View Full Version : How do you introduce a world?
July 30th, 2006, 07:28 PM
I'm curious to hear how other writers handle introducing the world of their stories. SF and Fantasy stories don't happen in the mundane reality outside our windows; they always contain some element of the fantastic which sets it apart from the real world and needs to be introduced to the audience.
For people who write stories that occur in the Universe Next Door, where the difference between reality and the setting are few: do you prefer to announce the difference up front, or let it linger in the background for a while before bringing it to light?
For those who in a world built from scratch, where do you begin? How do you set up the setting in which your characters act? Obviously you can't cover a whole world in any given story, so how do you pick the most vital details to deliver to the audience? What short of details do you consider important?
The majority of my stories occur in worlds built from scratch. Even my sci-fi stories, though they occur within our own timeline, are so far into the future that any earth-centric pov is meaningless. I try to stick with a character and introduce elements of the world as he or she interacts with them. However, this often leads to extraneous material. There are times when some detial has a great influence over the character, but none at all over the story. Do these details flesh out the world more and make it seem more real? Or do they distract the reader from the more important matters?
Another problem that I'll eventually have to face is non-human characters. My fantasy and SF settings are populated with a diverse collection of non-human sentient beings. Of course, being "alien" creatures, they need to have an alien way of thinking. I've been avoiding writing stories that would require such a POV, but I know someday there will be a story that requires it. How do you capture the inner workings of a non-human character?
I guess that's enough questions for now. Looking forward to the discussion. Thanks for reading.
July 30th, 2006, 09:28 PM
Do these details flesh out the world more and make it seem more real? Or do they distract the reader from the more important matters?
They do both, but th etrick is to know what's appropriate to the story. In a short story avoid all extraneous material, you only want the information that impacts on the plot and characters, as some to evoke th emood. For a novel or a long story you'd want to go ahead and let the details come out, because in long works the details can be a joy, and a heavily fleshed out setting adds ot the vividness of the whole experience.
You've definitely taken the right path by not throwing all the background into the readers lap on page one...this is one of the most common mistakes of amateur writing and will loose a reader's attention faste than almost anything else.
However I see nothing wrong with 'announcing it up front' if the announcement doesn't read like an info dump. If the first line of your story is "By Tuesday afternoon Yancy was ready to have his head replaced, and paid a visit to Acme Headswap and got a nice mid-range model; dark complected, hook-nose, something he hadn't seen anyone wearing lately." Then you have announced the difference on page one, and with a bang (or at least a WTF?), and its in some ways better for certain stories than letting something linger, or just being hinted at for a while, or submerged in some way. But you defintiely don't want to begin with a lecture or history lesson.
As far as aliens go so many tricks ahve been tried ot one degree or another that I doubt you can find one sure fire way to do it. I'd just try to treat their wierdness as completely matter-of-fact from their persepctive. THink of whatever is strange about them, then find the human equivalent, then think of a human describing it (or never mentioning it, or compeltley taking it for granted, etc.). Just remember too that its humans that will be reading it, so extreme incoherence or impossible to follow narratives might be realistic...but they won't be good for a story.
July 31st, 2006, 12:56 AM
I tend to introduce worlds in much the same way I'd teach my sister how to swim.... Just throw her in.:rolleyes:
I try to have something going on, and in the midst of the action, explain why it's happening, and where. Introducing the characters is usually more important to me, then their situation, then the setting. Sometimes a different order would work, depends on how you want to play it.
As for aliens, nothing I can say could possibly beat Alan Dean Foster's first sentence:
It's hard to be a larva.
From, Nor Crystal Tears. IMHO one of his better works. Anything after that sentence, you know you are dealing with a non-human.
July 31st, 2006, 04:30 AM
I introduce a world through the main character who is human so the reader can relate to him or her. The world is seen through the person's eyes, through interactions with that person.
Here's something I wrote in my book, to give the reader a taste of that alien world the humans are in. It is from my book A Warrior's Death (http://www.lulu.com/content/273211)
It is smack in the middle of the third book so a lot of the story has already been told and quite a lot of the warriors' characteristics have been explained.
They just entered an alien world. I tried to describe this world from scratch by getting them to interact with the environment.
Jake and Sarah trailed behind the rest of the warriors. Hand in hand, talking intimately, they were oblivious to everyone else.
A flock of birdlike shadows with wings that glowed red, green and blue flew across the orange sky, ignoring the five warriors altogether.
