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SampleGuy
10-23-2014, 12:36 AM
Can a writer make a good story without adding a lot of back stories to the setting? Let's say you only know about your characters and you only want the plot to focus on them without detailing their setting. Even if the setting is interesting, how far can a story become good based on that level?

Lillith1991
10-23-2014, 01:02 AM
Can a writer make a good story without adding a lot of back stories to the setting? Let's say you only know about your characters and you only want the plot to focus on them without detailing their setting. Even if the setting is interesting, how far can a story become good based on that level?

Why pray tell are you writing SFF if you're not a fan of worldbuilding? Traditional SF & Fantasy requires a fair amount of it to be honest, so that we understand the character and there motivations. In no way should it be heaped on, but it needs to be there. Those sort of stories generally take place in societies with completely different histories to our own. Try to take the worldbuilding out of Dune or Lord of The Rings and you would end up with much poorer stories for it.

Near future SF and Urban/Contemporary Fantasy require less worldbuilding by contrast to more traditional settings, but even they require it to make the story make sense.

I hope I didn't sound rude, because I'm not trying to be. Your questions just confused me, as all fiction requires some form of worldbuilding. No matter how minor, it is still required.

Dryad
10-23-2014, 01:19 AM
Can a writer make a good story without adding a lot of back stories to the setting? Let's say you only know about your characters and you only want the plot to focus on them without detailing their setting. Even if the setting is interesting, how far can a story become good based on that level?

Why don't you give it a try and see how it turns out?

(Words like "a lot" are so relative as to make the conversation a bit difficult.)

Christracy19
10-23-2014, 01:31 AM
I suppose if you wanted a way creative way of doing it you could have them be isolated? Or lost memories or something like that.

Brightdreamer
10-23-2014, 01:54 AM
Your questions just confused me, as all fiction requires some form of worldbuilding. No matter how minor, it is still required.

+1

Even in contemporary fiction, a reader should understand where a character is coming from, what kind of place their in, as a setting often has a big bearing on their attitudes and the options available to them. For instance, a girl living in the slums of New York City will have an entirely different life experience than, say, a California child of privilege. As a reader, I don't need a complete history of the world, but I do need to know why the NYC girl fights so hard to keep a job she hates (it's her only way out), or why the California woman doesn't just ditch her abusive fiance (societal pressure keeps her cowed, and she doesn't know how to survive without Daddy's money - which would vanish if she didn't marry his best friend's son.) That's a form of worldbuilding, immersing a reader in a time, place, and mindset they may not be familiar with.

You may be overthinking your worldbuilding requirements. Come up with a general framework for your world, then figure out what the audience needs to know - what the characters experience, what shapes their options and their restrictions, what's important to their particular story. Focus your worldbuilding on your story-picture, paint a little beyond the edge of the frame to give a sense of a greater world, and the audience can fill in the rest.

Hope that helps...

SampleGuy
10-23-2014, 02:13 AM
+1

Even in contemporary fiction, a reader should understand where a character is coming from, what kind of place their in, as a setting often has a big bearing on their attitudes and the options available to them. For instance, a girl living in the slums of New York City will have an entirely different life experience than, say, a California child of privilege. As a reader, I don't need a complete history of the world, but I do need to know why the NYC girl fights so hard to keep a job she hates (it's her only way out), or why the California woman doesn't just ditch her abusive fiance (societal pressure keeps her cowed, and she doesn't know how to survive without Daddy's money - which would vanish if she didn't marry his best friend's son.) That's a form of worldbuilding, immersing a reader in a time, place, and mindset they may not be familiar with.

You may be overthinking your worldbuilding requirements. Come up with a general framework for your world, then figure out what the audience needs to know - what the characters experience, what shapes their options and their restrictions, what's important to their particular story. Focus your worldbuilding on your story-picture, paint a little beyond the edge of the frame to give a sense of a greater world, and the audience can fill in the rest.

Hope that helps...

