Most writers who write fantasy do a lot of worldbuilding; they try to understand everything about the world in which they write. This often includes the world’s geography, cultures, economics, and history. In order to write a cohesive book in their setting, they have to know all those things. The same goes for other media like games and TV/movies.
If the creator doesn’t do that, it will show up in their writing as mistakes and inconsistencies. Readers or viewers will pick up on that (and a certain percentage will email in about it!)
But the other side of the coin also exists.
First, it’s true that a writer can do <em>too much</em> worldbuilding. Some people spend all their time creating their world, a quest to make it perfect. But if you spend all your time doing that, you never get around to writing. (In her book <strong>Plot,</strong>, Ansen Dibell calls this “WorldBuilder’s Disease”).
Even if a writer doesn’t go overboard there, it’s easy to go overboard in the manuscript. Generally, the writer ends up leaving out a veritable ton of information about their world. There’s simply no way to insert it where it will fit smoothly into the flow of the narrative. Some writers throw it in anyway, resulting in the dreaded <em>infodump</em>.
Can you think of an instance when you wondered why the author was putting in all that…stuff? When the inclusion of information didn’t make sense? Or when you just started skimming ahead, seeking something more interesting?
Infodumps bore most readers, so the advice usually given to authors is this: if it doesn’t advance the plot, leave it out. That’s a lot harder to do than it sounds. We writers love our worlds. We want to hold them and cuddle them and show them off to our friends…
And sometimes it’s hard for us to tell. We put in that paragraph about the sex life of selkies, hoping it will fit. And yes, most of the time we end up going back and removing it in the editing stage. If we’re not sure it’s excess, an editor will usually catch whether it is or not. (As writers, we <em>try</em> to catch it ourselves, but a good editor is invaluable in this kind of situation. They have a different perspective on our work.)
So when our book finally comes out, there are probably a thousand cool little things we’d <em>love</em> to tell you, things that we just had to leave out. That’s the kind of thing an author enjoys the chance to talk about.
Want to ask me about the sex-life of selkies? The social structure of the sereia culture? Whether or not the different peoples can interbreed? That’s the kind of thing that will never make it to the pages of the book….but as an author I have to know it in order to be consistent.
But seriously, if you want to know something about the backdrop of your favorite novel, I’d be willing to bet that most authors wouldn’t mind answering that question. That’s why you see those handy-dandy AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions popping up over on Reddit, why authors let you post questions to them via their websites, on Tumblr, or via other venues.
So go ahead…ask your favorite author that question that’s been burning in the back of your brain. If they have time (which depends greatly on where they are in relation to their deadlines), they’re probably more than willing to answer it!
J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, “The Golden City” is a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel).
The sequel, “The Seat of Magic” will be out July 1, 2014.
The Seat of Magic (buy links)
BLURB for The Seat of Magic
Magical beings have been banned from the Golden City for decades, though many live there in secret. Now humans and nonhumans alike are in danger as evil stalks the streets, growing more powerful with every kill….
It’s been two weeks since Oriana Paredes was banished from the Golden City. Police consultant Duilio Ferreira, who himself has a talent he must keep secret, can’t escape the feeling that, though she’s supposedly returned home to her people, Oriana is in danger.
Adding to Duilio’s concerns is a string of recent murders in the city. Three victims have already been found, each without a mark upon her body. When a selkie under his brother’s protection goes missing, Duilio fears the killer is also targeting nonhuman prey.
To protect Oriana and uncover the truth, Duilio will have to risk revealing his own identity, put his trust in some unlikely allies, and consult a rare and malevolent text known as The Seat of Magic….