How Much is Too Much? – World-Building

Over the next few months, I’ll be doing an occasional series of posts regarding “How much is too much?” in writing. This is really just supposed to be a “fun rant.” What I’m hoping is to be able to share my thoughts about the limits of different tropes, techniques, and plot paths and hear where other people draw a line.

I thought I’d start us off with world-building. It’s such an important element of fantasy, but it can go too far. I’ve read books where writers play with this–going too far for humorous effect, such as over-explaining why the world is the way it is. Sometimes, though, it’s completely by accident.

Think about it: a writer has to be good at building a world for a convincing and intricate story. Cultures, economies, politics—all of it has to make sense. If a reader is questioning the very foundation of the fictional world, she’s not going to make it very far before tossing the book aside.

However, sometimes we know so much about our worlds that we think the readers need to know it all, too. The level of information can be more than readers can keep track of—too many place-names or historical events thrown in at once, lots of characters with very fantasy-style names introduced too fast, or complex hierarchies rushed into the story without enough to help acclimate a reader.

In case you’re wondering, those examples are all things I’ve been guilty of at one time or another. That’s what workshops are for—working out what needs more explanation and what needs to be scaled back.

I haven’t read too many published books with this problem. Most books are workshopped and edited heavily before publication, which takes care of any issues of that kind. In fact, as of the writing of this blog, the only examples I can think of are early drafts of my own or my former classmates’ work at Hamline.

I love being immersed in a world, and as long as it doesn’t slow down the plot or move beyond the logic of the fictional world, I really don’t think you can have too much. What about you?

If there’s a literary device or technique you’d like to see discussed in this series, send me a message!

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