I said at the beginning that I don’t do “writing advice”.
That was kind of a lie, because now I’m going to tell you about the terrible, dangerous nexus between all those carefully garnered facts and writing fiction.
Beware, beware: because the days/weeks/months you’ve spent organizing all those incredible details into easily-accessible files can trip you up.
It’s called the info-dump for good reason: it will appear like giant mounds of text: blow-by-blow summaries of exactly how the monetary system in your world/France in the 14th century works; recipe-by-recipe descriptions of forty-seven different kinds of food served at a medieval banquet; long political diatribes detailing the exact relationship of one peerage to another in a semi-feudal society.
You must resist. You must. Plenty of authors don’t, and while there are readers who like a fictional story to read like a high school text book – I’m not saying there aren’t – the vast majority of readers are looking for something that takes them out of themselves, takes them somewhere new – and that somewhere new should not be a classroom. Most readers are, in the end, looking to escape, and nowhere is this more true than in fantasy fiction.
You, as the writer definitely need to know and care about every bit of this. You need to know your world inside and out. It’s really the only reliable way to make sure your world holds as tightly together as the Great Wall of China.
But the hook in this enormous net of factoid fish is that your readers really do not care.
They don’t need to know those details and frankly, they don’t want to. There is nothing that will stop a reader faster than stepping outside the story to deliver a History 101 lecture on currency exchange in the fictional 1200’s.
But then – why bother doing all that work?
And this is where the very best authorial magic trick occurs.
When you know your stuff, it shows. You only need the most minimal of details to make your reader feel that they are in good hands, you only need to use those bits that are absolutely essential. Trust your reader and they will trust you – because for some reason, when you really, really know your apples, you don’t need to deliver everything from skin to seeds.
It all somehow magically bleeds through into the way the prose gets out. The reader senses that there is authority there without the writer having to prove it by listing all the minutiae or stopping the fight scene to explain how broken ribs can sometimes be fatal. They can feel the reality BECAUSE you aren’t spending 20,000 words naming every bone of the skeleton beneath the flesh.
And they will rave about your world-building, even though you have only twitched the curtain aside for a micro-second, and given them the merest glimpse of the mechanics – they’ll feel it, and they’ll know it, and they will sink deeper into the story, never daring to let go.
And that’s a reader worth having.
*** Yes, this was a lot of mixed metaphors. Blame it on the weekend, or the booze.