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TheRob1
12-08-2014, 08:57 PM
So, the world my ms is set in is going through tough times. There's a drought on and the economy is bad. I've helped illustrate this by showing people begging, selling their families into slavery, and by showing bread lines. But I've also mentioned that the roads are getting worse. What I haven't done is show the roads getting worse. I'm mulling over the idea of having the hero mugged or ambushed on the road. The reason to do it would be to help show how desperate the world is getting. But, I haven't done it because it feels too random. It won't advance the plot and won't reveal much about the heroes that isn't done elsewhere.

It's kind of world building v. Story.

What are your opinions?

Introversion
12-08-2014, 11:14 PM
So, the world my ms is set in is going through tough times. There's a drought on and the economy is bad. I've helped illustrate this by showing people begging, selling their families into slavery, and by showing bread lines. But I've also mentioned that the roads are getting worse. What I haven't done is show the roads getting worse. I'm mulling over the idea of having the hero mugged or ambushed on the road. The reason to do it would be to help show how desperate the world is getting. But, I haven't done it because it feels too random. It won't advance the plot and won't reveal much about the heroes that isn't done elsewhere.

It's kind of world building v. Story.

What are your opinions?

Do you want to show that crime is getting worse, or that the roads are falling apart?

If the latter, you might (adjust appropriately for your WIP's level of tech) have your hero run across a merchant with a broken wagon axle? Or add a conversational bit about how hard it is to get fresh frobbins these days, due to the damnable state of the roads. Can't hardly get a wagon through any more, and what arrives is bruised and beat to hell and barely worth a copper.

Osulagh
12-08-2014, 11:28 PM
How do these "tough times" matter to the character's story? Sure, it might be part of the world, but why should it be part of the story?

SamCoulson
12-08-2014, 11:49 PM
If you're afraid of bogging down the narrative you could use more small throwaway lines, someone he runs into has a black eye from getting mugged (or a scar if the problems have been going on for a while). 2 lines of dialog can allude to it, and someone could shrug and say "yeah, that happens.." it wouldn't take much to use a few lines to establish (or remind if you feel it's necessary) the reader that times suck.

I use throwaway lines like that all the time, and most of the time I find that they actually work themselves back in the story. Several of my favorite supporting characters were invented because I just needed some small "setting generating" moment like that, but once they got their foot in the door they wouldn't let me close it. It's part of letting the world build itself.

TheRob1
12-09-2014, 01:03 AM
It matters to the narrative because the villains are using the economic situation as a smoke screen to justify their actions

Roxxsmom
12-09-2014, 01:53 AM
I personally wouldn't include a scene "just" for world building. If your character needs to go somewhere on the roads, and if something happens as a consequence of his getting mugged on the roads, then it's an ideal situation for showing how dangerous it is to be traveling between cities. Otherwise, just have him reflect briefly on how dangerous things are out there, or work it (briefly) into a conversation or something.

Just my two cents. Presumably the "world going to hell in a handbasket" thing will influence your plot and characters in various ways, so you probably don't have to worry about your readers missing this.

Spy_on_the_Inside
12-09-2014, 10:54 AM
I do agree that world-building is important in a fantasy/sci-fi story. After all, you are taking the reader to a completely alien world and you are their only guide.

However, you cannot be a guide in the same way that someone at a museum. Their job is to convey as much as they can in as little time as possible. You job, first and foremost, is to entertain. You are not allowed the same liberties as someone leading a group of third graders through the dinosaur exhibit.

You need to find a good way to balance the explanation of your world with the story happening at that exact moment. Think of the way Hunger Games conveyed the world of Panem. Granted, there were some times when Suzanne Collins made the same mistakes in writing exposition, but there are also a lot of good examples of how to balance the story and the world too.

Once!
12-09-2014, 12:48 PM
Heck, a road question! That's what I do in my day job...

You don't say what period your book is set in. So I'll try to cover all bases:

Early medieval, non-Roman, Tolkien - the roads are probably just dirt tracks. They will get rutted over time. When it rains they will get muddy, sometimes impassable. Crossing rivers might be a bit tricky. Unless someone has kindly built a bridge, you will probably have to cross at a ferry point or a ford. Or swim.

These sorts of road are okayish for one person, but not very good at transporting large numbers of people, heavy goods or delicate things (pottery, glass). So as we move into industrial times folks tend to invent metalled roads and/or canals and railways.

Roman - an invading army builds stone roads and bridges. The roads are mostly straight because it's the shortest distance between two points and as an invading army they don't care who owns the land they are building over.

Late Medieval - enterprising capitalists and/or far thinking communities invent turnpike roads. People using the roads are charged a toll which is used to pay for the repair of the road. There are often different levels of tolls for different types of road user - horse, mule, carriage, etc.

Modern era - roads are paid for through taxation. In some rare cases, road users are charged directly for the use of a road, tunnel or a bridge.

So in tough times would roads fall into disrepair?

In early medieval times, no. They are not maintained anyway, so you wouldn't notice a difference.

In Roman times, also probably no. The invading army would want to keep their lines of communication working.

In late medieval, possibly. Turnpike roads don't always work and they weren't universal. Some unscrupulous road operators would take the money from the tolls and not do the repair work.

In a modern setting, certainly. Road spending can fall if the Government doesn't raise enough in taxes or spends that money on something else.

Roxxsmom
12-09-2014, 01:59 PM
Also, of course, if a medieval style road or track is being used less often than it once was, because the countryside has become depopulated, or fewer people are traveling on it because the troubles are keeping them closer to home, it will start to become overgrown with weeds and so on. Nature takes back its own. And if an occupying army, like the Romans, pull out of an area, I assume the roads eventually fall into disrepair also, since no one is likely to step up to the plate to maintain them.

waylander
12-09-2014, 03:43 PM
It could be as simple as 'we have to go this way to xxxx, because the bridge that was at yyy got taken out in a storm and there isn't the resources to repair it'

Mr Flibble
12-09-2014, 04:01 PM
And if an occupying army, like the Romans, pull out of an area, I assume the roads eventually fall into disrepair also, since no one is likely to step up to the plate to maintain them.

Yes and no. While the remaining population didn't seem to like reusing the Roman houses, they did keep using many of the roads and would probably have maintained (at some level anyway) the ones they found most useful

Some of these in Britain are now A-roads (Stane Street, close to me, is covered now in part with the A24, my route to work, and the A29 -- you can tell which bits as they are the only straight bits! Earthworks are also visible in places. Other parts of the original street are no longer used as roads but are bridlepaths)

MattW
12-10-2014, 06:03 AM
Characters don't need to experience the travel issues, but they can observe wounded caravan guards in the tavern, or scarcity of imported goods, or merchants looking for toughs and mercenaries as extra muscle.