TMI? Already!?

I can easily understand it in “real life”. Someone asks me a question they should never have asked in the first place- maybe having to do with a bathroom or a bedroom- they’re grinning, I’m grinning, and I just get started on explaining. The hands go up, the call rings out- “too much information, Will!”. I understand- I smile, stop and am content.

Because this is OUR world. I know you get it. Some jokes don’t have to be told to be funny.

Not so in the writing of course, and never less so than in epic fantasy. Once again, I’ll remind you patient readers that I do not write– I make up nothing, like those marvelous minds here at IB that I am privileged to call colleagues. My world is only mine because I have been watching and listening to it longer than you, or anyone. But it IS a world, a complete world, and you folks know- seriously- nothing about it. Even I only have a few of its barest details, felt a thread here and there of this barn-sized tapestry beneath my fingers. I’ve chronicled just a fraction of what I’ve seen and heard.

How can anyone yell TMI about that! How dare they? And what’s a poor chronicler to respond when they do?

I’m polishing up “Judgement’s Tale” these days (very slowly, I admit- DAMN the need to earn a paycheck and WHY can’t these Powerball tickets pay off). Several folks signed on to give me feedback on the “monsterpiece” that has not yet- may never?- see the light of cyber-day. This story is EPIC fantasy, you get me? The world is at stake, for crying out loud- the plot of centuries is in motion, the fate of millions hangs in… well, you know all the cliches. My guy is taller than Frodo, both younger and older, and instead of a ring… never mind, some of you have already lost interest. Haven’t you?

These folks, these wonderful patient people who are reading my early chapters and giving me their best feedback, have all said different things. With one exception- every man-jack/jane of the group, without fail, has flagged times I’ve tried to slip in a little info about my world. The history- “so LONG, this really slowed it down”; the stars and astrology- “can this go later on, somewhere?”; the nature of magic- “wow, heavy sledding, had to read it four times”.

It’s like NIMBY in this world- everyone agrees there needs to be a home for the mentally disabled, or a half-way house for recovering addicts, sure. But Not In My Backyard!

OK, but this book is not your backyard. I get resentful, and need to take a break sometimes. It’s a WORLD, dear readers- if you never read about these things, you can’t enjoy or understand it. I struggle with ways to hide the information, like a pill-pocket for a reluctant cat, hoping the medication will slip past you while you’re not paying attention. The reader HAS to have this information- what’s the point otherwise, why not just write about our world if there’s no need to hear about the others?

Only verrrrry grudgingly do I much later admit that the need to do this has made me a better writer. The only key I’ve come up with so far is that you must always have something else going on- two things accomplished by the one conversation- as often as possible. But keep it short? Move it to later? I must say, almost useless advice.

I’d be very interested to hear what other readers find good or bad about the infamous subject of world-building. If you’ve taken the time to look at the Compendium of the Lands right here on the site, has that sort of material interested you at all? Is it a good way to build a world without putting it directly into the story? What works for you? Believe me, I’ll never shout “TMI” about this.

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About Will

I'm the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales, available at Smashwords and all the major online retailers.

Posted on November 3, 2011, in about writing, Authors - Will Hahn. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’m the opposite — I did too little world building. In fact, I stayed away from fantasy for many, many years because I kept reading about people who talked about spending hours developing every single detail about their world. I’m bad with details, and I don’t outline, so what people were talking about played to all of my weaknesses (world building like that is too much like an outline for me).

    I ended up realizing — halfway through my revision — that I really did need to pay attention to it. I had to avoid too much detail. If I started putting detail in, I wouldn’t be able to tell what was a good detail or when was too much. Nor would I know the right questions. So I focused on the top down, pulling in world building that was part of the big story. I’m just hoping I haven’t erred on the side of too little information!

    • Hi Linda! Too… little? ::jaw hangs open:: Do such places exist!

      What you are pointing up, as I think about your response, is whether there’s really a difference between “the” story and these details. I mean, it’s a joke about the comics- no one ever explains how the heroes go to the bathroom (though folks often wonder, with those suits). So like you say, just the world-building that’s part of THE story, that’s a key differentiator.

  2. I do not think it’s generally a “too much information” problem, rather a “TMI in a bulk” problem also called info-dump. No matter how well constructed your phrases are, if nothing happens but background information, readers will skip it regardless how well written, how necessary, and how interesting it is.

    Remember when you were a kid in school? Which teacher was more popular? The one who made you learn names and dates of long dead people by heart, or the one who introduced long dead people, explained what they did and why and made you learn their dates on top of the stories? (I’m sure that the pupils of the first will remember the names and dates much longer than the others. But the pupils of the second will remember the stories, and they can look up the dates if necessary)

    I understand the need to put vital background information into your novel, and it does make the world more real, but I also think that with today’s readers the pill approach is the only one that will work. After all, you want to entertain your readers, not bore them to death. 😉

  3. ::grins:: Sure Cat- but sooooo easy to say, and sooooo tough to do. The problem is, the background story IS a story- it has a need to be told, and just like any tale, it’s worse if you cut it up into small pieces and scatter it around.
    I think it’s really a question of what the reader needs versus what she likes. Supposing one of your characters is about to “repeat history”- make the same mistake an ancestor did. You need to show that whole back-story, and that’s a tale that has its own pull, so to speak. That’s a pretty easy example. But the info-dump, properly understood, is also a story. Washington crossing the Delaware is cool- but setting up a heroic surprise attack from three hundred years ago in a fantasy world is … “yawn”. Ggrrrrrr…
    {BTW, I liked the teachers who gave us all the names and dates just the same as the others, because it’s ALL part of the story! No separation- that makes it tougher for me to communicate with the reader because I “get it” either way. Problem!}

  4. I wish I had part of your problem, Will. Powers-that-be should put you and me in a barrel and roll it around a few hours to mix us up a bit. My problem is the exact opposite. I am in such a hurry to get the draft finished that I write mostly action and dialogue, then I have to go back and add details after my draft is done. I’m getting better at it as I write more.

  5. Well, as tempting as rolling around in a barrel with you sounds… I’ve always insisted you real-writer folks have a different job, so I guess that’s where the matter lies between us.

    It’s like that Superman episode where the weakling ambassador from the other planet is a pain to squire around, but then at the end we discover that kryptonite makes him strong!

    OK, well not exactly like that… but there must be a happy medium and like you say, as long as we get better at it, that’s the good news.

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