1. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    Providing the setting in increments

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by zoupskim, Jan 11, 2016.

    Hello.

    I hate sci-fi stories that wordgasm a whole setting, with FTL explaination, laser-spallation reduction technology explaination, and transalien super soldier explaination blasted at me in the first page or chapter. I also hate long lapses of character exchange and dialog dedicated to technobabble.

    My plan is to develop my setting slowly based on simple interactions with said technology, and when people brush up against technological limitations. There is one character who likes one type of tech, so always talks about it, but it is part of his character and not a huge setting definer. No one is going to stand there and say 'Warp core stabilizers follow five basic principles.'

    I have all the technology thought out, in addition to the reasoning that led it to being developed, but I am not planning on providing diagrams. Is this going to work? Should there be a 'watson' character who stands there and talks about magnetic fields?
     
  2. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I don't have a good answer for you, other than to tell you what I've done. When I need to go on some world building trip to spoon feed this stuff to the reader I've set up a system in which the main character flashes back to a series of different events that all come together to explain what is going on in his head.
    Actually it'll be easier to show you:
    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/the-lego-room.143525/

    This character is also really enthusiastic about his work, and every time he does something he tries to explain it to the people around him, who all tune him out or just tell him to shut up.
     
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  3. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Your plan seems fine to me, although like most everything, it all depends on the execution.

    Another tried-and-true (some might say overused) method is to have a character who is a child, foreigner, or other sort of reader stand-in present, who is always asking questions and needing things explained. My current WIP (fantasy, not sci fi, but I think the principle is the same) begins when the MC is about 6, and some of the early scenes are his school lessons. Since the teacher is also a major character, I'm hoping this will provide good character beats for the two of them while also slipping the audience some exposition in a more palatable format.
     
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  4. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Worldbuilding the setting is HARD. No matter how you do it.

    You can probably reveal things gradually - build for the reader based on what the character encounters, not based on what you think the reader needs to know about the world. What the character sees is the most important thing.

    The other thing that really helps in terms of terminology is just having the character think or say what they'd normally day rather then explaining to the reader beforehand. My book has a near future that includes underground apartment complexes. I never say there are underground apartment complexes. I show you Emma getting off the subway and walking directly into the lobby of her building while everyone else takes the escalator up. Then gets in the elevator, punches the button marked "19", and listens as the elevator "descends" to the 19th floor. Saying that the elevator "descended" was all I had to do to clue in people that Emma's apartment is 19 floors DOWN from the subway station. (Although I did worldbuild the apartment a bit later).

    My favorite book for worldbuilding was Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union precisely because he gradually showed you more and more of the reality - and that was a noirish detective story, so he never broke the pulpy noir tone, he just told a detective story as if nothing was weird about the fact that it was in an alternate reality where Sitka, Alaska had become a massive Yiddish-speaking Jewish metropolis after WWII. And he hit little things - there was a long passage I remember about how much Detective Landsman loved the Philipino Style donuts that all the street vendors in Sitka sold - down to the last detail of how they were round and hard on the outside and syrupy....all singing the glories of a street food trend that that DOES NOT EXIST. They also don't help the story along, but they sink you deeper into the world - and they certainly are important to Detective Landsman.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2016
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  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's bad for me to say that any writing strategy is "right" or wrong.

    But I'm going to be bad and say that the way that you describe is the right way to do it.

    OK, OK, I'll add the "IMO" and "it depends" and all that. But all else being equal, I think it's the right way.

    I think that it's also valuable to zoom out from what you're doing and figure out what real-world experience it represents. For example, I remember, somewhere, sometime, a whole lot of backstory and hierarchy writing that added up to, "It's a school." School, work, home, friendships, marriages, mentorships, gangs, clubs, armies, parents-and-children, orphanages, universities, planes and ships and trains...there's very often an analogy that makes it unnecessary to offer all that explanation.
     
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  6. Matt E
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    Matt E Stormblessed Supporter

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    Most well written science fiction will keep info-dumping to a minimum. A good example is the Lost Fleet series in my opinion. A bad example is Honor Harrington, which takes long digressions to talk about Warshawski sails. :p

    I don't think you'll have any trouble, although note that there is a group of readers who loves the long technical essays.
     
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  7. Rob Rowntree
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    Rob Rowntree Member

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    You have to integrate the tech into the story and world you created as if it's normal. You characters won't think anymore about their hyper-sonic jump-ship than we do about a shuttle flight from Vegas to LA. They won't draw attention to any of it. As a writer that's what you should do, not draw attention to it. You have your 'blackhole engine' powering your ship and your two hole-wranglers shift work the engine room. You don't need to explain how it works. Your covered walk ways are enclose in carboglass. Do I need to know that? Or do I just need to know it's strong and transparent? You character won't think about it, he'll just see the downed aircab through the clear material.

    So write as if it's already known and understood. Trust your reader.
     
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  8. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    My go-to on this subject tends to be:

    Basically, there are 3 components to any dialogue: the first character, the second character, and the information being shared between the two. Knowing what the information means to each character - why is one character telling it to the other, how does the other react to learning it - is at least as important as the information itself.

    John Scalzi's Old Man's War does this better than anyone else I've seen:

    Chapter 2 exposits both space colonization and a recent nuclear war by having a prospective army recruit complain that his son died in the war against India, and yet India gets special treatment in sending settlers to space while Americans like him can only go as meat-shields to die protecting the Indian settlements. The main character points out that nuclear bombing killed millions of people in India and that large areas of the country are uninhabitable, but then the angry guy turns that around and says "Exactly! We won the war! Shouldn't that count for something?" The main character quickly decides he doesn't like this guy.

    The same chapter then exposits the "science" of space elevators by having a retired engineer describe to the MC all of the reasons why the space elevator shouldn't work, then explaining that - since it works anyway - the space colonizing organization must be using advanced alien technology that they haven't shared with Earth scientists. He finally guesses that the space organization's grand gestures like the space elevator serve to protect them from interference by Earth governments: "if you can't figure out how we did this, then you're not capable of picking a fight with us."

    A later chapter has a commanding officer showing the new recruits a slideshow of some of the species that they've met beyond the Solar System. The commander starts with a crustacean species that the MC reacts to as something out of a horror movie, then goes on to an anthropomorphic elk-like species that the MC associates with the wisdom of a mythical nature-spirit. The commander then explains that the crustacean species has produced some of the greatest artisans and mathematicians that humanity has ever met, while a tribe of the elk species murdered an entire human settlement in the most sadistic ways imaginable. "If you don't get you stupid anthropocentric biases out of your head now, then you are going to get people killed."
     

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