This week, I got my manuscript back from the fabulous Kris Atkins who graciously agreed to be my critique partner. I’m pretty sure I’m getting the better end of this deal. I haven’t shared my MS with anyone who isn’t related or a friend. So this was a BIG DEAL.
And it was fantastic.
Kris’ comments were insightful and to the point without being harsh. And unbelievably helpful. Some comments pointed out things I hadn’t thought about. Some confirmed fears that I had about the plot, characters, etc. A few of her comments made me totally face-palm. (Note to self: it’s never a good idea to use the same word three times in three consecutive sentences. You knew that already, didn’t you, self? Yeah, I thought so.)
One of her comments got me thinking I need to do a little more homework on the alien race that I created in this MS. I need to create some cultural quirks and every day rituals or habits – build a little more of their back story. So to help brainstorm some ideas, I tapped into my demographic: my 13-year-old daughter. I didn’t regret that decision immediately. But… eventually.
She bombarded me with questions. “Are they humanoid? Bi-pedal?” (Yes, she actually use the word “bi-pedal.”) “What are their houses made out of? Do they eat meat? How do they hunt? Are men dominant over women? How long do they live? What is their planet like? Do they live in deserts? Forests?”
This went on for about half an hour before she broke the proverbial camel’s back with this question: “How do they do their laundry?”
Pffffttt! How should I know how they do their laundry?! Well, the answer is – I should know how they do their laundry, shouldn’t I? I created the race. And even if I’m not going to work laundry day into the story line, I should have some sense of how that gets accomplished. Otherwise, they’re not believable in my head. And if they’re not believable in my head, why would they be believable in my readers’ heads?
Now I’m feeling that I need to back up and do some major character-and-world building exercises.
Fellow writers: I’m curious. How do you build your worlds and your characters? Do you go above and beyond the details that you will actually weave into your story? Do you build entire backstories for your characters or worlds that you may never use simply for the purpose of getting to know your characters/worlds better? How much time is too much time to put into these kinds of exercises?