Magic and technology, kingdoms and queendoms and distant planets, alternate universes and mysterious galaxies, magical creatures and alien races, to name but a few of all the little pieces that go into building elaborate fantasy and sci-fi worlds. World-building is a key part of writing fantasy and sci-fi, it’s a fun and creative process but also a necessary one—even magic worlds of make-believe need some sort of rules and structure, without them you’ve got nothing but chaos and your readers won’t be able to follow what’s going on let alone suspend disbelief the way they should. Still, while world-building is a lot of fun when it’s all in my head—seriously I could spend all day lost in imagining worlds of my own design—I’ve found that getting it onto the page is…less fun. The problem with putting the world-building on the page is that it, by very definition, needs to be done through exposition (the placement of often very wordy explanations of important background information into a story) and honestly, I don’t much like reading exposition let alone writing it. Don’t get me wrong, exposition, while annoying, is very important and I do actually find its contents interesting (most of the time anyway) it just has a way of completely bogging down the story.
I’m currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and let me tell you, the first six chapters were a pain to get through. The prologue explaining the contest was one thing, it set up the premise of the story nicely and it was all necessary information at that point in the narrative. The next six chapters however…well as interesting as I find the OASIS and I have to admit the background about Halliday is certainly necessary for Parzival’s solving of the puzzles but nothing happens in those six chapters. Parzival goes to school and does almost nothing there and the rest of the sixty-odd pages are nothing but exposition. Maybe it’s just me but personally I’d prefer the author trust the reader a little more to figure out what’s going on through context and small bits of exposition spaced out throughout the novel and interspersed with action rather than dumping everything on us all at once at the start of the story. Maybe you like your world-building all at once at the beginning of a book because when you’re finished, once you’ve earned the action after slogging through all the background muck, you at least know what’s going on and you can sit back and enjoy the ride. But I’ve got to say, I actually don’t mind being somewhat confused at the start of the book, I relish figuring things out on my own and the twists and turns in the plot that slowly reveal the secrets of the world I’m immersed in keep me coming back for more when pages upon pages of exposition exhaust me to the point of wanting to walk a way rather than keep trudging forward.
This reading preference really shows itself in my writing, I like to play things close to the vest, revealing things only when the plot demands it. Sometimes this dislike of heavy exposition and descriptive language works to my disadvantage as I sometimes struggle with making sure scenes are as descriptive as they need to be but it’s something I am constantly working on. As for world-building in The Demon of New Salem, since the novel takes place in our world—albeit our world with magic—the primary pieces I have to worry about building are my fictional town of New Salem, creating lore for the Supernaturals, and of course creating a system of magic and rules for how magic works and doesn’t work—which is what I am currently trying to work out during my writing sessions at my local coffee shop. It’s funny how given that magic is something that doesn’t exist, and can therefore theoretically operate any way I want it to, has me spending quite a bit of time researching… I’m sure my Google search history from my last writing session looks like that of a novice Wicca. Unfortunately, since magic isn’t real, it hasn’t been super helpful, but at least it helps to get some idea as to what plants and incantations supposedly do what so I have a place to jump off from when creating my system. Now to figure out how to put the pieces I have worked out to paper without falling into the trap of wordy and complicated exposition. It’s all about balance I suppose.