Tuesday, November 5, 2013

World-Building: Spice, Carrot, or Meat?

Setting. World-Building. Whatever you call it, is it a spice in your word stew or is it the carrots?

If it's the meat, we'll be asleep by page five.

Jeffe, ever the champion of "keep it moving" as demonstrated in the many novellas to her name, reminds us in her post that lush world-building is a luxury in which not every story should invest. If your setting is a common/recognizable environment, then a few sentences and you're done. Those sentences are dedicated more to establishing the atmosphere/mood than actual landscape.

However, as Lucy mentioned in her post yesterday, it is possible for setting be a character; especially in SF/F. As such, it merits turns through the footlights. Go ahead, paint the highlights and note the shadows. But don't spend too long on it or you'll distract the reader from the action going on in the spotlight.

What two cents do I have to add? Dear Readers, I still struggle with how and when to dole out the details of the foreign worlds so very vivid inside my head. I desperately want to share the mad genius in the construction of the streets, the decline of the water purification stations, the fluctuations of the treasury, and the cycle of crop rotations...

Yeah, but...No.

I have to rein in my enthusiasm; otherwise, my word stew is really a turducken and a food coma is imminent.  I mean, I have to cut way, way back. I'm one of those authors who has to heed the "use less than 10% of what you want to tell them and parse it out slowly" advice.  My first drafts are inevitably too heavy on the details of the world. I edit my world-building by forcing myself to view everything through my protagonist's eyes and by answering the following questions:

Would she actually notice that? Why?

Non-natives to a land make note of the bigger picture in the beginning and pay attention to details when events force them to. Indigenous people notice change to their environment, and that change is a precursor to an event. It might seem a subtle difference between when/how details are revealed, but it's a difference that plays into the ever-important pacing of a scene and the story.

Dear Readers, do you have a method for policing your world-building? I'd love to learn how you balance your word stew!


  1. I think that's how I do it - but from the front end. Because I tend to write within a very tight POV, I include details only as my heroine encounters them. (And then I usually have to figure out what they are at that point :D)

    1. I aspire to cut back my verbosity in the drafting stage, but, alas, I am weak.