Subtle World Building
I think the hardest thing for a writer to do when world building is remaining invisible. When I read, I don’t want to feel the author over my shoulder. I don’t want to see the footprints of the creator.
Have you ever read a scene where your eyes start to glaze over and you found yourself skimming ahead to the ‘good parts’? Whenever that happens to me, I ask myself: Why did I skip ahead? What did the author do to lose me here?
Often times, it was too much narrative, description, introspection or dialog. It forced me as the reader to become aware of the author and what s/he was trying to accomplish.
As the author, I don’t want you to know I exist. I don’t want to be on your radar. If you’re not immersed in the story, then I’ve left too many of my footprints and failed you.
When an author intrudes on the story, it makes the reader feel as if the author doesn’t trust him to ‘get it’. I’d rather err on the side of caution and say too little to keep you intrigued, than say too much and destroy the fantasy.
Every once in a while I come across a complex scene in my books where I want to explain more, but I try to resist the urge to intervene. Though I’ll run the risk that some readers won’t get it, I’m betting most will. And those are the people I’m writing for.
So what makes the author obvious in his world building?
• Describing too deeply—or too often.
Solution: Tell the reader only what he needs to know at that moment in the story.
• Authorial intrusion—where the author explains something the character knows so well that it would never come up in a normal conversation or narrative.
Solution: Whenever you need to explain a bit of world building to the reader, use lateral moves. In the first Harry Potter book, many times the reader learns about Hogsworth at the same time Harry does. We are moving through the story together.
• Explaining something the character wouldn’t know, but the reader needs to understand.
Solution: Say I want to explain a device that sends subliminal messages. Rather than delivering a long physical account, show the effects. The character could start perspiring, his eyes will flare and he’ll rub his temples vigorously as if he were trying to rub something out. Little by little the reader will start to piece things together—without the dreaded info-dump.
Aim for the art of subtle narrative, to be so invisible that you leave no footprints—only clues.
Do you ever skim when you read? Can you recall why you did?
Bio: Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions. Occasionally, she writes novels.
Apocalypse Rising blurb: The only place to hide was in the past. Leda and Grey have one chance to escape a madman and that’s through a portal to a time before the apocalypse. But nothing has prepared them for 21st century culture, and every misstep draws them closer to the End Times. The world is teetering on extinction, and they may very well be the cause of it.
Warning: Dark demons, Elementals, witches, and a hero with one woman too many.
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Thanks again, Maria. Best of luck with the rest of your blog tour!
Anyone have issues when describing your worlds? How do you solve them?