Updated: Apr 7
First an announcement. The first-ever Association of Ishtar writing challenge is live. 2000 words before May first. Check it out!
And with that welcome back, fellow Travelers, to World Building with Bonsart.
It has been a while. But I had to prepare for our first-ever book event. Also, I plan to do our first-ever crowdfunding project for, you probably guessed it, the coloring book. It is both for funding and building a bigger audience so, the goal will be low this time. Tiers will include digital and physical copies. Currently published books, including hardcovers, and bookmarks. Do you want more? An art book in full color with lore perhaps? Please, share your ideas with us.
In our first blog, we talked about what world-building means within the context of writing fiction. Here I made a clear distinction between World Building and Building the World. Building Worlds is what people commonly associate with fantasy and sci-fi. Designing elaborate empires, histories, and epic cities. But that is not what we mean with World Building in this series. As a matter of fact, from now on, I'll refer to the act of writing backgrounds on settings as ' World Design' to separate the two subjects.
The purpose of this series is to inspire writers to Design their World based on the World Building of their narratives. Ergo, you begin writing the story and then design your world accordingly. I touched on this lightly in my previous blog where I used the example of somebody nearly getting run over by a baboon on a tricycle.
In the process of writing this blog, I got some interesting feedback on my latest short story. The Envoy from Beyond.
I want to focus in particular on the mention of 'fantastic elements emerge dramatically without stylistic flourish.' Right off the bat, I would like to emphasize I have a strong eversion of 'Style over Substance Writing'. In short, this means writing using a lot of abstract terms that look very intellectual and deep on paper, but in fact, mean nothing. I love the idea behind narrative focused games Sunless Sea and Sunless Skys. But the writing often engages in meaningful prose that seems deep but is either unrelatable, or I have no idea what they are trying to convey. Often both. Not to mention texts that require a thesaurus to make sense of it.
So, I am going to lay down some rules for this series. First one. Write to be read.
In the upcoming blogs, I want to talk about presentations; How to present your setting to your audience.
Personally, I have a distaste for writers who enjoy using terms few people use in casual conversation. Especially for somebody who has English as a second language and is dyslexic, don't want to consult a dictionary every three sentences. I want to read something that I enjoy. Something that allows me to read on, unhindered by vague abstract sentences and difficult to read words.
Good writers are storytellers first. Imagine yourself as a medieval bard, standing around the campfire telling his tales to weary travelers. You don't just produce sounds. There is an art to captivating your audience. And just like modern writers, the bards of old needed to present their settings while keeping their audiences engaged. That is why reading out your writings during the editing process is so important. Because some readers do imagine a voice in their heads as they read. Especially parents who read out storybooks to their children need a certain cadence. A rhythm, a flow of words that will help them entertain their young listeners as they're clutching their blankets.
It's all in the presentation.
How to present your world?
In my article on writing sentences, I emphasized that every sentence needs to contain an action. Every sentence without action means nothing is happening. The reader needs to have a sense of progression, movement, or things being achieved.
Here are more things to be mind full of and stylistic errors to avoid. In the next blog, we'll get into Show-don't-Tell and how to write scenes.
So, here are some things to avoid
Starting with the low-hanging fruit. Exposition means a writer is blatantly stating facts. This is often done from the 'All-knowing Narrator's perspective'.
"In the land of Nurnia baboons are riding tricycles to work."
Exposition is often boring irrelevant information regarding what we call World Design. The writer dumps a bunch of statements about past events and society on the reader, often framing their story so the reader becomes biased in favor of one faction and won't question the morality of the 'good guys'. That brings us to the exposition's misbegotten cousin, who is also its sister.
2. Excessive Internal monologues
Now, internal monologues don't have to be bad, if treated as dialogue. For example. A character wondering if it should have coffee or tea.
However, too often internal monologues are disguised as exposition. Very poorly disguised exposition. This includes characters thinking about events, relationships, family members, history, and politics. Some writers believe all these things need to be chewed out for the reader, otherwise, they won't like their self insert. But in reality, it is the most common form of Tell-don't-Show in fiction.
This is often used as a way to do exposition and it's often just as lazy. The worst thing of all. In 1 of 20 cases this is done in fiction, this information has no value to the story. It's just the writer indulging itself in World Design. And it often goes on for pages. I particularly love this when character [A] is talking to Character [B]. Then, mid-conversation, [A.] starts reminiscing: "Hé, that reminds me of the political situation that happened because of the war ten years ago when one guy hit another one with a ham and [...]" This goes on for page upon page. Meanwhile, character B is still standing there, looking at [A.] who, I guess, is just staring blankly in [B.]'s direction as if high on mushrooms.
This is what we call: 'Terrible pacing'. I get into it some other time when discussing dialogue.
3. Describing things
Or excessively explain every item in the room. Sometimes describing a room as a kitchen is enough. In this series, I'll emphasize creating impressions or ambiance for the reader rather than getting lost in the minutia, hampering the pacing. More on that some other time.
Remember this line when you start a scene in a new space.
'World Building is about characters interacting with the world.'
Who one will describe a house of fire will differ if one character is asthmatic and the other a pyromaniac. For each character you have to describe your world accordingly. For one character this is heaven, for the other it is hell. One focuses on what gives them joy, the other on what inspires despair. Treat everything else as irrelevant.
In this older video on World Building I used the examples of 'Letters of Hiroshima' and 'Flags of Our Fathers'. Same battle. Same world. Very different World Building.
