Today, Karina Fabian, author of Magic, Mensa and Mayhem is my guest. Karina will share her thoughts about world building - an important part of creating a realistic fantasy world.
Sharing Your World
As a fantasy and science fiction writer, one thing I get asked about a lot is building my worlds. I even have a workshop I give where I help students go deeply into imagining their world from the vegetation to the politics and religion. (If you're ever interested, go over to www.fabianspace.com and check the workshop schedule.)
Today, however, I want to talk about how much to share.
As writers, it's easy to get caught up in our worlds, to imagine things that are endlessly fascinating, and to want to share them with our readers. Today's readers, however, are more interested in enjoying the adventure rather than following a detailed, encyclopedic discourse of the history of the world, or of the character. As one editor put it, "We get to know the people in our lives a little at a time; we want to get to know our characters the same way." Even our world can be treated as a character. After all, how many of us go to a new town already knowing the layout, the history, the politics, or even where the nearest grocery store is?
Of course, there are things a reader must know--and even things that are so cool they must be shared. The key is to keep the reader into the story and the story progressing. Here are some tricks:
Does it progress the plot or action?
What does your character know?
Would your character notice, think about, discuss this topic at the moment.
Is the knowledge vital to the story? If so, how much? (Go into detail in proportion to the importance.)
Here's an example of how I used these questions with my DragonEye, PI, novel Magic, Mensa and Mayhem. In this story, Vern, a dragon detective living in the non-magical (Mundane) world, and his partner, the mage Sister Grace, are assigned to chaperone the magical creatures at a convention in Mundane Florida. In the midst of the magical mayhem and "cultural misunderstandings," a plot by one High Elf goes wrong and nearly starts a war. The book is a mystery, but fast-moving and very funny, so it was important to balance detail with pace.
Brownies play a large part of the plot. You know the story of the "elves" who come in and fix things while the kind but poor shopkeeper sleeps? Those are the kind I'm talking about--except these are a little less discerning in the Mundane world about what needs fixing. They clean (and clean out) briefcases, move things, rearrange luggage, finish Sudoku puzzle books (in their own numbering system)... In general wreck helpful havoc. They're also what Vern calls "quantum creatures." You can either know their location or their motion, but not both. That's why no one sees a brownie.
Progressing the action: The "quantum" nature of the brownies is important, so Vern brings it up, but only when necessary--he mentions it to a Mundane Mensan during a discussion about trying to catch one. Because it's an important fact (as when they catch the brownie, they have to maintain some doubt that they caught it or it won't stay caught), Vern reminds those involved of the fact. How or why brownies are this way, the havoc they've caused in the Faerie world, how others communicated with them in the past--all could be interesting, but did not help with the plot or current plan, so I never mention them.
What does the character know? Vern and Grace know how brownies work, in general. They don't discuss the quantum nature among themselves, then. They really didn't understand how brownies could be bribed to coming to the convention--they have to figure it out bit by bit. Although Vern does know milk does not work--they're lactose intolerant. How he knows this wasn't important, so I never mention it. However, they learn that in this book, and it becomes a handy tool for their next mystery, Live and Let Fly. Nonetheless, you only see Grace bribing the brownies--I never get into how she learned to do it.
What does your character notice at the moment? The havoc--one guy screms bloody murder because his wardrobe had been re-arranged. Briefcases go missing, then show up clean in the Lost and Found. In the end, some writing on salt that indicates they were brought here by someone else--but not who.
How much knowledge is vital to the story? Brownie history is no big deal, though I could come up with some really funny capers for them. The exact quantum nature isn't important--Vern speculates that they're transdimensional beings, but I never show any big discussions on it.
What it boils down to is that, important as the brownies are to the story, what the reader gets are quips and clue and more effect than background. The result (and I'm going to brag) is a story Publisher's Weekly calls "densely plotted with distinctly memorable and occasionally silly characters." Just what I was going for.
What can you do with all the cool details? Blog them, save them for other stories, or (if your work takes off) use them in an encyclopedia of your world. Background information has its use, even when not put into the story itself. Dream on--just be wise in what parts of your dream you share with your reader.