Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Examining World Building

As the author, you know what your world looks like where you have placed your characters. You know what the buildings look like and you know what the food tastes like. As an author, it is your obligation to the reader to make sure they are with you on this journey. With that said, you have to remember that you do indeed know everything about your world, but the reader really doesn't need to know EVERYTHING all at one point.

I know this might sound a bit confusing, but too often, writers simply slow the entire pace of the novel by inserting blocks of world building and material that is probably not necessary at that moment. It can be a tricky thing.

Let me explain.

I am currently working with an author on a new paranormal. The story is fantastic, but it does involved a ton of world building. This is a unique setting with unique characters. A couple of days ago, as I was working on the edits, it hit me that the story seemed like it had gone on forever. No, it wasn't a bad read and no, I wasn't board. It simply felt like I had been reading a long time. When I checked how far I had read, the iPad told me I was roughly 30% into it. Wow! Why did I feel like I had been reading for much longer? We had a ton of world building.

Again, let me remind you that I didn't mind this with her story. It read great. But the pace of the story was too slow for the plot that required much more action and urgency. Because of who the target audience is for this project, we have to do some serious cuts. As we talked about the situation, we knew exactly where the cuts had to be. It was the world building.

Now, instead of simply hacking all of the material, we cut it back to a "need to know" basis. If, at that particular time, the additional material wasn't necessary to the plot (the abilities of the characters, the language they had been speaking, the stories they had been telling) we cut the material.

This problem is not something that just deals with paranormals or the other supernatural stories. It works with historicals and contemporaries too. I have seen a lot of writers have the characters sit down for a meal. The plot requires a great conversation, and yet the author felt the need to include every element of the meal and talk about every bite the characters ate. As our teens tell us with Texting, "TMI".

As I said at the beginning, this is a tough challenge for writers. In your head, to get the story going and moving, you personally needed all of that information. You had to see the world in a 3-dimensional fashion. But your readers don't.

Think about Tolkien and his world building. THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS has a ton of world building and mythology. But for the reader, it isn't all necessary. The reader has just enough to maintain the plot.

So, if you feel as if your story is plodding along, you might want to consider looking at the world building. Do you really need it all?

1 comment:

  1. I read and critique a lot of unpublished WIPs. I've noticed a 50/50 ratio with too much world building versus not enough. Sometimes, in an attempt to avoid WB info dumps writers give us too little to go on. The writing is cryptic, even if the tension's great, and the reader isn't grounded in the world at all. I think the trick is finding a balance. Like you said: what is relevant to what is going on in that scene? What is necessary foreshadowing versus extra window dressing? What's being omitted that the reader needs to know right then? Pace can slow down due to reader confusion, too.