4. Abstract words and adjectives
One thing I am adamant about is, don't make readers interpret your sentences. Be clear in what you mean. Adjectives tend to be the main offenders. That's why these are often the first words editors remove for a manuscript. 'Exotic' for example. An 'exotic weapon'. What does that mean? A katana could be exotic. So could a machete. Then why not just call it 'a katana'? Is there even such a thing as an 'exotic katana'? What does an exotic katana look like? Is it decorated or made of jade? Beter just call it a 'katana' then.
Adjectives are often excessive, if not outright confusing. Unless the adjective is very specific like 'a rusty katana', or 'a broken katana', or a 'golden katana'. These are specific enough. Sure, you could elaborate on that. But the impression is clear.
But what about an 'old car'? How old? What kind of old. Like an old beat-up BMW from the '80s? Or a well-maintained Ford Model-T?
I could go on. Point is, to be as specific as possible. Only use words that can only mean one thing in their context.
5. Bad metaphors
Then there are vague metaphors. See also my rant on Style over Substance writing. I recall a line from Sun Skies. "It tasted like a Phoenix." I mean, sounds cool, right? Phoenix! Awesome inclusion! But what does it mean? I don't know about you but is have never tasted Phoenix. It could be like cotton candy for all you know.
Then there is the writer who includes metaphors for metaphor's sake. Don't get me wrong, I use metaphors. But I use them to elaborate on a complex situation. That's what metaphors are for. To convey complex situations quickly, or to reframe a situation to simplify abstract concepts or point out the flawed logic. Example for C-15: Hands of the Merchandise
"Alright, you pleb. I get it. You wanted to prove we can save energy by lowering the input.
It does not work that way, you idiot. I’ll explain again. Veil Generators are like band-aids. They don’t mend Tears. They just cover them up. When it comes to the Voidbeast, we are just blocking access to our reality. It’s like blocking a door with furniture. The heavier the better! Lowering the power makes the furniture lighter. So, less power, less weight. Less weight, the bigger the change that whatever is on the other side will burst through!" [...] To summarize. Hands of the merchandise!“
6. Perspective switching
"Then, Bonsart was sitting behind his computer, dressed in his underwear, wondering if he should stop the blog right here or write one last segment. Then he realized he should write something about story perspectives, so perhaps his readers wouldn't switch perspectives nilly-willy like that one guy on his Discord... You know who you are."
This is technical, but something one needs to be wary of. Perspective.
Who is telling the story? Who is the perspective character? I already mentioned the 'All-Knowing-Narrator'! Not to be confused with the "I-persona". The AKN is kinda like your gamemaster in D&D. The AKN knows all, sees all. Its mostly used for dramatic effect to introduce a story. For example, the introduction of the Lord of the Rings movie explains Sauron's relationship to the Ring of Power. It's short, to the point, and explains Bilbo's situation.
Could we have done without?
Yeah, probably. But in this situation, the legacy of Sauron and the rings hang over the plot like a dark shadow that is always present. Sauron is not an abstract thing in LotR. It's a living thing with the agency looming over the other characters, ready to strike anywhere and at any moment.
Then there is the AKN used for comical relief. A common feature in Terry Pratchet's work is the AKN making comical statements about the world and its societies. The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy would be another example. These are often exposition dumps. However, here the goal is humor, not exposition in itself.
"So, here I am. Sitting behind my keyboard, pondering what should write about next. Oh, right. The I- Persona."
A close cousin to the AKN is the I-persona. The I-persona is the narrator explaining to the reader what happened to him, in the past tense. Cosmic Horror, Noir, and journals are often written with an "I-persona". I've seen people writing short stories in the "I-from' in present-tense, but it feels like a poor attempt at roleplay to me.
Anyway, wrote a whole blog on writing journals, diaries, their benefits, and weaknesses. Go check it out.
"Again, Bonsart was lost in thought. 'How to describe the difference between the third person and the AKN?' he pondered. They did look similar to the untrained eye. He hovered his fingers above the keyboard and started typing. Maybe his muse would inspire him."
The most commonly used perspective in fiction. At first glance, kinda looks similar to the AKN. But the difference is there.
The AKN, as the name implies, knows everything. Can explain everything. The third-person protagonist can't. The reader follows the protagonist around as it does things, makes discoveries, and reaches conclusions. In other words, the reader never knows more than the characters.
Jimmy was looking at his skateboard buried at the rumble that was once an orphanage. "Did I do that?" he whispered to himself. Suddenly, he heard wailing. It was a man wearing a singed white apron and garrison cap, crawling on all fours across the ruble whilst coughing in agony.
Jimmy was looking at his skateboard buried at the rumble that was once an orphanage. "Did I do that?" he whispered to himself, unaware an Ice cream truck containing icicles with an explosive taste had detonated moments earlier.
It is the inclusion of facts beyond Jimmy's scope of knowledge that changes the perspective. It's therefore important what information you include in a scene.
If you want readers to know things some characters don't, you can include more than one Third-Person characters in your story. In the Wrench in the Machine. These perspectives are from David Ol'Barrow, Igraine, and Associate 321. That way the reader can experience events in multiple places. Or experience characters from an outside perspective, changing our perspective of those characters.
But can you switch perspectives at any time?
To indicate a switch of Story Perspective, start a new paragraph. Be it from AKN or I-persona to the third person, or from third-person to third-person. That's all there is to it.
So, in the first paragraph, we get the thoughts and perspective of the character 'Sammy' as she interacts with Bernard. In this paragraph, the reader only gets the outside perspective of Bernard as seen through Sammy's eyes.
In the second paragraph, we switch the perspective of Bernard which is likely to be different from that of Sammy.
I could put an example here, but I'm tired and working on this blog for several evenings now. Why don't you do it?
We'll continue our adventures in World Building another time. Don't forget to check out our other blogs on writing.
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