The realm was far from soundless. Bell-like chimes sounded as glowing shadows went past them, answered in turn by the tinkling music of the occasional squirrel-shaped shadows that scurried on the ground. They had their own beauty in their brilliant multi-colored auras.
“Hey!” Helen jumped aside as a furry glowing creature shot past her ankles.
Bob slid his arm around her shoulder. “Steady there.”
Helen laughed. “The native wildlife here is interesting... Energy that is alive, like the forest creatures back home. I'd love to bring one of these back to study when we're done with this place.”
Bob grinned. “It'll do you some good to get your mind off work for a while.”
Helen stepped aside. “That'll be near impossible.”
“Some things never change,” chuckled Bob.
As the old friends strode along, a stork-like shadow with a blue aura hovered over them. Helen whisked out a thumb sized camera from her belt and photographed it. Startled by the flash of light, the shadow leaped at Helen.
Bob waved his arms at it, frightening it away. “You're disturbing the wildlife here.”
“Can't help it. These things are so fascinating.” Helen was transfixed on the glowing creature as it flew away.
“It's been a long time,” said Bob as he took Helen's hand.
Helen's face turned pink. Embarrassed, she pulled back her hand and looked down. “Yes, it has.”
Bob closed his eyes, discretely scanning her mind. Helen's mental defenses were up, but what he saw gave him a glimmer of hope. “Looks like something good's come out of this.”
A fine line appeared between her eyebrows. “Like?”
Startled at her tone, he said, “At least you get some time off from your hectic schedule.”
Helen's smile lit her face. It was a disarmingly sincere smile Bob sorely missed. He gazed at her, committing that rare moment to memory.
She glanced at the lovers that trailed far behind them. “Look at those two lovebirds. So smitten by each other. They had better not do anything stupid. The last thing we need is for Jake to accidentally release a burst of energy when he gets carried away with Sarah.”
“We gotta keep an eye on them. Defuse that time bomb before it goes off. I never thought Jake would end up so crazy over a girl,” laughed Bob.
As they walked down the seemingly endless canyon, Bob stole a glance at Helen. Her appearance had not changed in the slightest way from the time he first set eyes on her – centuries ago.
Helen caught his gaze and blushed. Shrugging her shoulders, she turned back to check on Jake and Sarah.
The lovers were dangerously close. Jake's lips were a finger's breadth away from Sarah's.
Helen shot a telepathic message at them. One stray spark and the game's over!
Jake and Sarah fell away from each other, as though an invisible wall sprung up between them. They were stunned by her interference.
“That was mean,” laughed Bob.
“Yes, but Jake of all people should know better than that. We'd better chaperone them before sparks fly,” she grinned.
Like a sheepdog, Helen walked alternately beside Sarah and Jake, shooing the pair on. Bob accompanied Helen, amused at her behavior.
As the five warriors strode alongside one another, Sarah spoke up. “With all five of us stuck here, are you sure our world would be safe? I mean. the dark beasts know we are here. Our world is open to an attack.”
Jake gently held her hand. “I'm sure Evan would be able to handle any attack.”
Sarah frowned. “Evan's a stealth. His blasts have no effect on the major beasts.”
Jake grinned mischievously. “Not anymore. He's now as close to an elite as I can make him, without forcing a switch.”
Tilting her head, she said, “Why not just make him a full elite warrior? He could use all the power he can get, given his current situation.”
Slipping his arm around her waist, he replied, “Evan is adamant that he stay a stealth. Torin tried to persuade him to join our ranks as an elite warrior, but he turned Torin down time and again.”
Sarah looked perplexed. “But why? All warriors, stealth or elite pledge their lives to the defense of our world anyway. All can be called upon to battle at any time.”
“Stealth warriors grow old with their loved ones. Eventually, they retire to lead normal lives with their families. Once an elite, always an elite, never changing even as your loved ones die one after another,” said Jake, growing solemn.
A herd of glowing fur balls rolled towards them, singing like a merry brook. Sarah dodged a glowing purple ball that darted at her feet. “Isn’t that the case for all of us?”
Striding forward, Jake ignored the tinkling creatures that sniffed at his ankles. “Evan has a wife and children. As a stealth, he can still live normally without fear of accidentally hurting them. As an elite, he will have to leave them and live with us, for the sake of their safety.”
