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  1. #1
    Cranky old broad AuntiePam's Avatar
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    How writers provide the background

    Bad title for a thread, but I didn't want to say "You can have a bigger penis in three days" because nobody would open it.

    I'm old, but I'm new to fantasy. I've read bits and pieces over the years, but not near as much as most of you.

    How do you prefer a writer to give the background for the culture or society where their story is taking place?

    I started Kushiel's Dart a couple of weeks ago, but I put it back down pretty quick. Ms. Carey is starting with lots of information and detail, and it almost reads like a textbook. It's being narrated, or at least it feels like narration. But I don't know who the narrator is or how or if he/she fits into the story, so I'm just not caring too much. Someone told me the book continues in that vein, and for me, it's boring.

    On the other hand, I also put down Gardens of the Moon not that long ago because I didn't feel I was getting *enough* background to get me to become involved in the story.

    But then I started The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Fewelling (sp?) and she seems to be striking the perfect balance between telling the story and expounding on the culture. I'm getting acquainted with the characters and picking up just enough bits and pieces to want to know more. I'm not lost, and I'm staying interested.

    So how do you folks want it? Do you want sort of a history at the start, so you know who's who and what's what? Or do you prefer to learn gradually?

    Maybe an analogy would be in traveling. Do you want to be on the tour bus or would you prefer to take off on your own?

  2. #2
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    I don't know that's a really tough question! I really enjoyed Martin's work, and in my opinion he sort of does it both ways.

    I am very excited to read Erikson, but am finishing "memory, thorn, and sorrow" first by Tad Williams. Tad gives almost all of his info as you read, instead of tons of background. You learn more as you go, and it certainly isn't the most enjoyable read I have ever had, but his style is complex. and his prose is fairly good, so I am going to continue!

    In the end I really don't think it matters that much. This is definitely a difficult thing to discuss. Perhaps you could give some examples of what you are talking about through some well referenced work like "LOTR".

  3. #3
    Cranky old broad AuntiePam's Avatar
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    Examples? Oh dear. I thought Kushiel's Dart and the Eriksen book would work, because I've seen them discussed here.

    I'd like to, but I'm not well read in the fantasy genre. Not at all. I haven't even read LOTR yet.

    But you caught what I mean -- it sounds like Tad Williams does it like Fewelling in Bone Doll, bits and pieces, enough so that you can keep up and maybe even anticipate, but not so much that you're bogged down in history and sociology before the story gets going.

  4. #4
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    Those were actually 2 pretty good examples AP.
    Kushiels Dart is pretty hard to keep track of at the start, especially when (at least to me) a lot of the character names appear similar. Add to that attempting to understand the 13 houses, the religous system and the political system and it is a bit overwhelming. Once you're on top of it though I think it gets a bit easier.

    I wouldn't say that Erikson is at the other end of the scale either though. While he doesn't mention everything that's happened, he still throws a fair bit of information out there.

    I don't mind either method, but I prefer where we are revealed important bits of back history piece by piece - authors I think that do this well are Erikson (as previously mentioned), Wurts (in her wars of light and shadow series) and Martin.

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    I started Kushiel's Dart a couple of weeks ago, but I put it back down pretty quick. Ms. Carey is starting with lots of information and detail, and it almost reads like a textbook. It's being narrated, or at least it feels like narration. But I don't know who the narrator is or how or if he/she fits into the story, so I'm just not caring too much. Someone told me the book continues in that vein, and for me, it's boring.
    Umm it's written in the first person. Phedre the main character is the one telling the story. If you don't like first person then avoid Hobb as well.

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    Last edited by JohnH; June 11th, 2004 at 09:24 AM.

  7. #7
    My bowtie is too tight Lucky Joe's Avatar
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    I like the history/background to come out through the telling of the story as is relevant. Revealing small parts at a time that over the course of the book create the big picture and don't put you to sleep.

    For me there is nothing worse than when an author sits his characters down and explains over thirty or forty pages why they must leave the farm to battle the evil overlord that is threatening mankind.

    Or when a new character is introduced and the author presents you with their resume.