Thanks. That is a good suggestion.

I basically prefer world building to be chop up a long the plot instead of being spilled across the plot. It makes the writing boring to read.

rwm4768
10-23-2014, 02:31 AM
I don't think what you want is no worldbuilding. What you want is to build the world as it becomes relevant to the story (if I've judged correctly). I actually tend to do this. I start out with a few basics to get a framework for the story. Then I figure out a lot of the details as I go. This can mean a little more work come revision time, but I find that worldbuilding as I go can result in more interesting worlds because I'm not just going through a worldbuilding checklist.

Some of my coolest ideas don't come to me until I've started writing.

Shadow_Ferret
10-23-2014, 02:40 AM
To paraphrase Fritz Lieber, "when the reader finishes the book, they know as much about the world as I do."

In other words, you only need to create as much as is necessary to have the story make sense.

robjvargas
10-23-2014, 02:42 AM
Dive into point of view. I mean go DEEP into that. Think about your own day. As you go through it, how many times do you think about how the highway you drive, or the train you take, or the motor of that car, or any of the details that make up your day? And when you *do* think of them, how do you do so?

That is, in effect, worldbuilding. That kind of thought process is what drives story and building a world at the same time. Use that. Give users a teaspoonful every now and again. OK, maybe more, but only up to a tablespoon :D. Let the reader taste your world in little morsels that pop up like, "Oooh! Piece of candy."

They will follow that trail all the way to the end.

hefronica
10-23-2014, 03:21 AM
Can a writer make a good story without adding a lot of back stories to the setting? Let's say you only know about your characters and you only want the plot to focus on them without detailing their setting. Even if the setting is interesting, how far can a story become good based on that level?

Setting grounds the story. It gives the reader an idea of where they are.

Whether or not you (as author) decide to reveal a lot about the setting depends on if your book takes place in a fictional world (Dune, Discworld, Narnia, etc.) or not.

If the former, I'd really like to know more about it. I'd really like to see that the author thought it out thoroughly to the point that it's logical. That doesn't mean I want it shoved down my throat, with ten pages of exposition at the start explaining why the rebel leader hates the kingdom or how this planet is different from earth. That stuff should weasel its way into my brain through the narrative.

Even if it takes place in the 'real' world, I'd still like to know more about it. The Once and Future King takes place in medieval Britain but the author goes out of his way to show how things work. You can get away with less of this in urban fantasy. Yes, you should say it where it takes place (Beijing versus Anchorage versus Mexico City) and have the knowledge to back that up with details, but for the most part we're already somewhat familiar with those types of settings and need less direction.

As for backstory, I don't think you necessarily have to explain every 'why this thing is the way it is,' though it certainly hopes to know that stuff ahead of time because 1) it might open up some interesting things plot-wise for later use & 2) less chance of you getting caught with inconsistencies.

I attended a workshop once where the author said something along the lines of 'fantasy/SF novels at their most basic level are about building a word and letting your characters wander through it.'

Also, if the setting is so interesting, how are we as readers supposed to know that if you don't tell us about it? :)

King Neptune
10-23-2014, 04:24 AM
Can a writer make a good story without adding a lot of back stories to the setting? Let's say you only know about your characters and you only want the plot to focus on them without detailing their setting. Even if the setting is interesting, how far can a story become good based on that level?

Yes, and some very good SF has been written that way. If something has to be added or explained, then explain it at that point. Readers don't need to know everything about how the world operates; we just need to know what it necessary to the story, and if anything is missing we readers can simply fill it in from past experience, logic, etc.

It might be fun to reinvent the wheel, if you think you can improve on it, but it usually ends up being a wheel anyway.

Polenth
10-23-2014, 04:50 AM
Not worldbuilding at all wouldn't be a great idea, but worldbuilding doesn't have to mean you sit down and plan the entire world before you write. I have a basic idea and then start writing. The details are built with the story.

