1. Thromnambular
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    Thromnambular Member

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    How should I establish my (rather convoluted) setting?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Thromnambular, Oct 19, 2012.

    Greetings, fair folk of the forums!

    I'm currently working on my first "big" writing project, a fantasy novel. It is set in an original fantasy world and has a Middle-Eastern theme.

    Unfortunately, I'm very torn about my approach to establishing the setting for the first chapter of the book...partly because the setting is pretty strange.

    The story begins in a settlement that was built into the rock walls of a canyon. Homes in this "village" are basically caves that dot both of the canyon's faces, each with a balcony or terrace that connects it to walkways carved out of the rock walls. I'm having a hard time describing such a place.

    Here's an excerpt from my first draft where I try to quickly describe the settlement:

    The problem doesn't stop there, because I also explain why these creatures were forced to live there. Sure, that might seem unnecessary, but the story has a lot to do with moral/ethical issues, such as equality.

    Describing the setting, describing what goblins look like, and explaining why the settlement was built there takes me almost 900. That's 900 words of no action or dialogue, which worries me—even though I've read good fantasy novels that start like that. At least a great deal of action follows the 900 word introduction.

    While I'd like to get the story moving more quickly, the things that happen at the beginning of the story are difficult to envision if you don't at least have some idea of how this place was built because there are action scenes that occur on these stone walkways—which protrude from the canyon walls.

    Should I try to get to the action more quickly instead of spending 900 words on an introduction?

    Any opinions on how to better describe the setting would also be welcome.
     
  2. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I personally would try to put these descriptions within the storyline, in little spurts, for instance explain why a character loves his goblin looks or hates them (you can describe them quickly this way and not stop the flow of the story too much) or why a character is behaving in a certain way - he believes this is the only way to do this, because is fore fathers had did it this way for centuries - then you could explain what they did and why? Giving you that much needed back story.

    You could draw it on paper that would make it easier to visualise, it doesn't matter how bad your drawing is. I have done this with my own fantasy characters, I drew them and even though my drawings were awful and gave me a good laugh I knew exactly what they should looked like. Helping me describe them in better detail.

    I'd love to read a bigger excerpt of your work. Could you post a little more.

    I hope you managed to take something constructive from my ramblings. If not feel free to ignore it.
     
  3. Thromnambular
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    You make a lot of good points, cazaan.

    You're definitely right about drawing things to visualize them; I'll give that a try. I'm already doing that with the world map for this fantasy world, though it's still pretty rough.

    I'll probably sprinkle the physical description for the goblins throughout the narrative, as you said.

    As for posting more of the novel, I wasn't sure how much I'm allowed to post in this section of the forums, so I went with just a tiny bit.

    Here is an excerpt explaining some of the reasons why goblins are despised (and suffer discrimination) by humans in my story:
    The last part of the excerpt is just a bit of humor I'm trying to splash onto the story. I'm not entirely sure about how I'm approaching it, but I'd like to make sort of a running gag out of the incredibly dumb/crazy/absurd ways goblins in my story do some things.
     
  4. JackKirwan
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    JackKirwan New Member

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    Okay, years back I had terrible trouble with introducing this kind of setting(now its just awful trouble!) I tend to think the best way is to take it slowly. A classic way of action introducing a world is the thief. The general idea is having a character in the middle of something small but very active, such as thief running from the scene of a crime. That way you can merge description and action together.

    Aside that all I can say with confidence is never info dump. I know sci-fi, so for example, rather then having a character blandly explain the technology, have them tell a story about it. How the gravity failed, plasma rifle overloading etc etc.

    Second is take it slow. I have found a sure killer of any story is throwing too much at the audience at once.

