Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On using all that world-building...

I've been posting about world-building a lot, and I've recently been thinking about another aspect of it: what the readers want from the writer. Because as we know, only the tip of your world-building iceberg actually appears in your story...

How much of the iceberg do YOU want?
I've gotten a huge amount of feedback on Course Corrections. Three people read the first draft. The first two chapters and the outline were workshopped at VP. Four people read the second draft. I've got two, maybe three lined up for the third -- I can't believe my luck in this, to be honest. I've been writing for a long, long time but getting a variety of feedback is new for me.

Of the seven who've read the whole manuscript so far, they've shaken out into an interesting bell curve. At one end, confusion due to insufficient info-dumps. At the other, the assertion that the info-dumps are just fine and shouldn't be touched. In the middle, people pointing out a few unclear areas and saying the world-building might actually be slowing the story down a little.

So I've been trying to synthesize a consensus. A fellow Viable Paradise graduate pointed out that everybody has different expectations when it comes to world-building, and I've spent a couple days unpacking that thought.

I think of myself as an easy-going reader most of the time. I'm willing to wait for explanations or just accept that we're doing this because this is how we do things -- up to a point. If we're riding cool motorcycles without helmets, you don't need to explain that to me. If we're killing kittens and puppies, I'm going to need a heck of a good reason.

Obviously, other people are going to want more. Some people want it explained right now. Others  have different priorities when it comes to information. I'm biased toward science and technical details, personally. Relationship histories are okay, but not my top priority to find out about in a story. I like anthropology and sociology, if it's relevant. A lot of people talk about sounds, smells, other sensory data but to be honest...? They're distinctly secondary for me.

My writing is biased by my priorities, of course. And it's an easy guess that people with similar preferences will find my writing enjoyable. The struggle is to find your balance between what you think is a reasonable amount of info and the sum of what all your readers want, I suppose.

What sorts of things do you most want the writer to tell you about?

2 comments:

Melanie Fowler said...

I love world building. I'm going to have to read the rest of your stuff about it :)

Sarah McCabe said...

You cannot find a "sum of what all your readers want". That's just not how it works. If you make one happy, you'll disappoint another. And if you try to find the middle ground to please everyone, you'll please no one. It's always best to just write the kind of story you would enjoy the most. It's the only kind of story you're likely to be passionate about, and passion counts.

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