View Full Version : How to introduce a world!?
October 12th, 2005, 09:01 AM
I've been puzzling around with a world(I'm a fanatical world builder) for months now. The world is large and advanced and I'm about to start writing a book set in it, however, I find it hard to introduce he traditions and ways of the world in a "non fact-drop" way. I've been reading a lot of fantasy, and world introduction has been done in many ways. I particuarly like the way Robin Hobb and Scott Bakker does it(with quotes from books in the start of chapters.) and the way Suzanna Clarke used footnotes(which I don't want to use, and generally don't like, but which she used brilliantly)
My problem is that my world is in many ways fundamentaly different from our own and I can't see how I can introduce those things(which are so natural to the characters and unnatural to us) without kind of "telling the people of earth the differences of the worlds"
I would like the world to be introduced by dialogue and thought, but they wouldn't speak of the "obvious" things that are so "not obvious" to us.
Imagine someone reading a story from earth and they don't know what "music" or "family" is.
I definately don't want to start my book with "this story takes place in a world where......."
October 12th, 2005, 10:06 AM
Off the top of my head I would suggest just write the story part of the story, add introductions when necessary, then when you go back for the second draft add any details about the world the reader needs to know. The reader won't need to know everything about your world.
October 12th, 2005, 01:08 PM
I have an alien world where I describe various animals as "cat-like with no fur" or a "krugat" is like a carriage vehicle. I try to put the descriptions in terms that an earthling would understand. I don't use footnotes, just describe the thing immediately in the story. It seems to work fine, and if you're writing in the 3rd person, you can get away with this.
October 12th, 2005, 01:29 PM
I think I'll read some sci-fi, to get some input.
Most fantasy books I've read are set in medieval settings that are really alike our own past, but my own world is nothing like that, maybe some sci fi authors have introduced their worlds in a good way
October 13th, 2005, 06:57 AM
When introducing elements of your world beware the insidious info-dump! In fact, I prefer to only provide crucial information, and let the reader infer the rest. This is especially important when you consider point of view, as someone stated already- you really shouldn't have your character thinking to himself-
"Why, there's a bumbershoot, a six legged donkey with a horn on its head."
Obviously, they know what a bumbershoot is already. Same goes for having one character spout well known history, etc. to another character-
"Well, as you know, King Gerald was smothered when the ropes holding the horse above him broke."
October 13th, 2005, 07:17 AM
yes, that's my problem. I want to avoid the info dump, and yet it's hard to introduce a world that is so totally different from our own, I mean, this isn't some standard european medieval world.
October 13th, 2005, 08:03 AM
Tbh I don't think info-dumping is as big a problem as some suggest, look at a writer like Peter Hamilton - that guy info-dumps half a book, but because of the worlds he deals with, it has to be done. I think if it is as different from our own as you suggest, then a few info-dumps won't hurt and may stop readers wondering what the hell is going on. Which of course is an alternative, just do what Herbert did in Dune and introduce all your names and concepts as if it's all perfectly natural and just keep using them. Eventually the reader will become comfortable with them and as you add more details, understand what they are. Other than that you can still use your characters in clever ways to flesh out your world, just be selective.
October 13th, 2005, 09:01 AM
If you want to see info dumping done really well, read Stephen King's the Dark Tower series. Yes it's a very long series, but it's also an incredibly fleshed out world with mythology, creatures, customs, languages. I've picked up a lot of writing clues from reading it.
It's pretty simple when you boil it down, but dies take patiences and practice.
before:"Why, there's a bumbershoot, a six legged donkey with a horn on its head."
after: "Is that a unicorn?" a little girl asked.
"No silly, unicorns don't look like mules," her sister replied as she admired the bumbershoot step proudly by, its six-legged cadence tapping out on the coble stones as it passed.
And the other example
before: "Well, as you know, King Gerald was smothered when the ropes holding the horse above him broke."
after: "I'd hate to end up like King Gerald," Pesky said.
