A way with worlds: 40 - Communicating Your World
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
Recently I had a few
experiences with culture and media that made me thoughtful:
- Seeing a Hong Kong
action film wherein I was about the only person in the
theater to get a reference to classic Chinese Taoist
tales and jokes.
- When writing a story
using two gay characters, a joke between them was taken
wrong by an editor due to cultural differences.
What does this have to do
with writing and worldbuilding? A great deal.
You can build a world as
detailed as you want, or use a historical period. You can know
the finest details of the religion, culture, sexual preference,
clothing habits, and religions of your characters.
You can also leave your
audience incredibly lost because you have to have them understand
the world and how it works so they can understand your story.
One of the problems with worldbuilding, especially more
exotic worlds, is that you can leave your readers out of the loop
because of the culture of your characters. Your characters and
story can be whirling merrily along, and your audience can end up
confused - they know something is happening, but that's about it.
The characters know, they're used to it - but the audience
doesn't know the whys, hows, and wheres of what's going on.
The problem occurs, I feel,
when people mix up writing and worldbuilding. If you are a person
writing about a different world, you need to be both, and you
need to be both at the same time. Forgetting one or the other
means losing something.
Sometimes worldbuilders get
too wrapped up in the creation to forget that they have to
communicate their world to others. And at that point, you are
forgetting to be a writer.
The problem is communicating enough of the contents and
ways of the world to the reader so they understand it without
making that explanation blatant. Clubbing the reader over the
head explaining the significance of the Diphadella Flower in your
world or why Castle Cragavell is haunted is as bad as not
These are the points where
writing and worldbuilding merge completely. You have a world to
describe, but you have to do it in a way that doesn't compromise
your writing. If you don't explain it, your reader is lost. If
you overdo it, they're all too aware they're reading a story, and
you may spoil some plots.
Of course if I didn't have a
solution I wouldn't be writing this column.
Actually, I have several.
MY SOLUTION #1:
First, as a writer, I look for what I call
"narrative moments." Moments that may not necessarily
have to be in the story, but are not inappropriate, that can give
the reader more ideas of how the world works. They may be little
extras, secondarily related to the story your telling, but they
can mean a lot to the reader.
These narrative moments also
can really help you as a worldbuilder and a writer - give you a
chance to play more, be less constrained, yet improve your story.
MY SOLUTION #2:
Narrative CharactersNext Page
For worldbuilders, it's a great blessing to
discover your cast has what I call a Narrative Character.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.