lived with until the day it could be used or cleaned out.

Each generation - with long pauses between - would take up the expansion of the home, working their way deeper into the hill, adding a separate kitchen, then a bedroom (which would much, much later become the Smoking Room once the kitchen was expanded with a Dining Room, a Pantry (which would later be turned into the Atrium when a new Pantry was dug, complete with two cellars and a new bedroom and study could be added).  And so on.  The building of Bag End is a long-term problem, with skull-sweat and much reconsideration, errors, the occasional collapse and at least one or two generations who were content to sit and do nothing.

For Bilbo and Frodo, at the tag end of the family line, it's all a wonder - because it seems impossible that something so complicated, so comfortable and rich in design, could have ever been conceived.  That is because, from their view, they can only see the whole thing.  But whole things are made of parts.

If the reader's world seems impossible or at least daunting, consider that it doesn't have to be done in a single piece.  Consider what's necessary to set up the framework with an eye to setting it aside and picking it up later when you're tired of it.  Start from that perspective.  Then, when life gets in your way or something else comes up, the precepts are in place to allow coming back some time later, remembering how it all worked and settling in to continue it exactly as you planned, ages before.

Don't burn it down and start again.  You'll never complete anything that way.

1 comment:

hellahexi said...

Don't burn it down and start again. You'll never complete anything that way.

As someone who frequently has this urge ("It's not good enough! I've learned so much since I did that, I don't want anyone to see my mistakes!"), this is advice I try to keep close to my heart.

Moreover, there is something fascinating to be learnt not just from the finished product, but being able to trace out how someone got there.