    So to get to the point, who is your main character? I was thinking if you had them just even walk through the market you could get a slow and interesting start, if he tells you things by bitching about the people he sees
     
  5. Thromnambular
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    Thromnambular Member

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    Well, the story begins with the village being raided, because I wanted to start the story off . The first scene is in the main character's (his name is Tinglo, a goblin) home. He's sleeping, his cave-home is wrecked by a huge boulder (which was lobbed at the canyon wall by a sand golem), he stumbles out, he's attacked, etc. He does run into his best friend quickly afterwards though, and they do have a conversation where I expose some of their background and the nature of their relationship.

    Just one more excerpt, so you can see one of the back and forths they have:

    When they have this talk, they're high up the canyon wall, on one of the walkways. I have them mention the bazaar (marketplace), but they don't go there until later. I guess I can describe the bazaar in detail once they're actually down there. The words mokk (and mokking, are like saying the F word) and slagghead (slagg being a rude term for excrement) are derogatory terms I made up, because I'm actually inventing a goblin language for them.

    I really want to fix this chapter up, so I can put it up for a critique in the workshop section. I actually like how some of the dialogue has turned out, but I'm not entirely sure how I feel about some other things.
     
  6. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    *Edited to add that my comments are based on your first excerpt* The excerpt you posted does strike me as being infodump-y, more like a textbook than a novel. Personally I think you need to make this information come through mostly in the interactions between your characters, with just a sprinkling of straight-up explanation if absolutely needed.

    I'd recommend reading some more fantasy, or rereading your favourite fantasy books, to see how those authors establish the world while keeping a 'novelly' feel (I'm so erudite, I know :p). It'll take more work to show rather than tell, but it will be worth it!
     
  7. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I enjoyed reading this, you seem to have a pretty good grasp who your goblins creatures are. I chuckled at:
    Are the goblins your main character(s)? Or the antagonists?
     
  8. Thromnambular
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    Thromnambular Member

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    You're definitely right, I'm in the process of taking all this information and spreading it out carefully in a way that makes sense. I'm using my plot notes to get it all organized. In retrospect, it seems pretty lazy of me to have just dumped so much info up front and I agree it just reads bad.
     
  9. Thromnambular
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    Thromnambular Member

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    Yeah, I think I have a pretty clear idea of what I want these goblins to be like, getting it all on paper in a way that reads well is proving tricky though.

    And the main character is a goblin, as are some of his companions. Goblins in this world are just an oppressed minority. People either don't want them around or want to enslave them. All they want is to be left alone.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Overall, no please don't spend 900 words on the setting and history of the people. Unfortunately nobody will care unless you have a story to hook the reader in first, and 900 words straight of description is a sure fire way of chasing readers away. Spread it over something else, a small little piece of action, even if it's just your MC buying a basket of fruit and delivering it to his/her grandmother - make us care first, and THEN feed us little pieces of info. Think of babies - you give them too much to eat, they're gonna spit it right back out.
     
  11. JackKirwan
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    JackKirwan New Member

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    I think you're up against the great problem of fantasy and science fiction. You get to know you're world so well it's easy to forget no one else does. It's a kinda inevitable trap.I think starting it at the raid might be a dangerous path to take, it does give you a handy hook to get readers into the story, but the problem is they don't know the world. In amongst the action the details can get lost and forgotten. I'd think maybe start it just a little before that, to just ease folk into it a bit more. hate to bring up the bazaar again, but the great use of it is, there can be foreign traders. Who allow you to have a character explain things rather than the narrative. I agree with cazann 34, lines like the 5-s system are pretty fun! though I think maybe best delivered by a character unless you give the book a Pratchett/Douglas Adams kind of narrative which I don't think you want. Remember there is a reason why a lot of books have an outsider brought into the world, it's almost always to have the audience feel like they are learning with the character, rather than from. Which I've learned to my detriment is very irritating to an audience
     
  12. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I wouldn't say that it reads bad, you have a very charming writing style that is always going to be nice to read, it's just that it could be even better :)
     
  13. Thromnambular
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    Thromnambular Member

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    Thanks for all the great advice, all of you. It was just what I needed. :D
     

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