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The 'Middle-Earth' Dilemma: Too much backstory

Discussion in 'World Building' started by TheCrystallineEntity, Jan 10, 2017.

  1. A common issue I have with my current fantasy series [I call it a Unity, not a Duo or a Trilogy] is that I've explored too many different races and cultures that simply won't fit into one book or even three. I have so much interesting 'material' [for lack of a better word], but it's all currently in the appendices section of the second book, and I'm not sure what to do with it all.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. You'll almost always know way more about your world than readers ever will. What you reveal in the story is only the tip of the iceberg. So this isn't necessarily a problem.

    I do understand the dilemma of wanting to share your world with others. For that you'll have be be willing to write enough stories to accommodate. Full length novels may not be necessary...you could write short stories as a companion to the main work, exploring other facets of the world.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  3. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    What DOTA said. Another thing: impose limits. Tolkien did a good job of this:

    Good Guys: Humans, Dwarfs, Elves, Hobbits, Ents. LOTR is told from the hobbit's POV's, which is close to human, and features lots of humans. The characters spend a fair bit of time visiting or talking about elfin lands. Ents get what amounts to a section of their own. Dwarves are a bit under represented.

    Bad Guys: Humans, Orcs/Goblins, Trolls, and 'special' - ring wraiths and exotic monsters like giant spiders and whatnot. Humans get short shrift here. Trolls get mentioned 'enough.' But, a fair bit of time is spent with orcs/goblins, enough to gain an understanding of how they're organized and do things.

    Or collectively, the 'rule of three' - three principle 'good' races (excluding ents) and three principle evil races.

    And it took Tolkien three hefty tomes to flesh this much out. Each race encountered in turn, given a bit of page space for development.

    Compare and contrast with the more contemporary versions where half a dozen races get introduced in the first thirty pages. They get put into play so fast, with so little explanation that they're not much more than names and catchphrases.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I'll second what DOTA said.

    I'd like to also add "interesting" is a relative term. Anything outside of your main story may not be of interest to anybody else but you. For example, I love the Lord of the Rings, but I have never had enough interest to get into the appendices. For Star Wars, outside of the movies, I've had little interest in exploring the expanded universe novels.

    So, IMHO, fit what you can into your stories without crow-baring stuff in, and whatever is leftover put it into the appendices and leave it at that. Also you can always go back and write other side stories in your world later.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    In this modern world of ours (the elderly say this sort of thing often), you have another option. The Tolkien-era option was to include all those notes you could not bear to let go into appendices. That was fine.

    Now, though, you can create a web site. An author needs a web site anyway. But now you can either put all that stuff up for anyone to read, or you can dole it out to your subscribers as monthly emails or blog posts.

    But the only thing that belongs in the story is what the story needs. Not what the author wants, what the story needs.
  6. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Like skip.knox said. You can make a website for all the extras that won't make it into the book if you so choose. This way you can also include pictures, or whatever else you fancy, and you won't have to worry about the costs of having it included in a printed copy of the book.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  7. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    The biggest issue I have with the Tolkien-approach is that at times it can become far more academic, and far less about fantasy/storytelling.

    The history and back story of my fantasy world is similar to Tolkien as far as the amount of content that is there. I am content with sprinkling in bits of information as the story progresses, instead of side-tracking for long-winded history lessons. If people are interested in knowing more, I'd rather just write a whole separate book.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  8. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    A supporting web site is a good idea. You might also take a cue from the late Roger Zelazny, one of my biggest influences, and write a sourcebook for your world, as he did for Castle Amber. He also worked with another author who prepared a more comprehensive sourcebook for the world of Amber. Yet another idea you can get from Amber is that of creating a role-playing game -- or a setting for an existing system -- based on your world, and publishing your world info as supplements. Gamers love having extensive information about the worlds they game in. If you're interested in pursuing the gaming aspects of your fiction, take a look at DriveThruRPG.com - The Largest RPG Download Store!.

    Edit: Disclaimer: I'm an affiliate for DriveThruRPG.com, but the link above is not my affiliate link.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. Thanks a lot, everyone!
    I recently realized that most of Book II was way too big and had too many stories that had nothing really to do with the main plot, but Book I was just one tiny story, so I took the extra stories from Book II and added them to the Appendices of Book I.

    Also, I'm thinking of making a soundtrack for my series, though I'm not entirely sure what to do with the sheet music once I've made the songs.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Yeah I have way more races than will ever actually appear in print... aside from brief mentions maybe. This is just part of the world's story and should raise the question of how the hell all these weird peoples in one place, LOL. And absolutely, website will detail so much more go into deeper explorations of primary and barely mentioned cultures.

    Having a website is a beautiful thing for this purpose.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  11. You could put it together in some kind of encyclopedia for hardcore fans. :D
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  12. I think I have something like thirty races now; only the star children, raven-cat creatures, and benevolent light beings are really explored in detail.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  13. Those sound cool though.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  14. My next book will explore the implications of what happens when a star child marries a Corcha [cat raven], such as what their little one will be like, and how different their cultures are [especially since the former are usually space faring whereas the latter are planet-bound].
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  15. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

    Are you still writing this story, Crystal?

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