1. divided_crown
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    divided_crown Member

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    Writing in overdeveloped original settings

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by divided_crown, Mar 19, 2016.

    While I have started and sometimes even half-finished a baffling amount of (science fiction and fantasy) writing projects in the past few years, every serious project I begin seems to smash into a concrete wall right after it has gotten up to speed.

    Other issues aside, I have come to realize that one of the reasons for that are my overdeveloped settings. Originating mostly from many years of tabletop RP gaming (and sometimes just from a lot of time spent on them before starting a never-finished project), these worlds are places I am intimately familiar with and that I have developed to a level of granularity that makes them unwieldy to use in a story. I find myself trying to fit the plot around the setting that has been established, rather than making setting and plot form a consistent whole.

    This causes a dilemma for me:
    • If I create a new setting for a story, I feel like I have wasted years of hard work building these words, even though they were built entirely for a different medium. A large part of my goal as a novice writer is to tell the stories of these worlds.
    • If however I set a story in one of these worlds, I am limited by their complexity and and even more by my familiarity with them. I have told so many stories in these settings that I find it extremely hard to establish them properly so that an unfamiliar party can understand and enjoy them. Contributing to this is of course a certain inability to tell what details of a setting a reader would really need to understand it.
    Being as inexperienced as I am, this issue has led my in circles for a while now, stunting any progress I could have achieved.

    Has anyone here experienced something similar or can imagine the situation? I would really appreciate any advice you can offer.
     
  2. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Worldbuilding - even extensive worldbuilding - is perfectly fine. Your level of familiarity with the world can be very useful, and it needn't be offputting (in fact, some readers really like that kind of thing).

    Your problem may not be the worldbuilding itself, but simply how you're presenting that world to your reader.

    Without reading your writing style, it's difficult to judge, but I get the feeling that your worry is that you're just infodumping all the time; long passages of text about how the world works so that the reader can understand what your characters are doing?

    Try approaching it in a different way. Ignore what's going on in the wider world. Present everything through the eyes of your characters.

    Think about the way you live your life now; you're aware that there's a country called India, a country called South Africa, a country called Canada. You know that there's a complex banking system, that the moon is responsible for the tides, that the continents were once joined together into a supercontinent, that dinosaurs once existed but have since become extinct, that the Earth is the third planet from the sun, that the Roman Empire once controlled a significant portion of the globe before it fell... you know all of these things, and they are each important to the way the world is, to varying extents and in varying circumstances - but you don't think about them every day.

    What you think about every day is how you get your food and water, how you keep yourself entertained and how you meet people. What your job is, what the town you live in looks like and how the people in it interact with one another.

    Your audience don't need a potted history of your world. They don't need a comprehensive list of the magical animals that exist, the way that magic works and the global movements of the various empires. What they need is enough to understand what your characters are experiencing.
     
  3. IHaveNoName
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    IHaveNoName Active Member

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    What Terobi said. Take the Wheel of Time series as an example: The MCs (Rand, Matt, Egwene) start out as simple people in a backwoods town. They go to the next town up the road, then to the capital of their nation, and the various countries, peoples, and cities are gradually revealed to us through their adventures.

    And yeah - you don't need to include every single detail; just tell us what we need to know. Throw in a few historical details here and there if you want, for window dressing. My WIP, for example, is set in a fantasy realm, but I made a throwaway reference to the printing press, which was invented a century earlier. It's not really relevant to the story, and you'll never see one, but I wanted a reason for books to be more common than normal.
     
  4. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Interesting. Is it literally just that there are more books? I only ask because the invention of the printing press is almost obscenely interesting for its knock-on effects for religion, politics and education, and probably one of the most powerful inventions in the history of humanity.

    Before the printing press, books were copied by hand. Not only were they rare and expensive, but pretty much only the church and the establishment were able to either buy or manufacture them. What they paid for became the sum total of knowledge that the common folk were ever exposed to.

    After the printing press? Radical ideas on politics and religion could spread to anyone with an understanding of reading. Textbooks of forbidden practises and heretical thought changed hands across Europe. Scientists could suddenly exchange information accurately and to other scientists all over the continent. Political radicals and religious reformers could get their message out to followers hundreds of miles away. It's no coincidence that the Catholic Church was torn to pieces; the Protestant Reformation was driven by the printing press.
     
  5. petey0707
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    petey0707 Member

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    I have a pretty big world, although when I decide to write my stories, this allows me to hone in on certain areas and show how certain cultures effect the characters. These cultures are of course influenced by geography, history and political relationships, amongst other things. Just shrink a short story down to a particular setting and try not to overdo it. I love worldbuilding myself so I can see why you're troubled, just try not to overwhelm what's in your head.
     
  6. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    It also makes your story wayyy more manageable. You're unlikely to wrap up a plotline about numerous warring empires in a single book (not satisfactorily, anyway), but you can quite easily wrap up a plotline about a smuggler who accidentally gets herself tangled up in a troop deployment.
     
  7. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Concur with Terobi. You would have the same problem writing fiction set in the real world, maybe in your home town... you know a lot about it. The story of world is in the characters' interactions with it, and the "lay of the land" can come out in dribs and drabs... keep your well-built world, you have put a lot of work into it. But the story is not about your marvelous world, but the people in it. Let them tell their story. And, oh by the way, when faced with a wall, go over, around, through it or under it, but keep writing. You may be having a crisis of confidence rather than a setting problem.
     

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