How’s that for a provocative title? See, Mom, I’m good at titles, I really am! I don’t just steal song and album titles and slap them on random stories.
Okay, I do, but that’s for another post.
I look everywhere for inspiration for my posts here at MW, and one of the first places I turn is my site-mates. They’re also where I turn for inspiration in my books, and just for a little pick-me-up now and then, but that’s beside the point. This week David wrote an awesome post on world-building, and I’m totally going to use that as a jumping-off point to talk a little more about short fiction and touch briefly on world-building and why I steal the real world instead of creating one out of whole cloth.
Let’s start with underpants. I know, it seems like a non sequitor, but if you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you know that sometimes things swoop in out of left field and smack me in the brain and while they seem unrelated, a few sentences later it all makes sense. That’s what we’re hoping for here.
World-building is like your underwear – important, and nine times out of ten you don’t want to let it show. Sometimes there’s a really awesome bit of superstructure that you just want to share with the world, and that’s fine, but most of the time we want to know that there’s a good underpinning for what we’re seeing on the outside, but the things underneath should remain underneath. One of the best ways to reveal a lacy hint of world-building is through dialogue. And of course you have to be careful of “As you know, Bob”s, but just dropping hints about the political situation in a realm in conversation can establish a whole political structure without breaking off into paragraphs of narration telling us that it’s a thousand-year-old monarchy with an inbred figurehead taxing the country into ruins.
Character action is another great way to handle hiding your world-building. Or perhaps more accurately, character re-action. This is something David does well in Thieftaker. When Ethan uses magic, it’s a big deal, and he has to deal with people’s reactions. This tells us a lot about the world and their approach to magic without blatantly telling us. Again, David isn’t showing us his underpants. I for one am grateful. Just sayin’. Love ya, buddy.
Yeah, I’m gonna pay for that one at ConCarolinas.
Anyway, that’s just a couple of tips on hiding your world-building, but why should you bother? Well, honestly, it’s friggin’ boring and nobody cares about better than half of the stuff that you spent hours obsessing over. Nobody gives a flying rat’s butt about Bubba the Monster Hunter’s Grandfather’s birthday, and whether or not he served in either World Wars (he did, WWII). I need to know that stuff, and it’s important for me to keep in mind as I’m writing that not everyone else needs to know everything I do about my characters and their world.
Some writers get so wrapped up in their world-building that they forget to move the story along, and in today’s market, that’s death. World-building is important, don’t get me wrong. It’s critical to getting a full, rich experience for your readers, but if you have to sacrifice a chapter on politics or a fight scene, you’d better believe I’m the guy cutting the chapter on politics. Of course, I also cut all the Fortinbras stuff when I direct Hamlet. Let’s see if that gets a rise out of our Shakespeare experts. :).
That’s enough single entendres for one morning. Y’all think about world-building, and give me some other great examples of people that hide it well, and maybe a few kindly humorous examples of people who show their underpants a little too often. But don’t be mean, that ain’t what we’re about.