I’m not going to continue the business theme Amanda started and Chris Nuttall’s guest post continued. To start with, I’m balls at it, and thanks to the day job demands, I’m not really in a position to move past “hobbyist” by Chris’s definition.
Of course, the day job throws some interesting serendipity into things as well: today I stumbled across a bug that’s been in the system for at least 5 years (probably more like 10). It’s kind of obvious when it happens, but… it only happens under very specific circumstances (you know, if you chant the alphabet backwards while hopping anticlockwise around a summoning circle, and you get q and p in the wrong order, you’ll get an incubus instead of the succubus you were trying to summon). And hasn’t happened since it was introduced or we’d have heard about it (believe me, we’d have heard about it. If our customers don’t kick up the mother of all fusses, the customer service folks will).
What does this have to do with writing?
For a start, it’s damn near license to do whatever you want as long as you establish it as outside normal operations. So when Manly Hero tries to use the Sword of Rectitude to cut down the Tree of Ignorance, and it breaks, well, that’s not what the thing is meant to do. It’s meant to slice people open, for values of people that don’t typically include trees. You use a chainsaw for that.
Or the pirate crew flying a ship stolen from the mighty Slow’n’Steady Empire have your hero’s battered spaceship in their sights and they’re blazing away. You’ve taken too much damage to escape but the fellow from Slow’n’Steady is muttering about how they’re firing much too quickly and the guns just can’t cool down and might even… This of course is when the impressive Kaboom! happens, followed by the explanation that Slow’n’Steady don’t ever engage on a single ship basis. They have multiple ships firing at their target with a slow rolling pattern that gives each gun its 5 second cool-down time.
Or something. What it is and how it works is totally up to you.
That’s one lesson from today’s bug.
Another is that things change and people forget about things that used to be important, so you get some odd bits of stuff left over as changes accrete to anything that’s been around for any length of time. Which leads to odd corners and rooms with windows looking out to hallways or even other rooms. And years (or decades, or centuries) later, Young Hero is exploring the place and avoiding his tutors when he feels a bit of a breeze in the narrow corridor that seems to have been forgotten. He follows the breeze to find that there’s a spot where ancient mortar has crumbled, and if he works at it a bit he opens up a doorway that was bricked over long ago. So long ago, that the door itself is long gone.
Where Young Hero’s explorations take him is up to you. The point is that anything (including a culture) that’s been around long enough is going to have odd incomprehensible bits in it that hide things forgotten for ages, things which just might matter to your protagonist… Or she could be the fourth generation cutting the end off the leg of lamb because great grandma’s roasting pan wasn’t big enough to hold the entire leg (which is long enough for cutting the end off to become a Tradition and therefore not something you stop without a damn good reason).
Little touches like this where they don’t strictly matter add richness to your world building. Where they do matter you can use them to give your plots and characters extra depth.
Lesson three, though, that’s the big one.
Namely that – even though this bug has been around for ages and never happened to a customer – it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. It doesn’t matter that it’s never happened to a customer. It could happen. The same thing applies to how we authors conduct ourselves. We may never have been famous, or even notable, but if we don’t do the right thing now when we’re nobodies, we won’t do it in the future when (hopefully) we’re making gajillions and we’re a household Name.
And on that note, I’m going to go mess with a tree stump in the name of getting used to using a practice sword.