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World Design and Writing [Nov. 9th, 2007|08:37 am]
Silicon Rose
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

There is definitely a problem with sci-fi/fantasy writers, where the book reads as if they were saying "my world design, let me show you it."  Touched By Venom, the fantasy book I finished most recently, suffered from this.  The Glasswrights' Apprentice also had this problem.  It feels like the main character is swept along by the author's desire to cover the entire social system, so by the end of the book you know a lot about their world design but don't feel like much of a story made it into the pages.  This is forgivable in Touched By Venom's case, but I'm not reading anything else in the Glasswrights' universe because of it.

Something to pay attention to as a writer.

To me, world design is usually secondary to the characters and plot, and I've frequently wondered whether this is a serious weakness.  Are my worlds too barren and bleak?  I definitely have this problem in writing scenes; I very rarely describe the surroundings, and when I do, it's only sketching in the barest details.  It just doesn't feel that important to me, so it feels like padding, something which the reader is going to skim over.  I suppose I've subconsciously propped this up in my world design by gravitating towards modern fantasy, where the readers' own knowledge can fill in the gaps for them, and I just have to describe the differences.  Still, I believe my novels suffer from a lack of place, and I'm going to need to do something about that.

Without, of course, turning it into "my world design, let me show you it."

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: cyfis
2007-11-09 06:06 pm (UTC)
World design is one of the things I love about fiction (and one of the reasons I don't like writing anything set in modern day Earth, because I don't get to fiddle with world design). I spend way too much time working out the "whys" of my world metaphysics until there are no more "whys". I expect magic to make some modicum of sense.

While I'm not tempted to show the entirety of my world in one story, the offscreen stuff tends to develop into stories of their own, which is an entirely different problem.
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-11-09 06:52 pm (UTC)
It's called "The Steam-Grommet Factory" in the Turkey City Lexicon. Interestingly, I *love* world design, and all my stories generally begin as an exercise in world design (even the fanfiction, which usually arises from me looking at the world and saying, "Hmmm, what happens if I break *this*?"), and yet I also suffer from a lack of place. Plot is secondary for me -- once I know what the world is like and what each character behaves like, plot just grows out of that -- but when it actually comes time to write everything down, I tend to leave out the world and just write the characters and plot. (Well... I have a tendency to skimp on characters too, because I'm afraid of being melodramatic and veer too far in the opposite direction.)

Place can be very powerful. The climactic battle between good and evil has a very different tone in a suburban park on a sunny afternoon relative to a decayed urban landscape on a dark and stormy night, even if the characters and the actual events of the battle are identical. And depending on how exactly the place is described, the battle in the sunny park can be silly or tragically ironic; the battle on the dark and stormy night can be epic or melodramatic (hint: using the phrase "dark and stormy night" automatically precludes epic ;-P ).

But it's hard. I struggle with it constantly. Often, while the assumptions and social structures of my world are constructed in great detail, I know nothing about how the main character's bedroom is decorated, whether it's messy or neat, and so on. I have to force myself to sit down and work these things out, and then find ways to stick it in the story. Often it feels like I'm just sort of jamming it in wherever I can, but I have to persuade myself it's easier to have it there and move or streamline it in a later revision then to try to add it after the fact.
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[User Picture]From: tlttlotd
2007-11-10 04:07 am (UTC)
Charles Stross is like that. He's also big on "look how much I know about theoretical physics!"

I agree with you completely. If you want pure world design, that's easy enough to find. For example, Orion's Arm. If you want a story, for pity's sake, give us a story.
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