So last time, I mentioned this other addition that I made. It was a brief explanation of my magic system. BRIEF being the operative!
The currently direction of commercial fantasy fiction is away from the excesses of worldbuilding so beloved of Tolkein and his acolytes. Check out what Joe Abercrombie has to say on the subject of Tolkeinesque worldbuilding. It’s not about not doing the worldbuilding – inventing nations, peoples, cultures and attitudes is a vital part of fantasy fiction – it’s about not making the story and the characters subservient to the world. I’m going to straight-out quote Joe Abercrombie here, as he puts it so well:
“It’s the equivalent of a film producer blowing his entire budget on sets and costume he’s not even going to use in the picture, and fondly imagining that no-one will therefore notice the abysmal script, acting, camerawork, editing and direction. Of course, there are writers who come up with weird, and wonderful, and magical settings which fascinate and enthral the reader. But, for me, those are only of real interest as long as the characters, and the dialogue, and the plots are on the money as well.” (See the above-linked interview in SFX Magazine.)
I know all the ins and outs of my magic system, but is it relevant to the story or of much interest to any reader that magic was first used back in the year blah blah blah by so-and-so? No. So it’s not going in the novel.
The important part of a novel is who does what to whom, or, what happens and to whom does it happen. Character is vital, irrelevant history is not.
Having said that, a fantasy world is, by definition, different to ours, and the reader needs to feel that they have a grasp of what’s going on and where it’s going on. Even in contemporary urban fantasy, such as The Southern Vampire Mysteries (AKA, the True Blood TV series), there are differences to our world that the reader (or viewer) needs to understand… like vampires…
… and the reader needs a certain amount of explanation. But the reader doesn’t need all the explanation, and they certainly don’t need a massive infodump.
I suppose the point I am trying to make is that fantasy writers need to walk a thin line by giving a sense of their world by showing the important and relevant elements of that world rather than over-explaining that world in mind-numbing detail. There are shades of grey that tend towards more worldbuilding or less, but the recent trends are towards novels that concentrate on telling a damn good story with some great characters.
And that is no bad thing. For too long, fantasy has stood in Tolkein’s shadow and grown stale there, with too many cliched characters wandering from A to B and infodumping all the way.
It’s quite handy, then, that this new kind of fantasy is very much to my taste. I’m attempting to give brief hints of the world and its magic, revealing relevant pieces of information with little touches here and there, but, as I’m finding, it’s a delicate balancing act.