For long stories, I keep a second file open to drop any worldbuilding notes I'll need to remember for later (or sequels). This is as simple as copy/pasting bits of the main work.

Taejang
10-23-2014, 06:34 PM
Just as others have said, worldbuilding in small doses is the way to go. Examples from my WIP:

"...a set of traveling clothes and small obsidian knife..."

"...the doors even had expensive metal hinges..."

"...who would use something as expensive as iron for that?"

In my world, almost all metals are rare and very expensive. But instead of having a paragraph describing this, or explaining why nobody has swords because metal is so expensive, I drop small but noticeable hints. If I've done it right, the reader finds out without slogging through three pages on mineral scarcity.

Rebekkamaria
10-23-2014, 08:32 PM
I'm one of those terrible readers who jump over too much world building in fantasy and scifi. My mind picks up on things quickly, and I don't need a lot of explaining so I rather see everything happening through the eyes of the main character (meaning I get to experience things the way they would happen if it wasn't a story at all but real life) than get paragraphs upon paragraphs about every different thing the world has in it. I don't know at first what your tumble-trooter does, but it doesn't matter because you'll show me in a minute anyway.

The only time I read every word is when Terry Pratchett writes something because I do not want to miss a single explanation. They are always funny, weird, thoughtful, well written, and interesting. He could literally write about the phone book, and I would read every word.

Roxxsmom
10-24-2014, 01:01 AM
Thanks. That is a good suggestion.

I basically prefer world building to be chop up a long the plot instead of being spilled across the plot. It makes the writing boring to read.

Dripping world building and backstory details into your story as needed is probably the most oft repeated piece of advice I've encountered in forums and blogs aimed at SF and F writers. I honestly haven't encountered any modern SF and F writers (or readers) who suggest you have huge blocks of unbroken exposition about your world's history.

But you need to have those world building details in your mind in order to dribble them. Whether this requires you to have an elaborate, Tolkienesque history and mythology for your world, or whether you can make those details up as you go, then do a quick run through for internal consistency later, or whether you sit somewhere in the middle? This is probably going to depend on how your mind works. And on your personal inclinations.

_Sian_
10-24-2014, 09:17 AM
I think that there's more than one way of worldbuilding. I don't do any of it beforehand, I just make it up as I go along. It's about seeing the opportunity to make stuff up, often in periods of conflict.

For example, when I started the story I'm writing now, I knew my MC had the ability to manipulate data, and I knew that I wanted him to have a plot revealed to him. That's it. No worldbuilding, nothing. I didn't know that one of the races in my group had a rune based magic system, with each person's magic having a distinct individual smell until I had him walk into the street and he smelt the magic around him. I didn't know that the other race I had was a winged race until I wrote one of them having wings. I didn't know that that winged race was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament or that the rune based magic race was an absolute monarchy until the story required it to be so.

Eventually if you're doing this you will get to a point where your brain starts to make associations between the things you've invented, starts to suggest points of conflict, and things start to correlate into a realised world. You brain fills in the great missing chunks of worldbuilding as you go, and you fix the plot holes you create as you go.

I like this way of worldbuilding, because you're descovering the world as you write, you come up with some pretty cool things sometimes that you might not have otherwise, and you're never bored, because the worldbuilding is only there because you've gone "oh, my MC lives in an absolute monarchy, wouldn't it be interested if this person he met was from a constitutional democracy," or "well my MCs magic is like this, what could he not defend against. Cool, that's the magic this other person will have." It all comes out of possible points of conflict.

The trick then is tying it all together. But that's probably why I'm not a single draft person. :D

SampleGuy
10-24-2014, 12:20 PM
That happens to me too, except I info dumped the background details a long the plot.

Craig McNeil
10-24-2014, 01:43 PM
I always found Ray Bradbury an excellent example of how to write scifi stories without resorting to world building to the extent that you could be screaming "Tell me more!" Asimov too. Their characters are written against a backdrop which is hinted at or just thrown in like it was an everyday occurrence for the characters. It's rare that, for example, a spaceship is described in any detail. The characters will just jump on it, press a button for a coffee to be transported into their stomach and the plot keeps prancing along quite nicely.

