Friday, January 25, 2013

World Building Without the Info Dump

As you guys know, I was asking for questions on Twitter regarding writing, critiquing, etc. I only got a few but there was one that really captured my attention. So I decided I would focus on this one question this time around because I feel it's pretty important. But don't worry! For those who asked a question, I'll answer you individually.

Here's the question I received: In fantasy, how do you build a culture in 1-2 chapters without being guilty of dumping?

Let's be honest, we're all guilty of info dumping at some point or another. Whether it's in your first draft and you're just discovering this new idea OR you're really pushing for a certain word count. It's easy to get caught up in the world you're creating and going in depth about what it is you want the reader to experience.

But as a reader, what I look for in a SF/F is the idea that I'm experiencing it with the MC as if I'm right beside him/her. It should feel like it's an every day situation for this character and I want to see it through their eyes. I don't necessarily need everything explained to me. Just throw me in there! Literary agent Victoria Marini (Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency) once said on her blog something about jumping into the manuscript head on and letting the reader catch up. That always stuck with me because when I first started writing I was guilty of info dumping like crazy in my first chapter. I felt the need to explain every little detail so the reader would know exactly what I meant, but in reality, they don't need that. They have their imagination to do the work for them. And isn't that the point? 

Another piece of advice came from my good friend Shannon Dittemore (Angel Eyes Trilogy). What she said made so much sense and is actually the biggest piece of advice I've ever been given. It was this: 

In order to get a better idea of the genre you're writing, you must read the genre in which you're writing. 

Writing is like anything else. In order to perfect your craft, you have to take the initiative to learn more about it. The more you write, the more your writing grows. Same goes for reading. When researching your genre, reading books similar to yours gives you an understanding of the setup and how much or how little background you need to establish your world right off that bat. Now, that's not saying that you can't change it up and drop a bit more in the details than others. I'm not saying you need to do EXACTLY what someone else is doing. What I'm saying is: Get a feel for the way other people have tackled the situation and learn from it. 

When I decided that my writing was more supernatural/horror, I read a ton of books to get a feel for the tension, the buildup, the scares. Things that are really important for that genre. The things that really make it count. Whenever my writing is in a slump, I always pick up a couple of books for inspiration. The characters and their interactions, their dialogue and their adventures––those things put me in the mood to write because sometimes you just need a refresher. 

So before you start on that shiny new idea, take some time to acquaint yourself with the genre. Let's face it, is reading a couple of awesome books ever a bad thing? 

4 secret replies:

  1. I throw everything at the page, then stand back and decide what goes. It's amazing how much description you can take out of a scene and still have it work.

    Great post, Heather!

    1. I'm the same way. I like to get it all out there and take it away when needed. Thanks for reading! :)

  2. Thanks for tackling this question!

    I appreciated the acknowledgement that dumping happens to the best of writers. I guess the key is to make sure what's on the page fits with the context of the story so that it flows seamlessly. I also love the advice to read books within the same genre to see how authors have successfully built their worlds.

    Thanks again. I look forward to reading future posts!

    1. Absolutely! We're all guilty of it and sometimes it's the best way for us to learn more about our story. Then we go in and take things out, clean it up and make it more solid. But reading within your genre is always a great way to start.