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Too Much of a Good Thing?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by JP Harker, Feb 25, 2016.

  1. JP Harker

    JP Harker Scribe

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    This may have been asked before/be in the wrong section but I had a quick look through the posts and couldn't see anything;

    The last time I got feedback from an agent about a submission I was told to cut back a bit on my world building as it upped the wordcount to above the limit he was willing to look at (I'm a very new writer and he didn't want to look at anything over 175k for a first book).

    Has anyone else faced this problem and if so, how have you dealt with it? People either love or hate Tolkien for creating such a rich world and I like the idea of readers knowing a bit about the history and culture, but then I'm stuck between a rock and a cliche because if I include that I have to cut back on stuff like plot and character developement which is almost certainly worse. Any bright ideas?
     
  2. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Tolkien was written a few generations ago and times have changed. The modern reader is a different creature.

    If you have received advice from a professional you trust you should consider following it. Getting a first novel over 175k published is very hard. Getting a first novel over 150k is hard.

    I see many examples of people putting what I would suggest is far too much emphasis on worldbuilding which can bog a book down.

    However it is hard to give advice in a situation like this because none of us have read the text of your work so all we have to offer is some pretty generic advice.
     
    JP Harker likes this.
  3. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    If you can intertwine the world building with the plot, character development, and dialog, instead of just halting the story to explain a bunch of stuff, you can streamline things.

    Some things don't need to be described in extreme detail to give the reader the ability to visualize them.

    Some readers love all the detailed descriptions, no matter how long it drags the story out. The more the better; but I wouldn't consider them to be the norm. The attention span of the average reader is a lot less than that of a world building addict.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    You can include a lot of world-building, if you do so skillfully, and plenty of modern readers will accept it. Agents and editors may be a different story. Steven Erikson outdoes Tolkien on world-building, and the size of his Malazan series dwarfs LoTR. I think it is no accident, though, that the book that is thinnest and has the least in the way of world-building is his first novel.

    I find that new writers often want to put way more world-building into a novel than the story needs, the idea being that since they took the time to create it, the material should go in there. Many readers don't want that, and if it is pushing your novel above what editors want, then I think it is best to cut. I certainly wouldn't cut down on plot or characters.

    Personally, I'll go for the great world-building as a reader, but it better be presented in an interesting fashion, either as a natural part of the story itself or else the author better have a strong, engaging narrative voice with which to present it. If it's just dry background provided as lumps of information, I'm not going to read for long.
     
  5. jm.milks

    jm.milks Scribe

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    You can create a world as detailed as you want. I just wouldn't share everything in one book.

    Some of my favorite fantasy series' have 10+ novels... And I have laid out 3 trilogies, and started laying out a fourth. I hope to write them all if everything goes well.

    I wouldn't recommend a book that focuses on the world (unless it's like tolkiens silmarillion). That can be information overload for some readers, and would deter them from reading on. Get them hooked with sum dank azz character development, tug at their heartstrings, and then hit them with a one way ticket to the bigger picture.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G928A using Tapatalk
     
  6. JP Harker

    JP Harker Scribe

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    Cheers all - the book I'm looking to submit is part of a series so I guess my best bet is to scan through it and see what detail can wait until a later book,

    ta for the advice all
     
    jm.milks likes this.
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    If you targeted an agent you actually really want to work with, and he RESPONDED to you personally in any way, you ought to take his advice, because he's either impressed with what you have and wants to help you make the manuscript perfect for his representation, or he's the nicest agent ever, willing to write a personal communication rather than responding with stock rejection.

    If he was just a random name you selected, there may be a quality issue with him and his business, but that's neither here nor there, I suppose, just be careful that you are enlisting the help and advice of professional people with something backing up their reputations.

    Okay, so 175k is a big book. But it's the size of The Lies of Locke Lamora, which is my favorite book I've ever read, and it is set in a rich and detailed world. Did Lynch need to show us the Teeth Show? NO. He could have just let the meeting between Locke and Don Salvara happen in a quiet office. But his showing the world was part of why the book felt so authentic. Also, his writer voice is exceptional, if you ask me. It isn't toned down and minimized to spare word count, it's heavy-handed right from paragraph one. And it makes the book awesome.

    If you want to read a long first novel, I'd recommend reading that one. It might give you a better perspective of what kind of story/ plot/ world-building balance creates a great book.

    My initial reaction is to say you probably built too much world (based on the fact that thousands of people are all in this exact same situation, and most folks have spent so much time drawing maps and creating comprehensive histories for every city, person, and feature. And maybe they've written shorts as character exploration, and over-complicated the characters in a way that has become a touch self-indulgent. Etc. We've all done it, perhaps. Some more than others.

