Indulging In Your Novel's Details
Written by
She Writes
February 2019
Written by
She Writes
February 2019

This guest post is from our February guest editor Roshani Chokshi. Make sure you check out her newest book The Gilded Wolves

Holding the final version of The Gilded Wolves was, for me, that dramatic moment in a Hallmark movie where a long-suffering parent bursts through the doors of a high school graduation ceremony and falls to their knees as their problem child is announced the surprise valedictorian. You know, the one where they make eye contact from across the room and each of them lets a single tear roll down because Daggummit, we did it, Junior. Through all the mess and the pain—

I’m getting carried away.

But seriously. That’s how it felt. This book was the hardest thing I’ve written, and it also taught me many a thing.

Get Carried Away With the Details

This may sound like paradoxical craft advice, but I highly encourage all writers to get carried away with the details. If you write fantasy like me, it’s impossible not to. Even if you declare: “we are now in an alternate Paris!” you still have to pay homage to the sense of time. For me, this led to strange stops and starts in the writing process.

I can’t tell you the number of times I had to pause in the middle of writing just to look up the plausibility of an inconsequential part of the sentence. For example: “He dropped ice into his glass” [insert record scratchy sound] WAIT. DID THEY HAVE ICE. (As it so happens, the history of ice manufacturing truly transformed 19th century Europe, and for that we have Frederick Tudor to thank who, in 1833…stop it Roshani, no one cares).

Indulge, not only for your readers, but for yourself.

When I read exquisite worldbuilding, I often feel transported, surrounded in a fleece of belonging, but it’s not brought on by the sense that I know everything about this place. Frankly, I don’t want to know Fictional Land’s history of agriculture because that sounds eye-gougingly boring. I am transported because I can sense the writer’s confidence in their world. I trust that what I’m reading is the tip of the iceberg, beneath which a treacherous glacier of this author’s gleeful 2 a.m. Wikipedia searches seeps slowly into the waters of their universe.

It doesn’t matter if not every bit of information makes its way onto the page. In a way, it’s irrelevant. All that matters is that you, the author, know.

Indulgence was what ultimately led me to the heart of The Gilded Wolves. When I set out to write this story, it was with the childlike desire to play with the setting. Indulgence in history and curiosity in the details showed me that my love for La Belle Epoque, the self-named Beautiful epoch of France, was a gilded thing. I scratched at the gold of it: the velvet seats of the Moulin Rouge, lights sparkling on the Eiffel Tower like roosting stars, artists with ink-stained fingers… but soon saw less than favorable flashes of my own heritage. British control of India. Spanish control of the Philippines. Human zoos meant to encourage the spectacle of the other. These were horrors permitted by the monster of imperialism.

Allow the Details to Change You (and Your Story)

I have to admit that when I got to this point in my research, I felt a divide opening up inside me. The story I had originally envisioned had changed. It sparkled, but now there was a sinister glint to it. The once dazzling setting now had a set of sharp teeth. I felt inadequate to tackle the truth of that time, but this is one of the wonderful opportunities presented to those who write historical fantasy fiction: we can choose where to focus our voice. We can still behold all the ornaments and trappings that first caught our eye but instead place the lens in the heart of a character in that time. Characters who, in my case, share my background. Mixed race, mixed privilege, mixed wants. The tension I felt at approaching this story informed its heart.

Writing is downright scary. Even when you finally get to that Hallmark worthy we did it! moment, sometimes it leads you to dark places…places where you have to make the choice to honor the essence of that history, regardless of whether or not it’s packaged in fantasy; the choice not to sanitize the grotesque simply because it didn’t fit the original mold of your tale.

The more I write, the more I feel like a dragon. I feel like I’m guarding a horde of ideas, and sometimes the act of hatching them into a full-fledged book just means letting them sit. Exploring that warmth. Falling down warrens of trivia. Scratching off the gold to see the soul. Getting carried away

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