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Active Setting, World-building and Approach


While this may fall under world-building, it's a bit more, so I hope placing here is fine.

When is it too much or too little? Obviously, this is the art and craft of the writer, but while studying the above topics, and certain 'sections' as examples from novels of how to describe scenes, scenarios, situations, and characters, I've become an overthinking writer and it has stifled my flow, including trying to get the words out of my head onto the page. I know what we write, as much or as little, is as pertinent as it is to the story - but I guess it is more about the artists' approach - how and what we choose and putting it on the page. Reading more of those excerpts and sections of selected novels of course helps... but I guess I'm bogged down by the approach. When and where and what to avoid.

In other words, if we have an MC who wanders into a bar. There are adjectives to use and avoid, world-building to be done (should it deem necessary), active setting, sensory details... well, the list goes on. It's an author's choice - but I've learned, in reality, it's the reader's mainly... what they get from the narrative, what we provide them that builds the world for them. In this, it seems I answer my own question, that its up to the author and define as deemed necessary. How does indeed the author, or by what rule, can we write what we need to write? I find that I struggle to get the words out of my head and onto the page perhaps because I'm over thinking it. I would like to read an example(s) of perhaps a full page(s) of a suggested novel, that sets up "Active-Setting/World-Building" with other narrative built before and around it, to see the ease into the set up that leads us there and after.

Dickens to me was a great example from "Hard Times" Chapter 5 that describes such a visually, tangible setting of Coketown and moves on from there. But it's an old example by today's standards and we all can't be Dickens - but how do we know when enough is enough and how can we get what is so trapped within onto the page.

I need therapy, I know...


toujours gai, archie
Not therapy, practice. There is no way to know how much is too much or too little. As you say in the OP, it's up to the author and the reader and there are as many answers as there are readers.

But first, it has to be answered by the author. It has to be just right for you.

I know the problem. How am I supposed to know what's just right for me when I am filled with self-doubt? You aren't supposed to know. You're supposed to write. Get words down on paper. You will introduce too much world-building here, too little there. Some of that you'll catch on a re-read, some of it you'll hear opinions from beta readers or editors. After a while, you'll get a feel for it and you'll make fewer mistakes. That "while" can last years and require hundreds of thousands of words, and ain't that a happy thought.

Or, to cite one of my favorite quotes: anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

If you have some stuff already written, hang around a while until you build up enough posts. Then you can upload something in the Showcase and get feedback. Because the question is not: how much is too much? The question is: is *this* too much?


Thank you my friend for those needed and magical words... Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is simplicity.

Thanks again!


The point of a story is to have a protagonist reach some kind of resolution. Everything else exists to make this development towards that resolution happen. When you're considering whether something should be included in the story or not, ask if it is contributing anything to this purpose? Does is help explaining the problem or the solution, does it show or develop the character, or does it add to establishing the emotional circumstances in which the problem and solution exists?
If it is part of this path towards a resolution, then it does have a place within the story. Might still need a good deal of refining, but it serves a purpose. But if you have to ask yourself why it needs to be part of this particular story or you want to include it because you think it's a great idea and you want to show it to an audience somewhere, then it might very well be more distracting from the main story rather than adding to it.
It is a matter of writer's discretion and artistic license. Entire plays are 'dark set' (no props or scenery) and yet with the actors dialogue, some physical movement and lighting (maybe some sound effects) the audience totally understands the narrative. The audience is 100% responsible for filling in the visual blanks with their imagination. Beyond that, the old-timey radio stories and dramas that had no visual input whatsoever (and they really didn't spend a whole lot of emphasis trying to elaborate on or describe 'settings' and 'rooms'. The narrator might give you the "it was a dark and stormy night when our hero knocked on the old manor house door" and that was about it.) Still an effective means of story-telling. It's sensory deprivation in many respects, but the ultimate mechanics still work.

Now, trying to transcribe it to paper for a reader? You can describe the in-depth details and visceralness of your world, or write just enough to give some context to your characters. I write very 'dark set' in my first initial drafts because I know I can always go back and add details.

The best way I can describe it, is like driving on a country highway at 45-50 mph vs. getting out of the car and either bicycling or walking the road. Impressions of details at 45mph can only be improved upon when I'm peddling or on foot. But, first drafts have a lot of distance to cover, so driving by the first time is more than ok. If you're writing your first few drafts and stumbling on details that aren't 100% necessary to move the narrative forward, come back to it later. It's not procrastinating, it's steering around potholes and trying not to get a flat tire.