"I know what you mean," Chester replied. It must have been horrible for the king to be crushed beneath that horse, but what was he doing walking under it in the first place? Was it stupidity? King Gerald wasn't a particularly smart man after all. Many think it was an assassination attempt which would always spark a lively debate down at the pub.
It's also a matter of style. You'd rather be in the character's head pulling the thoughts out and only having that person say what is needed though they'd obviously be thinking about it. It's also about POV. Who is thinking what? What do they think about what is being said and how do they respond. This is a great way to get out info dumps AND flesh out your characters based on their thoughts and reactions to the given information.
That's my opinion, anyway. :)
October 13th, 2005, 09:04 AM
I don't know if it will work with your kind of story but one way of introducing a world that I found really good was John Brunner in "Where Sheep Look Up." That was set on Earth in the near-future so wasn't too unlike our own but what he did was add in "snippets" that featured situations and characters that did not appear elsewhere in the book. For example, he'd be in the middle of the main thread, then put in a few paragraphs that gives the idea of the kind of world the main characters live in using other once-off characters in a kind of cameo role, then get back onto the main thread. I found that way quite interesting and enjoyable as it presented a complete picture of the world they were living in without getting into tedious descriptions. I don't know if this would work in your case but it may be worth a look.
October 13th, 2005, 08:33 PM
A few things to consider:
1) Things can be said to be more than just their name. Bread is not just bread but a food substance that has a type of appearance, taste and texture. So if you have a character slice a kumrat and brush the crumbs away, we'll probably figure out that it's bread-like without you saying "it's bread-like." Of course, that's only if your people call slicing slicing and crumbs crumbs. You have to decide, but at a certain point, you're probably going to want to draw a line and start using the English language. So a dog might still be a dog and kumrat might be bread.
2) Yes, Bakker and other authors do little snippets from imaginary documents and even drop in large blocks of background text. That's usually because those authors are using the third person omniscient viewpoint format. One of the main features of that format is the omniscient narrator -- the author's voice -- which can provide any information one likes as well as characters' viewpoints. But a lot of the information you get about these world settings -- and one available to those writers using third person limited or first person formats as well -- is, as Maus brought up, character viewpoint (the inner thoughts and feelings of characters and what they observe around them.)
Characters, after all, may be familiar with their world's culture, but that doesn't mean that they don't observe it, react to it, think about it and have feelings about it. In a fantasy story, a viewpoint character may not like the Festival of Littleput because you have to sit in a gelatinous substance and there's always ritual battle renactments and he ends up getting slimy and bruised. In a sf story, a viewpoint character may be frustrated because his quadalupe isn't putting out a proper light beam. The gem crystals are lined up fine, but the lever that sets off the photon ignition seems to be loose, and so on. Characters may also have differing amounts of knowledge, so of course you can have one character tell another something in dialogue. But character viewpoint is certainly one of the most powerful tools writers have for presenting information.
3) There may be a lot of background info that you need as reference, so that you don't contradict your own creations, but that doesn't have to be present in the story for audiences to follow it. You may need to work out the 24 Commandments of Thwack, for instance, to operate your Thwackian character, but not have to give those commandments to the audience, or maybe put them in a nice appendix. SF stories routinely may be slim on the details of their world setting, focusing instead on a narrow band of information. For instance, I'm reading Arthur C. Clarke's novella, "A Meeting with Medusa," which concerns a ship mission to Jupiter, but gives you very little info about what the future Earth culture consists of. There is also a popular trend for some authors of both contemporary and epic fantasy to deliberately keep things murky, by withholding or partially withholding world information, so that the readers have to figure things out without knowing all the reasons for the chaos. The reader only knows what you want him to know.
Studying other authors is a great idea, but you may want to look closer, past all the bells and whistles of structure, at specific narrative. In Bakker's work, for example, take a gander at how much world information he conveys simply by having his sorceror character think about what he's dealing with. Authors are usually sneaky that way.
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