Common Writing Mistake: World Building

World building is a tricky subject because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem.  Ask ten writers how they attempt to make their fantasy world rich and immersive and you will probably get ten different answers.  And this is not necessarily a bad thing!  World building is what gives a story its flavor.

When I work on beta reading projects I would say that world building issues usually falls under one of two categories:

1) The Information Dump


2) The Assumption

The information dump is exactly how it sounds.  Instead of creating a rich, sensory experience for the reader in gradual pieces, the author dumps everything the reader needs to know about a character/place into one huge blob of text.  Why is this a problem?  It's boring for one thing.  For another, a huge blob of text does not necessarily enhance the reading experience.  Just because the reader received the explanation once does not mean that he/she will retain all that information.

Readers need to be carefully and constantly reminded of details.  A character who constantly displays a certain mannerism is more memorable than one who had an epic backstory presented once.  With environments the impression the area gives is usually more important than knowing the exact layout.  Having a house feel creepy and abandoned vs. warm and inviting is more relatable information than knowing a house has three rooms, two of them upstairs.

The second category is a little trickier to fix.  "The assumption" is when the author forgets the reader is not in his head.  The result ends up reading something like this:

"Watch out for those zortong.  Everybody knows why we should avoid them."

So while the author gets points for trying to immerse the reader with new terms, the reader is still left confused because there's not enough contextual information to figure out what the heck a zortong is.  The author knows what a zortong is and assumed the reader knows as well.

The reader needs to be clued in to fix the assumption BUT the reader also doesn't need an information dump.  Both evils need to be avoided.  Often assumptions can be fixed with a few choice words.  For example:

"Watch out for those zortongs.  Those animals have a nasty temper.  There's a reason why everyone avoids them."

No information dump, no assuming.  The reader now knows the critical information in order to keep going with the plot without being bogged down by questions.


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