To Share Is Human

Something came up recently while working on my second book that I wanted to talk about. In fantasy (and even more in Sci-Fi), a lot of time and effort go into building these fantastic worlds. We love to create our little worlds from coast to coast and every troll-infested swamp in between and then share all of those reams and reams of details with the readers. Readers want to know all those little details and minutiae you’ve spent years (hours?) working on, right?

But there be dragons here. How much is too much? I’m sure that as I get better as a writer (God, please, let me get better) I’ll come to learn where that line is. But for now, this being only my second book, I struggle with it. Where have I passed the point of sharing information needed for the plot and into Tolkienland? Sorry, I meant Martintown.  You know what I mean.

Tolkien and Martin. Two great writers by nearly everyone’s standards, my own included. And they share the shit out of everything! Tolkien had the decency to shovel it off into the Silmarillion so that he didn’t have to gum up the already-lumbering plot of The Lord of the Rings, but he still left plenty in the books to drag on about. Martin just doesn’t care and slaps it out 1,000 pages at a time.

Before you take to the internets with your comment card, please note I’m not comparing myself to either of these great men. I will never be that good. Which is why I feel perfectly qualified to critique both of them.

It comes down to personal taste. Some people love every detail a writer will share about their world. Others just want to get on to the next big showdown. Neither is wrong, it’s just an opinion. But as a writer, can you satisfy both? Can you write a book that imparts all of that detail but doesn’t drag?

I don’t know. That’s what I’m struggling with now in book 2. How do I share some of these cool things I’ve dreamed up without dragging down the pacing? They’re not particularly relevant to the plot, but they’re still kind of cool. I’m doing that thing I criticize others for doing. *sigh* Writing is hard.

As a reader, I probably fall into the “less is less” camp. I want to be immersed in the world, but I also want to skip past all the crap that’s not important and get to the action. Typical man. In my case, I just skim over the parts that aren’t that interesting and keep reading ’til I hit the next quotation mark or the next big action scene.

As a reader, what do you want? As a (totally new) writer, I have no clue. I don’t expect my books (or any book) to appeal to everyone. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to try though.

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2 Responses to To Share Is Human

  1. Michelle Roberts says:

    I think this is something you learn as you go–as you continue to develop your own style. In general, though, if you want to avoid Martinesque or Tolkienesque writing, you want to include details that are relevant to the plot. It’s not bad to elaborate on world building details, but you want to, first, keep it in your POV’s voice, and, also, to include just enough so the reader gets the picture. It’s a rough balance that I’m still working on myself.

    As a reader, I tend to quit reading only when I come to pages and pages of pointless world building. I’m being very picky this year about what I read (there are too many books and too little time as it is), and infodumping like that is the mark of an amateur.

    Hope I could help. 🙂

    • It helps. The sad thing is, as much as I hate infodumping when I read it in other authors, I’m struggling not to do it myself. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.

      I don’t think I’ve fallen into the pages and page of world building hole, but I definitely have some chapters and scenes that aren’t driving any of the plot forward. I think the hard part is reading them and knowing that they are really good scenes, but they don’t do anything for the story. So they need to be cut. And they can’t really be used anywhere else, so they’re basically just cutting-room-floor fodder.

      Which sucks. But I suppose it sucks less than putting out a bloated mess. 🙂

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