Cathy C
10-24-2014, 03:13 PM
I second Ray Bradbury for this. Go buy some of his stories and see how a master did what you're trying to do.

For Asimov, you might look for (admittedly not SF/F) his Black Widowers mysteries. They're all set in the same room, so there's hardly any worldbuilding outside the room. It really makes you focus on what he does tell you. :)

Once!
10-24-2014, 06:10 PM
Or the film Alien. We know very little about the place that they have come from or where they are going. We know even less about the alien. The Nostromo is just a spaceship. The action is about the characters with the world very much in second place.

How much of the world you show is up to you, once you get past a reasonable minimum to explain the background to the story.

But I would strongly recommend against info-dumping. It can get very dull very quickly.

ScottleeSV
10-26-2014, 01:26 AM
I think you have to get your world building in on almost a subliminal level, get it to the reader without them even realising it half the time.

If you start off with a 4000 word waffle about the 'world', that might not work so well. But if you take the content of that 4000 and slowly sprinkle it into the rest of the novel at points that make sense, it won't slow the story.

Mr Flibble
10-26-2014, 02:25 AM
I second Ray Bradbury for this. Go buy some of his stories and see how a master did what you're trying to do.

Cherryh at her best is also awesome

Also, look up "incluing". The most famous example is "the door irised open". No explanation, but you get a picture of the setting without any exposition.

blacbird
10-26-2014, 05:46 AM
Try writing in first-person POV. I'm mystified as to why the vast galaxy of Fantasy writing contains very little in the way of first-person narrative. In first-person, you'd have a character narrating a story in which the world inhabited would be entirely normal, even if it might be very weird to us outside observers. That strikes me as an intriguing way to construct a fantasy narrative, and avoid the siren-song of the "world-build" infodump.

caw

rwm4768
10-26-2014, 08:11 AM
Try writing in first-person POV. I'm mystified as to why the vast galaxy of Fantasy writing contains very little in the way of first-person narrative. In first-person, you'd have a character narrating a story in which the world inhabited would be entirely normal, even if it might be very weird to us outside observers. That strikes me as an intriguing way to construct a fantasy narrative, and avoid the siren-song of the "world-build" infodump.

caw

First-person vs third-person has little to do with it. Some of the worst infodumps I've ever seen have been in first-person. It depends on the skill of the writer to weave that material into the narrative, not on what POV the writer chooses.

Thomas Vail
10-26-2014, 08:32 AM
Try writing in first-person POV. I'm mystified as to why the vast galaxy of Fantasy writing contains very little in the way of first-person narrative. In first-person, you'd have a character narrating a story in which the world inhabited would be entirely normal, even if it might be very weird to us outside observers. That strikes me as an intriguing way to construct a fantasy narrative, and avoid the siren-song of the "world-build" infodump.

caw
Save that I've seen writers use the fact we're in the character's head and hearing all their thoughts to provide massive info dumps. There is no easy solution to bad writing except not to do it. :D

Roxxsmom
10-26-2014, 10:17 AM
First-person vs third-person has little to do with it. Some of the worst infodumps I've ever seen have been in first-person. It depends on the skill of the writer to weave that material into the narrative, not on what POV the writer chooses.

This. First person narrators can put omniscient ones to shame when it comes to long asides about something that happened when the pov character was a wee lad or lass, or about the history or the Land of Thrundok or whatever. After all, with some styles of first person, the character is supposed to be reminiscing about something that happened long ago, and they have plenty of knowledge they can relate that is external to the story's here and now.

It can actually be easier to slip into excessive exposition in this pov than in limited third, when you're striving to create the illusion that there is no narrator who is removed from the story's here and now.