    Basically, I think you need to really establish (and be honest) whether you have included any of the things that readers simply aren't going to be interested in reading, and if you have, start eliminating those excessive words (maybe with the help of a trustworthy critique partner who would help you judge what works best and what's erroneous). And if you haven't, after reading a couple first books that rival your word count, if still, you're confident that you made all the right choices (and I'm not judging, because I wrote a series of books, and then I wrote a stand alone I felt would be a great debut novel, and it's about 150k words, so I understand how these things happen), then consider hiring a professional editor and self-publish the thing. You aren't required to fit into the scope of what an agent "prefers". Put plainly, an agent will jump all over a great novel whether it falls into their word count preferences or not. They will want it if it's marketable and professional. They won't read a compelling story that's really well-edited and consistent, and throw it in the trash. Well, not forever, that is. A single agent might feel the work isn't for them. If they are on the fence about it, they might pass it on to a coworker who represents a work like yours. Or maybe they'll send you a personal note of someone else in the industry who would be perfect to represent your great novel, that just isn't right for them.

    Hope that helps you in some way.
     
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  8. JP Harker

    JP Harker Scribe

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    Many Thanks - all good advice. I am even now busy procrastinating by doing other stuff rather than getting down to the serious business of editing! Will keep your points in mind when I actually get down to doing it! Much obliged
     
  9. Ben

    Ben Troubadour

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    I would agree with the advice above and don't cut any plot and character development. Don't throw away the world building background either, just ration it out over the next book in the series (I presume there will be more?).
    Best of luck to you
     
    JP Harker likes this.
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Wow. 175k for a first book? That's way too much.

    It's hard to give advice based on something I can't read (and I don't at all trust the opinion of agents) but remember that if you want to take the Tolkien approach to worldbuilding, then your worldbuilding should be like an iceberg. The part that you actually include in the novel (like the visible portion of the iceberg) should be the smallest part. Tolkien's worldbuilding is so effective mostly because it's always hinting that there's more, much more than you are actually told in the story. There's a feeling of deep history that isn't actually part of the narrative, but that is conveyed through references and hints and allusions.

    I know most people think that Tolkien did his worldbuilding by constantly info-dumping everything. But this just isn't true. Most of the worldbuilding is very subtly and artfully woven into the story through the characters and the plot. There is actually far less information about Middle-earth in LOTR than the information given in many fantasy books written these days. But the world still feels more real because you feel that there is always something else to discover and because the world and the characters and the plot are so skillfully woven together you can't tell where one begins and ends.
     
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  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    The word count cap isn't absolute. Publishers can and do take novels long first novels, particularly in fantasy. Joe Abercrombie. Scott Lynch. Patrick Rothfuss. Terry Goodkind. R. Scott Bakker. Brandon Sanderson. Jane Linskold. &c.
     
  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I was looking at it more from a reader's point of view. These days, the likelihood I'd take a chance on a tome of that weight from a newbie author are almost nil.
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I'll buy it if it's not part of a series. If it is a series, I prefer to wait until the series is done or at least fairly well progressed. Only exception I've made recently is The Expanse, which are great fun to read.
     
  14. JP Harker

    JP Harker Scribe

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    The worrying thing is that the 175k book was one I wrote specifically to be a short book fit for a first publication. My actual first book is approx 430k (first of a series)! I split it into two and it was still way too long so I just started another one from scratch, telling myself I'd set a cap of 150k. Something tells me I may be writing too much...:)
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I think if it was extra worldbuilding that was causing you to write too much you would notice. That amount of worldbuilding is very noticeable. You might have more problems. I'm thinking in the area of not being able to focus in on the heart of your story. This is a classic newbie fantasy writer mistake. Too many characters, too many sub-plots, etc. Obviously there are writers who make it work. But ask yourself if, as a newbie, readers will be more likely to give you a chance if you write a sprawling epic that requires a huge time investment, or if you write a more contained, focused story that doesn't require so much from them.
     
  16. I'm going off your agents criticism entirely here, but I think what is being said here is that the story is being bogged down by the world building. This does not mean that there is too much world building, per se. But, it does mean that when compared to the rest of the book there is too much. The iceberg method is great for limiting it. My suggestion is to find a brutal beta reader to help you out. The other is to set the book aside, write something else to challenge you to limit your world building tossed in via the prose, and then come back to it later.
     
  17. JP Harker

    JP Harker Scribe

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    That's sort of the plan - I'm just starting on another book that I'll work on for a bit before going back to my initial stuff - see how it looks after a break.
     
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