Sunday, February 5, 2012

A question for fantasy readers and writers


I have a question for those of you who write and read any kind of fantasy, be it epic, urban, or paranormal, etc.

With this genre, especially if you’re using unfamiliar mythologies or creatures, there will be concepts that you as a writer create or you as the reader come across for the first time.  Maybe it's just a word or a phrase used.  My question to you, and I’m going to try and make is as clear as possible, is this:

For the writer:  Do you explain that new concept/idea the first time you mention it in your novel, or let it sit for a few pages then explain/describe/show it, allowing the reader to draw his/her own opinion?

For the reader:  If you are introduced to a new concept/idea, do you want an explanation of what it is immediately, or do you like having a few pages to let it settle/give you time to figure it out on your own and then have it described or explained?

Personally, I don’t mind having to wait a page or two for what this concept/idea is all about because I don’t want things like that handed to me on a platter, and the back copy of a book will probably already introduce me to some of these concepts. I like drawing my own conclusions then being proven wrong or right.

When we start reading a new novel, especially in the fantasy, we’re inevitably thrown into a world we are not familiar with, be it the magic system, that world’s politics, or the people and creatures that inhabit it.  It’s one of my favorite things about this genre.  But there are pitfalls as well, especially when it comes to explaining that world.  As writers we don’t want our novels to sound like a tourist guide or dictionary, and we definitely don't want to leave the reader in the dark. What's the healthy balance.

Opinions please!

13 comments:

  1. As an author I'll occasionally drop unfamiliar terms but I immediately like to show how they function in the setting and, if necessary also describe them if they have any specific embellishments.

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    1. Thanks, Nerine. This concept is kind of important so I should probably get the explanation out of the way as soon as possible.

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  2. As a reader, I like knowing things right away. I've read some fantasy where concepts/new words were used, and while the characters were all familiar and didn't need any explanations, I, the reader, sure did. It's one thing to wait a page or two, it's another to wait half the damn novel, if you even get an explanation at all.

    As a writer, if it's a really complicated concept I'll start dropping hints/explanations right away. Sometimes some words are so simple only a paraphrase is needed and we're on our way. You're right, there is definitely a balance between shoving something in a reader's face and totally leaving them in the dark. I guess that's where betas and editors come in particularly handy! I know the first thing I ask from betas of the novel I'm editing now is "please mark any confusing points or concepts that aren't sufficiently explained" since that's what I worry about more than anything else.

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    1. I get what you're explaining. The concept is sort of what the novel is based upon so it's pretty damn important. That in itself should answer the question, but I still wonder. I'm lucky enough to have CPs that tell me when they're confused. But then I strongly believe you need more than two CP because where one doesn't understand a concept, the other might. You need to be able to weigh things out and make sure that your idea is carried across without confusion.

      Thanks for your opinion, Hildred!

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  3. Oh I like this post. Very good question too.

    My opinion: Give us a first taste of a new concept/idea no giving us exactly what it is right away but give enough context clues around it for us to grasp it and start forming our ideas. Then in a little while explain it to us. That way we've had a chance to form our own thoughts on it and then when we find out it's more natural.

    Well those are my 2 cents.

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    1. I like this, Eve. It's giving me idea. So thank you for that. You're 2 cents were well spent.

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  4. Hey, Jani. Good question!

    As a writer I try not to confuse my audience, but as a writer who sometimes has to introduce something unusual an different I do what I can to get it explained a.s.a.p. If the explanation is not long, I may explain it right away. Whenever I can I try to do it in form of dialogue. If it's interior monologue, then I try to keep it short. I don't like doing backstory. Those can be tricky and stops the story completely.

    Sometimes it's difficult to work it in, but let's just say that I'm in the middle of an actions scene, and something new pops up. I will explain it later. Nothing is more irritating than having the author step in and explain something that might be better left until everyone has taken a breath.

    But also, there are ways to hint toward something, foreshadow it, so that when it happens the reader might be expecting it.

    Hildred's answer best summed it up pretty much. (^;

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    1. What you're saying makes a lot of sense. Between you guys and your comments I think I've found a middle ground that'll work. Put in the explanation where the reader might get confused, but keep it short or work it into dialogue.

      Thanks!

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  5. It's a difficult thing to not bog your reader down with detail. One thing I've discovered whilst writing my series is that after you've created your world in your head, you're so eager to explain everything and bring it to life in your writing. Often this means over-explaining things or adding things that are un-needed. When writing a series set in the same world you don't need to introduce the entire world in one novel. Most can wait for another story.

    However, after becoming aware of what you're doing, you can fall into the trap of not explaining enough. You get to know your world a bit too much and assume everyone else will know it too. I think you need to explain new things. Merely touching on the subject or laying hints here and there along the way are my prefered method.

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    1. I sometimes get stuck with the idea that everybody knows what I'm talking about. If it's there and they've read it, of course it'll make sense. Luckily I have great critique partners who are not afraid to point out when they don't understand or get something. I like your method though, and I'll see if I can incorporate everybody's suggestions and comments.

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  6. On one of ms, I let it go by till half-point, when my heroine meets someone who can explain things to her.
    But, if the heroine was already part of it, I try to let her go through it, her normal way, with as much description as necessary. I don't want to lecture the reader. I try to show the heroine going through it normally, since it's normal for her (with a word or 2 more to give hints), believing the reader will be smart enough to understand it.
    Think of it in a movie. The actor doesn't stop what he is doing to explain the viewer what is going on. He just goes on, showing his routine and stuff, and us, the viewers, get it.
    Nice question ;)

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    1. So many different opinions, but I love them all. I like the view you have on this, Juliana

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  7. I sometimes like to keep an air of mystery. The most powerful tool in an authors'armoury is the reader's imagination. That's why I liked Tolien so much, that he dropped occasional hints to a grander tale.

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