Wednesday, September 18, 2019

# book # books

Wordsmith Wednesday: World Building in a Fantasy Novel

We have a guest this week! I'm super excited to introduce y'all to Russell Nohelty, one of my favorite writers.

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I’m doing a lot of promotion for my new Kickstarter, Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, and as such I have been participating in several AMAs around the internet.

Most of the questions tend to be about the project, or one of my other projects, but sometimes they turn toward writing, and specifically writing fantasy, which is something I am acutely qualified to talk about, being as I’ve made my career writing fantasy novels and comics.

The biggest question I get related specifically to writing fantasy is about how to go about world building in a fantasy story without an info dump.

An info dump is when you explain the world at length in the middle of a scene without explaining it through action. It could be through a song, or a story found by one of the characters, or just somebody explaining the world at length to another character.

This kind of world building stops the story dead and is dreadfully boring both for the author to write and the reader to read. It also demystifies the wonder of the world, which is one of the greatest parts about fantasy.

So, how do you do world building the right way, then?

Good world building is done through the eyes of the main character, or characters, if you have multiple point of view characters, a la Game of Thrones.

In good world building, the world unfolds for the character much like it unfolds for the reader, with each scene building on the next and revealing more and more about the world.

Good world building is like building a train track while a train is barreling forward. You should only lay that track moments before the train arrives, but always with enough track that it doesn’t fall off the rails.

This means that you should strive not to reveal something to your reader until right before they need to know it, so that it’s fresh in their mind when the action happens.

If you reveal a part of the world a hundred pages before the information is needed, readers will forget and become confused when the action happens.

Instead, it’s important to reveal necessary information within two chapters of when the characters will need to act on the information they’ve received, and it is best to do so in the preceding one or during the same chapter when they experience the threat.

For instance, if your characters go into a town and learn about a beast that roams the mountains, and then head into the mountains…they are going to either have to encounter the beast OR learn that there is something else in the woods that is not the beast.

This either reinforces or subverts the information given, and thus cements it in the brain of the reader, because they have just read about the information, and then soon after seen the information for themselves through the actions of the characters.

I also like to use another trick, which is not to disclose any information for my readers until after the characters experience it.

In Ichabod Jones Monster Hunter, the first issue starts with the main character creeping through an asylum unaware of what is happening and scared out of his mind, until he runs into a great, big monster which chases after him, and the rest of the issue is spent trying to figure out what happened and how to kill the monster.

This plants the reader directly into the action, but it is also jarring for the reader, which means it needs to be used sparingly.

In the case above, I used the jarring pace of meeting the monster to show that nothing is safe and Ichabod could be put in life threatening peril at any moment. It drew the reader in immediately and helped them connect with the character.

Conflict is what bonds the reader with the character, and conflict shows the true nature of the character. Good world building is all about how to show the mettle of the characters and put them in conflict with the world.

When you write an info dump, you do nothing to show the conflict of the world with the character, and thus, it serves very little purpose.

The world is only as interesting as the conflict it creates with the characters, which means that showing the world in conflict with the character is the best way to build empathy between your reader and the world you’ve created.

You can check out the Ichabod Jones campaign, and even download the first issue for free at:

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For more information about Russell, check out his website at The Complete Creative. Also be sure to check out all of his novels and comics! He's an immensely talented writer who I am proud to know.

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