Wednesday, 7 August 2013

World building

I saw this quote recently:
“I think the tendency to over-explain and over describe is one of the most common failings in fantasy. It’s an unfortunate piece of Tolkien’s legacy. Don’t get me wrong, Tolkien was a great worldbuilder, but he got a little caught up describing his world at times, at the expense of the overall story.”
—            Patrick Rothfuss (via writingquotes)
I kind of agree. I have been struggling with world building recently but I keep reading how incredibly important it is and how you shouldn’t even START writing until you’ve sorted out your whole world etc. See this recent article from io9 http://io9.com/7-deadly-sins-of-worldbuilding-998817537
Number 6 on their list is: “Not really giving a strong sense of place, like what it smells like after it's been raining.” Surely they are kidding?
Kid 3 wanted a book to read and I handed her the first part of the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey; a series that I adored when I was the same age. She complained that there was no explanation of why things happened. And I thought no… not for another three books or so do they even work out what thread is, or where it comes from and it didn’t matter to the story. It was there are you had to fight it and the dragons could do that, even though the people had almost forgotten how. It didn't matter to me why it existed, clearly it matters to her. Is this an affliction of modern readers? 
Or if the writer has believable people who inhabit a believable world, then do they need to explain everything? In our world you drop an apple and it falls. Do you tell readers what gravity is? Or do you assume they know? They do live in this world, I suppose unlike some fantasy worlds.
Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight vampires walked in daylight and didn’t have fangs. She never explains why. But without that, Bella would never have met Edward in the well-lit and safe school cafeteria, not the dark and scary cemetery at midnight. SM literally defanged her vampires and made them sparkle. Admittedly her world has some major issues, (how exactly can a vampire get a human pregnant?) but I don’t need to know who takes out the garbage to imagine the characters walking around the town.
In the Hunger games, it doesn’t make sense that thirteen worlds would be evenly separated and have totally different environments and produce different things, but it isn’t a deal breaker for the story. In fact, she needs to have the worlds set up like that, so that district thirteen can fall off the map. What? It’s gone? It was here a minute ago. Is this a flat earth? Was there ever a district fourteen and if so, what happened to it?

Or in another example, every person takes a crap but a writer doesn’t describe it, unless going to the bathroom is necessary to the story, so why would I be dropping in which night is bin night? Characters also eat and drink, but I don’t need the recipe for dinner. 
I don’t call that world building, I call that clutter.