1. Ollpheist
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    Ollpheist Member

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    Setup, Backstory, and Unfamiliar Terms

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ollpheist, Aug 4, 2011.

    I'm running into a bit of a snag with my work, simply because there's at least a month of setup and backstory that contribute to the beginning of the story. There's also an issue of unfamiliar terminology that I'm using, and I'm not sure when I should define those terms for the reader.

    For instance, the primary unfamiliar term is "Reanimate" (as a noun). In the context in which I've used it in the story thus far, all the reader knows is that there are these people who are called Reanimates, and they're unpleasant folks. Beyond that, the reader has no idea how they came about or what their deal is.

    The Reanimates are the reason for martial law, which has collapsed at the start of the story. Obviously, since it just now collapsed as of the story's beginning, its effects will still be seen. However, I'm not sure whether I should give the reader one big chunk that lays it all out, or give it in pieces. My instinct is to offer little nibbles here and there as they're pertinent to the story, but I'm wondering if that will lead to the reader's frustration that they're slowly figuring everything out.
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Give it in pieces. Always. Infodumps = bad. :)

    I'm already curious about the Reanimates. I love names like this..."reanimates," and some of mine have been "Harrowers," "Watchers," etc and I've also seen "Dinner Guests" in another story.

    Those types of name choices are sinister because they're ambigious, but have a chilling tone to them. I much prefer this bad-guy naming technique as opposed to just using some Norse --> English translator to come up with a random word.

    Any other snags I can help with? If you want a review, let me know!
     
  3. Ollpheist
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    Ollpheist Member

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    Thank you for the quick and helpful reply. :)

    Part of my initial problem was what to call my creatures, because they aren't afflicted by a rage virus, nor are they the Walking Dead. "Walkers" had a little too much "Texas Ranger" in the name, "Terrors" was too cheesy, and a number of other problems arose. I refused, however, to--as you said--use a Norse (or whatever) to English translator (though I do use that sometimes, more for place names than anything).

    I appreciate your offer to help, and though I can't think of any snags I'm running into right now, I certainly wouldn't mind a review. Should I post it here, elsewhere, or send you a private message?
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    You can email me at mallory.feedback@gmail.com - I have a special email specifically for writing-related stuff.
     
  5. Ollpheist
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    Ollpheist Member

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    Sent. Thank you for giving me a review; I appreciate any input I can get into my work, and it does need some polishing. :p
     
  6. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your instinct is spot on.

    Give information as and when it becomes relevant. Make it interesting for the reader to uncover details as they go along. :)
     
  7. The_NeverPen
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    The_NeverPen Member

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    If Frank Herbert wasn't too good to include a glossary, then neither are you!

    That said, people have an amazing capacity to work out new terms from context. Build solid descriptions and people will have pretty good working definitions of whatever you're referring to.
     
  8. tiggertaebo
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    tiggertaebo Member

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    What sort of audience do you envisage? Certain groups don't need alot of spoon feeding and would actually feel insulted if you did.

    Without knowing more about your story its difficult to say the best way of doing it, any chance of working an audience surrogate in?
     
  9. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you starting your novel in the right place? If you find you've a lot of back-story then you might want to reconsider the starting point for your novel.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The NeverPen and Tiggertaebo have it right - don't assume your audience is too stupid to have some grasp of what you're talking about without an explicit explanation. The name Reanimate, without further explanation, is going to give your reader some pretty good ideas as it is.

    I agree with Mallory regarding giving the information in pieces if you have to give it explicitly at all.
     
  11. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    I think it has already been said that you should never do an info dump. Allow your reader to make assumptions. This is what makes reading fun. To try to guess what is going on and to either be proven you are right or wrong later. Only reveal the information as it is needed. Just keep a notes page(s) that cover the details for your self.

    I personally hate stories that go right into elaborate flash backs.

    Also, think about your audience. If you are writing a children's book then you might have to put more exclamations in to bring them up to speed. Use the vocabulary of your audience and there current understanding of the world.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    How far into Firefly were we when we discovered what the Reavers were? (Answer: past the series cancellation, and towards the end of the spin-off film Serenety). You don't need to explain everything.
     
  13. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Some things don't need any explanation at all. I haven't seen it, but Event Horizon (movie) never showed where the Event Horizon (ship) went. Iron Man doesn't explain how his propulsion boots work; they just work. And there are tons of unexplained things in books.
     

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