So, when I talked earlier this week about the perils of overdescribing, of course some of the chatter I heard came back to worldbuilding. Specifically about walking that balance between taking all that wonderful, glorious worldbuilding work that you've done and therefore must share, and not boring the hell out of your reader with things that don't advance the story.
I've used a few different metaphors for the best relationship between worldbuilding and descriptive narrative, but this one strikes me as most apt:
If you've built a clock, most people have no interest in seeing how all the gears work. They just want to know what time it is. But if you haven't made the gears work properly, then the clock isn't going to tell you the right time.
And that's what it boils down to: telling the reader what they're going to want to know in order to understand the story, not what you think they need to know in order to understand everything.
I'm just about finished up (finally) with Way of the Shield, where I struggled with this balance, especially with the historical elements. Part of it involved having the main character go places where the discussion or examination of Druth history was a natural thing: attending a museum opening, or seeing a play that was the equivalent to Richard III. But I made sure to temper my desire to share EVERYTHING.
Other news: Rayguns Over Texas is coming, of course, and Rick Klaw has been posting excerpts from each author's story over the past couple weeks. Here's the one for mine, Jump the Black. Enjoy!
That's a great analogy for worldbuilding/description! And authors now have an outlet for displaying our clockbuilding ... blogs!
Very nice analogy!
This is something I have some trouble with a lot of the time, trying to figure out what readers really need to see. I'm just slightly more afraid of underdescribing and not making sense than overdescribing, though. Not by much, but still. I know there are pieces of worldbuilding I don't have in my draft, but I know I've expanded on some others. It seemed natural and important at the time, but sometimes I wonder if that's my brain saying "You spent so much time on that! Put it in! Put it in! The reader needs to know that to get this other thing!"
Reader: Uh, yeah, no I didn't.
And FYI, this is Vidya, author of the unknown comment. I'm signed in, but apparently my Google account is listed as Unknown. O_o
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