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  1. #1
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    How do writers help readers understand the world in their story?

    I'm currently working on a story that takes place in a fantasy world without electricity, combustible engines, magic, or other fantasy beings except a few beasts and dragons. Horses and oxen are the main means of transportation, and the weapons are medieval (sword, bow and arrow, spear, etc). The world for my story is not based on the realistic world, mostly because I don't want to have to worry too much about accuracy or history and because I want to give it its own history (which is not in detail in the book...or in my head). Recently, I've been reading a lot of posts by fellow member Jay Greenstein, and those posts got me thinking, "How do I let my readers know what kind of world this is without telling them some boring narrative?" and, "How much do I actually have to tell them, and when do I have to tell them what?"

    I have a basic grasp on the history that is important to the storyline, and I have an idea on how to tell it, but I have no idea how to explain anything else. As a reader, I usually know a story's "time and place" (as Jay calls it; I don't know if there's an official term) by reading the back of the book, or I just get a feel for what sort of time and place it is by reading the book. I remember reading a few books whose story took place sometime in America after electricity and indoor plumbing, but I had no idea of anything else (including if home telephones, Internet, and home computers were invented). I remember the feeling of being curious because I like to daydream myself as a separate character in that world and time as I read. It never really bothered me, since the specific time wasn't really important, but I can't help but worry that I'm not putting in enough information into my story.

    So my questions are:
    - Without starting the story with a dry narrative, or putting a dry narrative into the story, how should I let the readers know what kind of world it is?
    - When is it necessary to let the readers know what kind of world it is?
    - Do I really need to worry about this, or should I just write and see what beta readers say? I have family members as beta readers right now, but they already know the “time and place” because they help me out when I get stuck on something. When I finish writing it, I plan to find some beta readers that know nothing about the story.



  2. #2
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elven Candy View Post
    I just get a feel for what sort of time and place it is by reading the book.
    This. The best way to learn how to reveal setting via narrative is to study how others in your genre do it.

  3. #3
    Rogue Mutt
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    A lot of it can be worked in through context and dialog. So if your people are riding horses then you know it's not in the modern times. And maybe someone says, "Watch out for dragons!" It is a good idea to go see how others do it for fantasy: Tolkein, GRR Martin, CS Lewis, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, etc. I know Greenstein and his buddy Swain say you can't learn by reading, but they're wrong.

  4. #4
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    I keep thinking about re-reading Lord of the Rings, but gosh, all that description gets old--and I skipped most of it! It's just too slow moving for me right now--and too long. I tend to be a little picky with fantasy books, so it's really hard for me to find some to read (maybe that's why I'm struggling...). I'll look up those authors on Amazon. I don't have any money right now to buy books, but I can at least start lining some up on the wish list!

    The dragon in my story is first mentioned on page 2 (on Microsoft Word), and the first page contains a devastating storm and mention of a village, although I plan to change the first paragraph a bit so that may change. No real mention of people riding horses or using swords until chapter 2, 3, or 4, which I haven't written yet (probably chapter 2 or 3). I could theoretically add horse riding into the first chapter, and possibly even the first paragraph. Do you think I should do that?
    Last edited by Elven Candy; 01-23-2016 at 10:14 AM.

  5. #5
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elven Candy View Post
    I don't have any money right now to buy books, but I can at least start lining some up on the wish list!
    That's what libraries are for.

  6. #6
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    Heheh, true. I haven't had a library card in over 10 years...
    guess I'll have to fix that!

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