Sharing Your World

I read a lot of fantasy fiction. (Duh, right?) As I go through the process of becoming more savvy about the tricks of the trade, I find myself noticing the way people introduce the reader to their carefully crafted worlds. I won’t talk here about the importance of underlying structure, internal consistency and logical cultural interaction. Another post for that.

How do your favorite writers introduce you to their worlds? I’m thinking of good worldbuilders here, not necessarily great storycrafters or geniuses at characterization. Some just plunge you in and trust their gripping prose to keep you going until everything starts making sense–I’m thinking specifically of Connie Willis here, but there are many others.

Some start off with an empathetic character interacting with the world around them in normal times, before Something Happens and everything speeds up. This is probably the most popular method, and usually works well if handled right.

Some do a large infodump or shove in a map, glossary and cast of characters, but of course the latter is not sufficient on its own. Infodumps are huge, indigestible chunks of exposition or description that interfere with the reader’s flow and kick him right out of the story. Fail!

One refreshing way that I read recently was to have the characters at a moment of life change, from child to worker, being given their jobs. The nature of the tasks read out to those who went before our heroes, and those they received themselves, were enough to show us a great deal about the environment. For a bonus, tension and excitement was maintained by the characters’ feelings about each job as it was presented, and their anxiety for what they were going to get stuck doing. Very well done! (Ten scribble points for the first person to figure out what I was reading!)

So what’s your favorite way? Who do you think does this best among your favorite authors?


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