Sunday, May 18

Real Life Diagnostics: Weaving in World Building Details. How Much is Too Much?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the blog. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Six
 

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through June 28. The Sunday diagnostics will shorten that some when my schedule permits, but I wanted everyone to be aware of the submission to posting delay.

This week’s questions:

Does this feel like too much exposition? Would a whole chapter like this be too much?


Market/Genre: Science Fiction Romance

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: Setting: Humans traveled to another star system and spliced native DNA into their own to become a new race called neprians. A thousand years later, another group of humans turns up and find themselves the disadvantaged minority in a tightly controlled society. Their arrival fueled dreams of change for some neprians, but sixty years later human acceptance is under threat from a political movement that seeks to enforce neprian tradition.

The main character is a human who was adopted into a neprian family. This scene appears in chapter three and my main goals are to build the character of the sister, Cora, and her relationship with the main character, and to explain the setting. I have a lot of exposition to cram in because understanding the rules of this society and how marriages are arranged is key to the romantic conflict.


The Birth Authority operates practically the whole government district. We've already passed four blocks of apartment towers that could be charitably described as valuing functionality over aesthetics. God, all those matched couples waiting on family housing grants are stuck in this soul-sucking gray.

We climb the main building steps and make our way to the orientation room where the other new candidates are waiting with their mothers. The women in this room feel no compunction to hide their distaste for my presence. To be fair, I’m probably the first human to enter this room, maybe the whole building. But judging by the scowls you’d think I was skipping around sprinkling my inferior DNA in all their petri dishes.

“Dear sister,” I say to Cora, a little too loudly to be polite, “Methinks I doth disgrace you with my presence.”

Cora smiles and leans close to me, a gesture at odds with the volume of her response. “Tell them to mind their own fucking business.”

She swipes open a Birth Authority document and scowls.

“Have you read this? It’s written for adolescents.”

“Yeah, well not everyone is fascinated by endocrine function.”

She rolls her eyes and reads. “ ‘By considering both personality and genetic compatibility in the matching process, the BA ensures matrimonial satisfaction while engineering strong future generations.’ They don’t even mention complications, let alone alternative theories.”

She sounds like she’s about to launch into one of her tirades on reproductive reform.

“Cora, the orientation hasn’t even started yet.”

She sighs. “Fine. I won’t embarrass you. But this,” she shakes the data pad, “needs serious work.”

My Thoughts in Purple:

The Birth Authority operates practically the whole government district. We've already passed four blocks of apartment towers that could be [charitably described as valuing functionality over aesthetics. God, all those matched couples waiting on family housing grants are stuck in this soul-sucking gray.] This bit of internalization here keeps this paragraph for feeling too infodump. Her judgment provides a reason for looking at it so it flows

We climb the main building steps and make our way to the orientation room where the other new candidates are waiting with their mothers. [The women in this room feel no compunction to hide their distaste for my presence. To be fair, I’m probably the first human to enter this room, maybe the whole building. But judging by the scowls you’d think I was skipping around sprinkling my inferior DNA in all their petri dishes.] Same here. I feel that this is what she thinks and feels when she sees these things, so they don't feel like details stuck in

“Dear sister,” I say to Cora, a little too loudly to be polite, “Methinks I doth disgrace you with my presence.”

[Cora smiles and leans close to me, a gesture at odds with the volume of her response. “Tell them to mind their own fucking business.”

She swipes open a Birth Authority document and scowls.
] Small thing, but I felt the transition between these two lines was a little jarring. I wanted to see a response from the narrator, even if it was just a smile that shows how she feels about her sister's comment

“Have you read this? It’s written for adolescents.”

“Yeah, well not everyone is fascinated by endocrine function.”

She rolls her eyes and reads. “ ‘By considering both personality and genetic compatibility in the matching process, the BA ensures matrimonial satisfaction while engineering strong future generations.’ They don’t even mention complications, let alone alternative theories.”

[She sounds like she’s about to launch into one of her tirades on reproductive reform.] This makes me think this is something this character does, so her "explaining" it by making fun of it fits and makes sense.

“Cora, the orientation hasn’t even started yet.”

She sighs. “Fine. I won’t embarrass you. But this,” she shakes the data pad, “needs serious work.”

The questions:

1. Does this feel like too much exposition?


I don't think so (readers chime in here). The way it's woven into the narrative is well done and feels like what these characters would think and say. The fact that it's all in the narrator's voice keeps it sounding like her and not like the author dumping information. What's being slipped it fits the scene and what's going on, so nothing stands out as "added" details.

The "reading" came across well because the sister was reading it in disdain, which made it work. Had she just read it, it would have felt like infodump through dialog. The attitude about it changed it. Even with just the small bits I learned about her I can easily see Cora doing this.

(Here's more on infodumping)

2. Would a whole chapter like this be too much?

It's hard to say. If the information continues to be backgrounded and woven in like this snippet, probably not. If it's a ton of information that holds the story back, then possibly. But that's true about world building no matter what the story or world.

Trust your gut on what's too much. If it starts becoming more about the information and less about the story then odds are you've tipped over into too much. But if it's flowing along and the plot is advancing, then it's probably fine.

(Here's more on maintaining a balance between exposition and internalization)

Overall this works for me, I like the relationship between the two women (short as it is). I didn't get much, but the rebellious streak and the forceful response by Cora says a lot about her. F-bombs tend to shock or attract attention, and this one clearly shows Cora doesn't care what others think and will defend her sister against them. That the narrator feels accepted enough by her sister to say something she knows will offend or annoy people tells me they have a good relationship and she feels safe taunting them a little.

It's a good example of how to blend in difficult world-building details while at the same time keeping them in the voice of the characters and making them part of the story.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

5 comments:

  1. I actually really liked this, "Soul sucking gray..." I could def relate to that feeling. Can't say I'm into romance but am always looking for one to change my mind and the sci-fi parts sound really interesting. Good Luck with it!

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  2. I agree with Janice. It didn't feel infodump-y because we got a chance to read from the narrative's POV and her insertions of feeling allowed the read to flow nicely.

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  3. I went into reading this sure it was going to be info dump drudgery but ended wishing I could read more. I like the voice and the way the info was woven in.

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  4. It was interesting to see a well written piece dissected, and comment made on why it worked. I'm not into sci-fi or romance but liked this piece. The voice is great and the writing has plenty of momentum which makes it easier to digest the information.

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  5. O my goodness, this is awesome! I would DEFINITELY read this book, it sounds amazing!

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