Is My Novel Overly-Complex?

by Knija
(Brooksville, Florida, USA)

Question: I am writing a fantasy story based around war. I'm a fan of the Red Blood series, Harry Potter, and anything concerning dragons. While planning out the world this story takes places and fleshing out characters, I suddenly had trouble figuring out where to begin in all this mess. Every corner I turn there seems to be another plot hole or another complicated reasoning to the start of the war. Or, maybe this is just speculation, so here is what the story is about:

Magic plays a vital role in this universe. The Council was governed by the five Houses, all with their own species and elemental abilities: Fire, Earth, Air, Water, and Floral. The leaders of each group ruled in harmony, trading their goods to help out one another. Life was perfect. Yet all good things must come to an end.

Florals are the humans of this world. They control plant-life and are very weak compared to the other Houses. This meant that the others took them for granted, casting them off to the side, taking more than they should have. It was also frustrating for the other Houses because a new human would arrive every hundred years, meaning more training would have to ensue.

One day, the human Queen, married and already with son, falls in love with the leader of the Fire House. When Sonya is born, conflict arises, the King is furious and kills the Queen for such actions. Well, the Fire leader finds out about it and teaches the King a lesson, killing him in front of his son.

The son, now forced to rule the throne along, feels hatred toward the Fire leader for killing his family. It messes the boy up, and he decides to turn against the Council and their ways. His name is King Midas, and he is on a mission to rid the world of the fire bearers, and kill Sonya, blaming her for the start of this war.

As the years continue, the humans win the war, the Fire nation and its people are long gone. This also meant that winters were becoming longer and deadlier. The Council has broken apart and the other species live in hiding while the humans remain supreme.

Sonya, our hero, is twenty years old and was placed into the care of an infertile mother who would protect her and keep her far from the war itself. Raised to believe that she was human, Sonya was terrified when she found out about her fire abilities. When word got to the King, she was sentenced to be hung. Her caregiver got in the way and was unfortunately killed before anything could be explained to Sonya and her past. King Midas was about
to have what he wanted, and kill his sister who he believed to be an abomination. However, when a group of Dark Elves also received word about a woman with fire abilities, they infiltrated the Kingdom and stole her away.

Sonya must now become accustomed to the world around her, and stop the reign of the humans and save the dying world. Stop winter before an ice age destroys the earth, and in the meantime, find out who she really is.

So yeah, that's pretty much it. Let me know if this is too much for one story and if there are some things that should be taken out or added to. Thank you!

Answer: Fantasy writers often succumb to what I call "worldbuilding addiction," in which they spend years designing a fantasy world, backstory, and outlines for many novels, but never actually finish the first book.

Here's how I recommend you put things into perspective.

Focus on your main character. Begin the actual book where her story begins, and end when her story is complete. All the backstory should be there to support her journey, whether that's a loss of innocence, or the discovery of her abilities/worth/destiny/true love, etc. It's important for the writer to know how the situation came to be and what's happening beyond the main character's perception, but often the reader doesn't need all that. The reader wants to be in the shoes of a main character they can empathize with.

The real story, the heartline of the novel, should concern how Sonya got involved in the struggle of her life and the world, how she overcomes challenges and obstacles, faces a crisis where she must make a crucial decision, and how the world and her life are changed in the end. Make sure that story is emotionally engaging. Everything and everyone else are just the supporting elements.

If you find yourself getting lost in designing backstory, ask yourself how this matters to your main character. Will it affect her choices or the outcome of her choices? Will it offer her a necessary challenge?

You're writing fantasy adventure after all, not a murder mystery. Sonya needs to discover enough information to make the right choice, but she doesn't need to know every detail of everyone's life before she enters the story. So if your backstory is getting too complex, you can simplify it.

Also, try to keep the focus on the current story that is unfolding. That should be more interesting than the backstory.

Remember too that the reader needs to discover the backstory as the main character discovers the backstory and should not require an infodump. That means only revealing the facts that are relevant to the main character's present journey.

Best of luck.

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