"Now at that time, I had no idea that the Queen of the Realm was on her third husband, and the previous two had not died as everyone supposed, but were in fact chained in the royal kennels..."

You really couldn't do something like this in limited third.

Having said this, I like a well-executed first person story. I've run across a fair number of first person fantasy novels in recent years. But every approach to pov has its challenges.

blacbird
10-26-2014, 10:28 AM
Save that I've seen writers use the fact we're in the character's head and hearing all their thoughts to provide massive info dumps.:D

Nothing about first-person narrative POV requires massive info dumps.

caw

Mr Flibble
10-26-2014, 01:56 PM
Nothing about third requires info dumps either, but they still turn up. I could info dump all day in first -- I'd just imitate the pub bore.

An info dump is as easy to achieve in either POV. The trick is not the POV, but as said upthread, what you do with it.

WriteMinded
10-26-2014, 07:10 PM
Can a writer make a good story without adding a lot of back stories to the setting? Let's say you only know about your characters and you only want the plot to focus on them without detailing their setting. Even if the setting is interesting, how far can a story become good based on that level?In answer to your first question, YES. If I understand your second question — and I'm not sure that I do — the answer is: It depends. And partly it depends on who is reading the story. A lot of people, especially SFF readers, love heavy world building. Some don't. When the topic of setting comes up, I always think of Across the Face of the World, by Russell Kirkpatrick. It is one of the few books I simply could not finish. A mining operation was required to dig out the little bits of story buried in the volumes of scenery description. It bored me to yawns. Others loved it.

Peter V. Brett, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie, their writing doesn't bog down in pages and pages of setting or backstory. Love 'em. I've noticed a load of comments on AW about G.R.R.M.'s world building being too much. Funny, I never saw it that way. :) So, maybe it is in how it's done.

You, the writer, can make your world as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Just please don't waste years mapping, deciding where the sun sets, how the inhabitants count, produce children, and make edibles when you could be writing your book.


I don't think what you want is no worldbuilding. What you want is to build the world as it becomes relevant to the story (if I've judged correctly). I actually tend to do this. I start out with a few basics to get a framework for the story. Then I figure out a lot of the details as I go. This can mean a little more work come revision time, but I find that worldbuilding as I go can result in more interesting worlds because I'm not just going through a worldbuilding checklist.

Some of my coolest ideas don't come to me until I've started writing.YES.

_Sian_
10-27-2014, 10:48 AM
I think the it's easier to make information interesting in 1st POV though. If I care about the character, I may listen to them bitch about this politician they don't like, whereas if I was just told about the politician, it would have to be more relevant to not be boring. I think it has something to do with the emotion and the ability to attach conflict to internal thoughts.

I mean, I wouldn't read about it for pages, but a paragraph? As long as it makes sense for the MC to be thinking about the politician? Especially if I like the character and their voice is entertaining? Sure.

rwm4768
10-27-2014, 08:39 PM
I think the it's easier to make information interesting in 1st POV though. If I care about the character, I may listen to them bitch about this politician they don't like, whereas if I was just told about the politician, it would have to be more relevant to not be boring. I think it has something to do with the emotion and the ability to attach conflict to internal thoughts.

I mean, I wouldn't read about it for pages, but a paragraph? As long as it makes sense for the MC to be thinking about the politician? Especially if I like the character and their voice is entertaining? Sure.

You can also do the same thing in third-person, though. Just look at Joe Abercrombie. He gets deep into his character's voices, almost like he's writing them in first instead of third.

Jacob_Wallace
10-28-2014, 02:05 AM
A story can be good without a lot of backstory. You don't need to go to LOTR level world building to have a good story. A lot of people build some basic setting and then world build on the fly.

Another strategy if you're having difficulty world building is to let your characters do it for you. Characters have to come from somewhere in the world. Why does your peasant farmer farm? Is he from a history of farmers? How's business? Is there a lot of competition from other farmers? Does the weather treat his crops good or does his family struggle every year to make ends meet? How about your knight? Why is he a knight? Who does he serve? And so on and so forth.

