Worldbuilding

Ken Follett writes WW II thrillers. He doesn’t spend pages explaining  what WW II was, or who participated in it or who Hitler was. He assumes the reader knows their world history enough to understand the background of his adventure.

But a science fiction or fantasy world can be completely new to us. We need to be told about the world politics, social class and way of life. We need the science explained and we need to know the rules of magic.

Some authors will give a page or two of explanation at the beginning of the novel or a paragraph or two, at the beginning of each chapter. Most of the time, because they are about another world, they’re interesting.

I read one book where the co-authors’ explanation of their world lasted for pages, which covered 10,000 years of history before the story began. After several pages, I was bored. I skipped the last several more pages looking for the beginning of the story.

Ian Whates does an excellent job showing us his world through his characters’ eyes. Not once does he give us long explanations. In Vol. I of Cities Dreams & Nightmares, the world unfolds, as we meet and travel, with Ian’s characters.

We begin to learn about the social network as Tylus becomes a Kite Guard. His father “puffed and preened … (as if) it was he who had achieved something commendable rather than his son.” “His mother became the focus of the local coffee circle … no event was considered complete without her.”

We think this is good until we learn no one ever asked Tylus if he wanted to become a Kite Guard.

Something is about to go wrong.

Tom shows us the city’s structure as he walks up the stairs from the city below ground to the city above ground.  At one point he looks over the edge into total darkness. He can no longer see his city’s street lamps burning. He’s so overwhelm with vertigo, he becomes disorientated and can’t tell up from down.

Once his fears are settled and he continues to climb, he’s unsure how far up he’s come until he sees two men “chatting amiably.” He knows by their clothes, he is one level below his goal, “the Upper Heights, the very crown of the city. Where the Demons live.”

Where the demons live? That doesn’t sound good. I wonder, are they real demons or has the truth has been warped by myths and legends of his people.

On Tom’s way down we see how extensive this multiple city structure is. Some levels have been abandoned, one level is occupied by a giant Cyclops, while other levels are still filled with people.

I’m only in the first chapter, but I want to keep reading.

In another novel, a murder mystery set in a small US fishing town, I learned more about fish and canning than I cared to know. I’m sure the author was setting the stage. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but by the middle of the second chapter, I didn’t care enough to continue.

The novel’s world sets the tone of the story. The way in which the world is reveal will make or break a novel. If it’s not done well, people will stop reading. If it’s interesting we want to keep reading.

Pay attention as you read to how authors reveal their worlds. If you don’t like the way they do it figured out why, and don’t do it. If you like the way they write, try to incorporate it in your writing.

Learn as you read and become a better writer.

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