Friday, March 15, 2013

World-building Tip: Plight of a Stuck-in Detail

I've been playing around with the world-building details in my dystopian story, and have made a less-than-exhilarating discovery: sometimes the details feel like they’re a bit of an infodump, or shoved in there purely for the reader’s benefit.  And it’s true that they at least help the reader picture this world I’ve built, help flesh it out in their mind.  Definitely a good thing.  But the problem is some of those details feel stuck in there in the sense that they appear unnatural and out of place.  Like my Uncle Renaldo in a Where’s Waldo? book (OK, I don’t really have an Uncle Renaldo).  So…how does one fix that?  Well, here’s at least one solution: Make the world-building detail feel like it’s part of the main character’s natural thoughts in that moment of the story.       

Here’s an example from the second page of an earlier version of my dystopian story: “I went into my faction, a big suburban house at the end of a cul-de-sac where ten boys, including me, lived.” 

Well, that’s not very good, is it?  I mean, even though the reader doesn’t know what a faction is, my main character does, since he lives in this society, so the fact he sticks in a flat-out mini-explanation of it (“a big suburban house at the end of a cul-de-sac where ten boys, including me, lived”) feels pretty damned contrived, doesn’t it?

I’ll answer that for you: Oh hell yes (note how I left out the comma after the “oh” in order to imply that this is a fast, automatic response; crafty, huh?). 

Now here’s that same sentence, revised: “My faction house loomed in front of me at the end of the cul-de-sac.  The big suburban residence with its chipped white paint always gave me a warm, homey feeling, even though I only had one real friend in there.” 

Well, it might not be perfect, but it’s certainly an improvement.  The reason is because it feels more natural.  And why is that, class?  Because it’s more in the narrator’s voice.  The details of what a faction house is have been relocated so they flow in his thoughts.  Plus, I’ve added in the way he feels about the faction, which makes those details seem even more natural and prevalent to this moment in the story. 

Thank you for your rapt attention, class (*bows*).

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