As a NaNoWriMo participant, one of my favorite things about the month of madness is the writing pep talks. I don’t care whether you’ve just started writing yesterday or if you’ve been writing for your entire life; everybody needs a pep talk and some original advice now and then.
Scott Westerfield’s (author of the YA Uglies series) pep talk was posted on the NaNoWriMo website on November 16, and it has to be my favorite pep talk of the month so far. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do so – like the other pep talks, it’s not specifically for NaNoWriMo participants, but for all writers.
Westerfield talks about “childhood ontology,” which is when we tend to think of the world in very simple terms because that is all we know. When we grow up and become adults, our world and our sphere of knowledge get larger and larger, but even so… there are tons of other things out there that we haven’t thought about. Westerfield uses the example, among others, that there are 20,000 species of parasitic wasps. Our world is much, much larger than we can imagine.
He’s telling us, essentially, to think outside of our childhood ontology when we write. Our character’s lifestyle may be similar to our own, and it may reflect our limited worldview, and when we exhaust the possibilities of what could happen in a lifestyle similar to ours, we get bored with our stories and want to give up. But there are so many things we aren’t thinking about, so many little details that we haven’t even begun to consider. There are limitless possibilities that could break our characters out of their mundane lives.
That’s something I tend to forget, mostly because it’s a lot easier to give your fictional world prescribed limits, that way you don’t get overwhelmed. But remembering that the world is full of richness and depth that we can draw from can help us to make the worlds of our novels more rich, deep, and real.