  8. #8
    Witch of the Woods Miriamele's Avatar
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    This is a difficult question Pam. I can say though that I definitely don't like it when an author tries to dump too much information on the reader early in the book. Kushiel's Dart I felt did do this--although other people seemed to have liked the beginning so maybe I just found it hard to read because the characters didn't interest me. But still, there was a lot of history and cultural details given right off the start and I didn't like that.

    I have read Williams' Memory Sorrow and Thorn and although his world has a complex history it was given little by little as the story went on. The reader learned along with the characters, and I liked it that way. Similar to LOTR where Gandalf explains things to the hobbits as the story progesses. My opinion is that that's the best way to do it--lots of information, but spread out over the course of the book.

    It really bothers me if an author doesn't give enough information about the world--it makes it seem like they were too lazy to work out the details. I can't think of an example right now though.


  9. #9
    Registered User Iskaral Pust's Avatar
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    My favourite way is Hobb's. I love those textbook-like passages at the start of each chapter.

  10. #10
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Iskaral, that is my favorite method, too. Any book that presents things in that way seems to automatically get points with me -- Farseer, Otherland, Dune series. They're like little bonuses at the beginning of chapters. Erf.

  11. #11
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    Personally, I like it when authors give out background information a little bit at a time as the book develops. They need to catch my attention with the story and the characters first, so that I'll be interested enough to read about the world, etc.

    However, sometimes this isn't possible because the background and the world affect how you should see the characters. I think that's what happens in Kushiel's Dart. If Carey didn't give you the background of the world, and how they look at sex and courtisans, then you would probably think Phedre is simply a prostitute, but it's not so simplistic in the world of the story. As a result, a lot of the background type information had to be give up front so that you would see the characters in the proper light.

    If it's not necessary to understanding the story or the characters up front though, as I said, I prefer the background to be given after the plot and the characters have started being developed.

  12. #12
    Leisure time optimizer Moderator Nimea's Avatar
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    Mmh, interesting.
    All three books AuntiePam mentions I thoroughly enjoyed!
    It seems like I do not really have a preference on that. I try to deal with everything that comes along, only if there is no background at all or it is illogical and unbelievable - that's no good thing. And too much background without story and/or character developement . . . ah, no good either.


  13. #13
    Cranky old broad AuntiePam's Avatar
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    This is an interesting discussion. For one thing, I'm convinced to try again on Kushiel's Dart.

    I do prefer the way Flewelling provides background, but I guess it depends on the story. Some creations will just need more exposition than others.

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    The story at hand should always take top priority over the historical causalities of how the main character arrived at the point in time at which the books starts. If it doesn't, then the author is writing the wrong story.

    That being said, I think having an historical frame of reference is almost always a good idea, and adds yet another dimension to the main storyline and makes it much more realistic and enjoyable. Authors range in their talent, so some of them can manage to squeeze more of this info into the story without making it boring or incidental, so the question of "when is it too much?" really depends on who's doing the writing.

    Personally, I think Carey did a pretty good job with Kushiel's Dart, though it was really too much to digest in the beginning so you have to just read through a lot of it. After a few more chapters though, the names and characters start falling into place, and it's not difficult to keep track of what's going on and how the past relates to the present.

  15. #15
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I like a good mix of detail about the background and meeting the character(s) up front. I liked Kushiel's Dart and didn't really think she spent a lot of time on background, but:

    1. It was a while ago that I read it
    2. I love historical ficiton, which her book reminds me of (like Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of al-Rassan), and if the background interests me I don't mind.

    I have not tried Erickson, so I don't know about him. (Though I did get the first book in the series, because many people on the board recommend him).

    In terms of Flewelling: I actually didn't like her opening of Bone Doll's Twin. I liked the book eventually, but thought the first part a bit boring, and not really having to do with the story of the young boy/girl. Even the two wizards at the start bored me, and didn't really have anything in depth to contribute to the story until later. Another example the 'Bowl' had no real part in book one, or book two for that matter, yet it was a rather important presence (I am sure it will be explained at some point). Hidden Warrior was better, as was her Nightrunner Trilogy in terms of not giving you useless detail. That said I am still a fan of hers.

    I guess What I don't like rather than lots of background explanation is background that to me is not needed and doesn't really make the story better or more interesting.

    I know that sometimes the author just throws you into the world and life in progress and it can be hard to figure out without any background at all.

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