World Building, One Brick at a Time

space city

I’ve been taken to task by readers for not providing enough information about the world I’ve built in my novel. It’s a point well taken and one I struggle with when I force myself to sit down at the keyboard and starting spinning a tale.

Personally, I don’t like a whole lot of “info-dumping” in a novel. Give me the basics, tease me along the way, and I’ll figure it out (or not). It’s a fine line between too much and not enough, but, as for me, I’d prefer the “not enough” to the “too much.” I’ve put down a number of novels because I couldn’t put up with page upon page of narrative (or pointless dialogue) on why the world the characters live in works the way that it works. I got it, move along.

When my youngest son was a teenager he read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and loved it, so I gave him my copy of The Lord of the Rings. He brought it back to me a couple of weeks later and said he gave up. He couldn’t get past page upon page describing how, what and how often a Hobbit eats. And that was Tolkien!

I remembered that when I finally stopped dreaming about writing and actually started writing. I’m far from being an expert in anything, especially writing, but I wanted to give my take on the process of World Building and ask for ideas/arguments/pointless rants on the subject.

As for me, when I imagine the world I’m trying to build, I put the story first and the World Building second. It’s about the story, not the world I’ve imagined it taking place in.

The story comes first.

I remember as a teenager sitting in a dark theatre watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those first 10 minutes changed everything about what I expected an action movie to look and feel like. The story grabbed you by the throat and drug you along and you’d better move your feet if you wanted to keep up. I loved it. Still do.

I look for the same thing in a novel. Tell me your story. I’ll jump into the deep end of the pool on whatever you’ve written and you keep me from drowning by throwing me a life preserver of information so I can tread water. Don’t send me a battleship of information overload, because when you do, I’ve lost your story.

I was once part of a novel critique group with other aspiring authors who read the first chapter of my novel and told me if I didn’t give details on the technology I explained on page three by the end of the chapter, then I had lost them. I let them be lost. It wasn’t about the technology, it was about the story.

For me the goal is to provide enough information to keep readers from being confused about the world I’m presenting them. By the end of the book, they should understand how this world works. If they don’t, I’ve failed. If I have more than a couple of paragraphs explaining a particular detail of the world I’ve built, I also consider myself to have failed. But that’s just me.

What do you think? At what point in World Building do you need to part from the story and build your world?

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