Writing Fantasy while avoiding Telling:

Total posts: [12]
1 SpellcraftQuill21st Apr 2013 08:51:12 AM from Bayonne, NJ , Relationship Status: In another castle
Writer, fantasy fanatic, cat lover
Hey everyone. I would like to write fantasy but in my classes, I am getting told that I should do some world-building and establishing magic but I also have to keep in mind that I want to show and not tell. Am I supposed to take the lesser of two evils or is there a way to avoid info-dumping and working describing the setting into the regular narrative without too many breaks? Keep in mind that they are not familiar at all with the genre.
“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
― Stephen King
First I will ask do you have any idea about what will the story be? World building is important in both fantasy and SF books but all and all it is always supposed to be only background. Best way to avoid telling stuff is avoiding creating pointless information, if some tidbit of world is important to the story than you probobly will not have much problems with incorprating it in
I think the best thing to do, generally speaking, is to imply as much as possible.

For example, a character says something simple like "god save the king". This implies that the setting is a monarchy (the title of "king" implies it's a Europe-ish monarchy and that loyalty-to-nobility is a positive virtue in the setting) and that the people belong to a monotheistic religion. Those tidbits of information should give most people a pretty good idea of what government and religion is like in the setting and those are pretty important aspects of a setting.

If you give us an example of the info you need to get across in the story, post it and I'm sure someone on the forum can tell you a simple, efficient way of getting the information across.
Yeah, sometimes worldbuilding gets in the way of the story, same with magic systems; consistency is more important than anything, unless you have an unreliable narrator (but the readers needs to know that the narrator is biased, and I don't know how to manage that sort of thing).
Level 3 Social Justice Necromancer. Chaotic Good.
5 ArsThaumaturgis21st Apr 2013 02:17:58 PM , Relationship Status: I've been dreaming of True Love's Kiss
What I suggest is to do the world-building, and then only write into a given story what is part of that story. Even if a given piece of world-building is never directly used, it may affect other parts and inform the writing indirectly. Thus you may naturally end up with the sort of implication that WSM suggests: once you have learned that your world's magic is affected by celestial bodies, you may realise that it is stronger under a full moon, for example. Then you can have a character desperately hold off the enemy hordes until the moon is round and he has enough power to cast the spell that will fell all the foe — without stopping the narrative to give a dissertation on how the celestial spheres affect sorcery.

In short: build the world, then tell the stories within it: relevant bits of world-building should hopefully show through naturally.
A Door to the Mists: Traversal, exploration, puzzles, and combat in a heroic-fantasy setting
6 shiro_okami21st Apr 2013 05:33:38 PM , Relationship Status: Anime is my true love
...can still bite
[up] This.

Also, adding in references to some aspect of the world or history doesn't mean you have to explain them in the narrative, or even explain them at all. Tolkien and Herbert confined a good chunk of their world-building to appendices, and even then The Lord of the Rings contained quite a few references to the then unpublished The Silmarillion that would probably have been completely vague and mysterious to the first readers.
7 EditorPallMall21st Apr 2013 05:41:37 PM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
[up][up] Not a good idea; for when has the world been "built"? This model of writing, that you need a big iceberg for you setting, will lead into World Builder's Disease and you will never start the story. Instead, have a general idea of the setting and work out the details later. They will come.

Implying things as 3 said is great. So is writing action through experience. For example, if you want to establish wizards and magic in your world, introduce this element by writing the event as witnessed by someone else but only say what that person experiences (eg. "He clasped his hands together as arcane words escaped his lips, releasing a ray of red light from his palms which burnt through the flesh of the enemy.")

edited 21st Apr '13 6:01:02 PM by EditorPallMall

Keep it breezy!
[up]Best spell decription EVER! Totally more effective than "Filigan's Ray of Flaying", lol
Level 3 Social Justice Necromancer. Chaotic Good.
9 ArsThaumaturgis22nd Apr 2013 09:10:15 AM , Relationship Status: I've been dreaming of True Love's Kiss
[up][up] I agree that World Builders Disease is a potential problem, and perhaps I expressed myself poorly in suggesting that one "build the world". I don't think that I meant to suggest building the world until it's "complete"; rather, I think, that world-building is a background activity, something done "behind the scenes", that shows through where relevant. I also think that it's very helpful to have at least some of the world-building done ahead of time — after all, how do you know what to imply if you don't know the relevant aspects of the world?

That said, it needn't be built to the finest detail: you may want to know ahead of time whether mages cast spells with arcane words, or weaving strands of reality, or summoning spirits, but you probably don't need to get into the fundamental metaphysics that governs sorcery unless that's part of what you're trying to convey.

Further, I have found that world-building can give rise to new story ideas: in some work of my own, discovering how a particular mode of transport worked — in general, at least — despite that detail not being terribly relevant to the piece in which it was mentioned, led me to further world-building ideas that in turn led me to a new story-plot.

I suppose that it's in part a matter of priorities: if writing the stories is given precedence over building the world, then World Builders Disease shouldn't be a great danger.

[edit] We apparently don't have an article on World Builder's Disease, so I've de-potholed my references above. ^^;

edited 22nd Apr '13 9:12:40 AM by ArsThaumaturgis

A Door to the Mists: Traversal, exploration, puzzles, and combat in a heroic-fantasy setting
10 SpellcraftQuill22nd Apr 2013 04:07:28 PM from Bayonne, NJ , Relationship Status: In another castle
Writer, fantasy fanatic, cat lover
Thanks so far for the advice. I created a Darth Wiki page for my work in fact. Keep in mind that some of it is not fully updated:

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
― Stephen King
11 chihuahua022nd Apr 2013 04:11:35 PM from Standoff, USA , Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Really, I think the best solution for World Builder's Disease is to not fixate on the setting. Instead try putting your primary focus on the plot and characters and then build the setting from what works with everything else.

Also, fleshing things out is usually a revision thing. Make sure you have a rough draft before running through for show, not tell issues.

edited 22nd Apr '13 4:12:01 PM by chihuahua0

12 JHM23rd Apr 2013 09:18:00 AM from Neither Here Nor There , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
Thunder, Perfect Mind
I just like letting things happen and leaving it up to the reader to figure out the mechanics or just let it be. Granted, what I am writing is not your typical high fantasy escapade, but still, magic is best left somewhat ambiguous even when you are writing a more conventional fantasy story because... well, it's magic. You can science it up if you want, but at the end of the day, you are still writing about something that defies conventional physical laws and makes things happen that really should not. Making it all make perfect sense takes away the shock and awe inherent in the concept and thus all but defeats the point, at least to my view.

edited 23rd Apr '13 9:18:42 AM by JHM

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Total posts: 12