Monday, March 26, 2012

When World Building Becomes Too Much

I was thinking about this recently with historical novels, but, in reality, this is an issue that extends to all of the stories out there. Today, I strictly want to focus on historical romance, but if you don't write this, just substitute your genre for historical and I think you would get the idea.

When it comes to novels, it is crucial to keep your eye on the target. In other words, if you decide to write a historical romance, the focus of the story is the building of the relationship and the growing romance. The entire story has the camera focused in on the hero and the heroine and how they over-come obstacles, face challenges, deal with the dark moment and truly fall in love. All of the other stuff, the secondary characters, the secondary storylines and the setting must take a second seat to that main storyline.

For historicals, this becomes a huge challenge because your reader needs to see and understand the context you placed the story. For example, in Regency, the characters might play Ecarte one evening. O.K. That's interesting, but what the heck is that? In this case it is a game related to Whist and Euchre. O.K. still not with us? Then describe it as cards. That is all the reader needs to know.

Unfortunately, for many authors, they get so bogged down in the history and the details that they try to incorporate all of that in the story for the reader. I actually remember one submission that came in that had the hero being a professional poker player. That part was fine, but the full chapter when the author spent paragraphs doing a play by play like you see on ESPN was just too much. Sure, this showed us the author understands the game, but it was detracting from the real story and that was the romance and the relationship.

The same world building goes for settings and locations. You have to give the reader enough information to deal with where the characters are at, but don't go overboard. The key is to demonstrate to the editor and agent that you have done your research. We should get a true sense that you know what is going on with the context, without becoming too much in your face.

Think of it this way. When you write an academic paper, the research SUPPORTS your storyline. It isn't the actual paper, it is there to support YOUR claims and YOUR analysis. There is no difference in fiction writing.

Now, if your attempt was to write historical non-fiction, then it certainly does come to the forefront. All of those characters are just pieces of the scenery. But, when it comes to fiction, the elements that move to the front of the stage are the charcters!



  1. I agree - and this is especially true for category romances. The readers don't want to get bogged down with intricate detail. I should know, I'm one of them.
    If it were a thriller, for example, there's more room to expound. I just read The Ark where an engineer and an archaeologist team up. Granted there was a lot of over-explaining, but books of that genre lend themselves to intricate detail of technology, etc.
    But as a writer, it's SO tempting to include all the fascinating detail you uncovered during research. I guess that's where thorough editing comes into play.
    Thanks for the advice.

  2. I write science fiction and fantasy, not historicals or romance, but the same applies to any setting, really: it needs to support your story. It's one thing to paint a vivid picture and another to bog down the story with details. Two things to consider when really getting into the minute details is whether it's really important information the reader needs to understand the point of the scene or story, and whether it's something the POV character would really notice. In a historical novel, for example, the narrator might mention that they were laced into a corset, but they probably wouldn't spend a paragraph explaining the prevalence and function of the garment.

  3. It is frustrating because you have to know a good bit of information about your setting- even if it's the present or the very recent past- and sometimes you can get so excited about what you've found that you can write yourself into a rabbit hole. Again, I'm of the school of thought that says get all of that out of your system- but then don't complain about having to edit out much of it.