The other day, I came to a realization sparked by a historical garment video and my revision process.

I have become obsessed with Bernadette Banner’s videos. I am not a history fan, nor am I interested in reconstructing historical gowns or making elaborate costumes, but Banner’s passion for historical garment reconstruction, as well as her sense of humor and accomplished filmmaking, make her channel thoroughly compelling to watch. Recently, I watched several videos in which she critiques the accuracy of the costumes in period films.

This is very niche. Most people don’t check to see if the buttonholes on film costumes were hand-stitched.

In the same week, while revising my novel, I had questions about my world—pesky little details I needed to figure out. As I contemplated my world (I honestly don’t remember which detail I was mulling over), Banner’s analysis of period costume details came to mind. I wanted my story details to be as accurate and compelling as her hand-stitched buttonholes.

This impulse to make the world of my novel as vivid as the world of a film seemed suddenly ridiculous. How could one person bringing a world to life with words possibly achieve the results that teams of artists, artisans, designers, cinematographers, etc. produce for a film?

It’s an impossible undertaking. I envisioned the credits rolling at the end of a film. The hundreds of people who had full time jobs, each creating a very specific element of the movie. There’s no way I can bring that level of expertise and detail to my novel.

I can’t hand-stitch every buttonhole.

I’m not supposed to. I know that. A novel is not a film. Readers bring their imaginations to a novel, visualizing and experiencing the written story in their unique ways. A writer holds space for that experience.

But my impulse is still to ask the questions that inevitably lead me into a warren of detailed rabbit holes. It can be overwhelming. As a first-time novelist, I’m not always sure when I’ve done enough to evoke my world, and when I’m falling short.

Realizing that films have teams of highly skilled people bringing their worlds to life made me feel better about my worldbuilding difficulties.

Do you ever catch yourself creating impossible standards for your creative work?

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2 Responses

  1. Yes! My friend Beth says, “Great is the enemy of good.” May be true we pass on a lot of things thinking we can’t get them great enough. (Ha, perhaps some of us less than others.) But there’s value in the doing. Even if we can’t quite reach where we imagine our work hit. I expect reading your novel is going to be great for me!

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