“What do you mean?” asked Sarah, accidentally squashing an orange ball that slid under her foot.
The little critters rolled away as the warriors sat on the parched ground. He lifted her chin and gazed into her sparkling eyes. “Elite warriors cannot live among regular humans as we might accidentally kill them.”
She blushed. “You did mention something like that when I had to make that decision a long time ago. But you never told me how exactly that might happen.”
He slipped his arm around her waist, drawing her closer to himself. “As a warrior, when you are conscious, you have full control of your power. When you are asleep, you might release your raw energy involuntarily,” said Jake. “In a stealth, the energy released is insignificant. It wouldn't bother anyone, not even ordinary humans. As a full elite warrior, the energy released can kill regular humans nearby and set the building on fire. That is why all elites have to live at the Academy. Everyone there is immune to these energy bursts. The entire Academy and everything within it is made of flame proof materials.”
The color faded from Sarah's cheeks. “Have such accidents really happened to anyone before?”
Torin sat beside Sarah. His eyes glistened with tears. “It happened to me. That was why I set up the academy and moved all the elite warriors to the new world I started.”
Through telepathic images, Torin showed Sarah his memories of what had happened, events too painful for him to verbalize.
Violet eyes caught Torin's gaze. The woman he loved cradled their newborn baby as she smiled.
July 31st, 2006, 09:17 AM
I once wrote a novel that introduced its world in the first page and a half. My favorite people on this forum hammered me for this info dump and they were correct. I have come to the conclusion that information should be provided in the precise doses it is required when it is required. If nothing unworldy is going to happen, if nothing unearthly is going to happen, then what is the point of saying it not happening on earth as we know it? But, if gravity is 1/6th earth normal and your hero is shooting three pointers, you'd best say something about the fact the basketball game is being played on the moon.
July 31st, 2006, 01:06 PM
And bear in mind that for the people who inhabit whatever world it is you've created, it is absolutely mundane because it is their every day reality. You might find that describing what we would find amazing, through the eyes of someone who has seen it every day, is a good way of introducing your world. The extra-ordinary made ordinary...
I introduce things as I go and only when they are necessary, not before. Info dump, unless it is handled very carefully, gets a bit like a text book.
July 31st, 2006, 07:49 PM
Start your story with someone re-acting to the setting, or using it. Make dialogue and actions tell the setting rather than just openly coming out and telling us. An example would be
"This is bullshit!" Her now scarlet face seemed to be ready to explode, "I swear, if any of you change the settings of that starship again, I'll collect your ****ing heads!" She turned to her crew and picked up her lazer. 10 years she had piloted this ship, and now because of one mistake the whole mission was in jepardy.
I know, this isn't that good, but if you look at it, you see I have introduced the setting, the star ship, who the character is and a little about herself. I have also opened up the conflict, and perpared the reader for another apollo-13-type book. If you don't want to use a non human form, introduce their characteristics in action; make a sentance that says: Those cold antennas chilled her to the bone when they focused on her.
These sort of sentances help make it interesting rather than boring.
ps, I know my examples are bad. IF you have a chance pick up Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. That book deals with how to introduce these things in depth and has the best examples.
(Sorry about the cursing, was watching kill bill while I wrote this.)
July 31st, 2006, 08:23 PM
Heh, I just wrote something, in script form, to do just this sort of thing. It's actually for a promo for an upcoming show. It'll likely never be in the show itself. The show's so much in pre-production, I don't have names yet. It's also a first draft and therefore not a very good script, but for this purpose it gets the point across I think.
CAPTAIN: There. New airlock control. And we didn't have to pay a mechanic for it. These DIY kits are great.
NAVIGATOR: What about those three parts?
CAPTAIN: What three parts?
NAVIGATOR: These three parts. this square thingy, this round thingy, and this screw.
CAPTAIN: They're probably extras. They put in 2 of some things in case you break something.
NAVIGATOR: Are you sure?
CAPTAIN: Sure I'm sure. It's like that chair I bought for our dorm room in college. It had like 8 spare parts.
NAVIGATOR: That chair fell apart when I sat on it. And this isn't a chair. It's our airlock.
From here you know that these two guys have been friends since college, they're frugal (at least the captain is), and their ship is possibly not the best out there. Hopefully, it will intrigue enough to make the listener of the promo want to hear more, and tell the setting in a far more entertaining way than the paragraph you are currently reading :D
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