Thomas Vail
10-28-2014, 08:39 AM
I've always preferred it when world-building is done subtly. It doesn't matter what voice you use, you can clog up the narration with an info dump. Stories where a natural feeling voice is used, where people, events, and things are mentioned, but the context is obvious to the characters and so no infodump, in fact, no further information is immediately dropped about that.

*conversations from a gun show*
"That's an old gun. What is it?"
"Colt 1911. My great-grandfather bought it before going to Europe in WW1."
"Still work?"
"Oh yeah, doesn't have many original parts left, since my grandpa used it as his service piece in WW2, my dad took it with him when he got drafted into 'Nam, and my sister carried it with her when she was a contractor in Iraq three years ago."
"How'd you get it?"
"She gave it to me when she got home and found out I was being deployed to the front lines of the cable news network wars."

There are so many references in there that could be info-dumped for whatever reason, but would make for a very unnatural conversation. Replace all those specific references with whatever fictional setting equivalent you want and it sounds like people talking about things in context to their lives.

Of course, you have to watch out for the opposite problem where people drop too many names, events, places, and it becomes one big morass of under-explained overload. There's a line to walk.

Fitzandrostand
10-28-2014, 08:50 AM
Personally I find it easier to create the story first, the characters etc, and only have a vague sense of my world, and then as I'm writing (or mainly as I'm rewriting) I add bits and pieces in as the world comes to life in my mind. I have a few main points that I need for my story (such as history of the place that has an effect on the plot), but anything that doesn't directly affect the plot I add in post-production.
By that point you'll probably have a really good idea of what the world is like anyway because you'll have spent so much time in it with your characters, and you know which parts matter and which don't so much (i.e. which parts you want to pay more attention to)

blacbird
10-28-2014, 09:31 AM
Speaking as reader, don't build your world in front of me. Build your story. Use your characters and what they do to show me the world they inhabit. Even then, I'm a hell of a lot more interested in your characters and what they do than in the world they inhabit. Even Tolkien's sanctified epic is more about Bilbo and Frodo and Samwise and Gandalf and Gollum and Saruman etc., and in what they do, than it is about the world they inhabit.

caw

Roxxsmom
10-28-2014, 11:37 AM
I just learned a new (made up) word the other day. Incluing (http://papersky.livejournal.com/324603.html) (coined by Jo Walton).


Incluing is the process of scattering information seamlessly through the text, as opposed to stopping the story to impart the information.

Sounds like what we're talking about here.

Mr Flibble
10-28-2014, 05:29 PM
Incluing (http://papersky.livejournal.com/324603.html) (coined by Jo Walton).




Strange the wiki page used to say it was a lot older than that....Could be wrong though!

ETA: A quick search reveals it was being bandied about on AW a fair while ago, and I'm certain wiki stated another source for it back then. EETA Not that's wiki's like the fount of all knowledge! Just seems odd.

Roxxsmom
10-29-2014, 12:12 AM
I believe she says she started using the term long before that blog entry, even before the web existed (don't know how old Jo Walton is, but she's been publishing a while, so I assume she hasn't been 15 for an even longer while). There was a stink a while back about taking it off wikipedia, because it wasn't a "real" word, but just something a few geeks used. But it looks like it's still there.

I don't know if she really invented it or not, but the sources I found claim she did.

Mr Flibble
10-29-2014, 12:19 AM
I'm sure you're right

It's just -- you know the discombobulation you get when you thought something was true and it turns out something else is?

That. :D

SampleGuy
10-29-2014, 10:04 PM
My fantasy short story cycle novel will be in first person. My character doesn't drop info dumps because he already knows what the readers don't know. They will have to learn from what he recalls sometimes to understand his world.

Travel fiction can be good for world building if it is about a character exploring a strange world and learning about it. Books like John Carter of Mars, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Time Machine, Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf, and Gulliver's Travels are good examples