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A Fantastic World Does Not A Story Make

We’ve all done it at some point – built a story to fit within the framework of a kick-ass world we’ve created. Writers get so wrapped up in playing God by designing beings, shaping geographic features, creating languages, or constructing epic histories that trace backwards through a dozen generations, that they completely forget what the hell they are supposed to being doing – telling a story. Writing isn’t about building a world, it’s about writing the story that could only happen in the world that has been built.

Crafting a story is a complex process, and building a world to serve as a rich setting is important, especially in speculative fiction. Setting is one of the five elements required in a proper story. Setting helps to understand character personality and development. It can serve as an obstacle creating conflict, or help to move the plot forward. The problem occurs when a writer focuses all their energy on creating the world, and no time focusing on the story that takes place within said world.

Back in January of 2015, on an episode of Fiction School, co-host Tommy Zurhellen discussed one of the biggest mistakes he sees made by his students. In his humorous story about “Scantron 7”, Zurhellen explains that when he asks writing students about their story, they spend several enthusiastic minutes describing their setting, their characters, elaborate government or belief system, the epic conflict that rocked the world a thousand years ago… but when asked the question, “Yeah, but what is your story actually about?” they draw a blank.

At the end of the day, no matter how epic and elaborate the setting or how fleshed out the characters, if there is no story at the core, or worse, no conflict to drive that story forward, then the writer really has nothing but a cool place with cool people.

To avoid falling into this trap, a writer must keep in mind that every addition they make to their world needs to be relevant to the story. That is, anything about the world worth mentioning. As the writer, there is nothing wrong with knowing every corner of the created world. That does not mean that the reader needs to know all those inane details. The more fleshed out the writer makes the world, the more real it will feel, but providing a millenia of history or recounting the entire text of a holy book is simply not necessary for the reader to understand the significance of a religious or historic event on the modern day.

As a writer, you can never know too much about the world within the story, because you never know what information will become useful later on, or my inspire new story lines. But, it is possible for a writer to tell their readers too much about their world. Avoid info dumps, and save that information for supplemental content (like rewards for people who support you on Patreon!) or later stories in the same world. Or, if you feel really bold, incorporate the method used by the author of Nevernight, Jay Kristoff. When the opportunity for history or cultural knowledge to came up in the story, instead of dropping a load of backstory that broke with the narrative, Kristoff simply placed an asterisk in the text, and kept moving on with the story. At the bottom of the page, he included footnotes for each symbol. This strategy worked perfectly, giving the reader the choice to break the narrative to read the footnote, or to keep reading until the end of the page or the chapter, and come back to read the backstory about a god, a cultural practice, or reference to a historical event in the history of the world.

If readers truly love the world a writer crafts, they will come back for more. The trick is leaving enough for the readers to have a reason to return. Giving away too much in the beginning does one of two things- overwhelms the reader, boring them with over-information, or satisfies them to the point there are no questions left for them to answer.

If you’d like some help training your world building muscle, sign up to beta test our Worldbuilding Workshop taking place on June 25th thru July 8th by sending an email to indiepenink@gmail.com with the word “Inkademy” in the subject line.

And, keep an eye out for announcements on the opening of the Research-a-Torium, which we hope to build into the ultimate world building resource!

Write on young savior,

 

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Drink Ink Inkademy News On the Horizon Research-a-torium Story Slayers

On the Horizon

It’s been a busy year here at IndiePen Ink. It’s hard to believe, but the website launched only three and a half months ago, on February 14th, and we’ve since penned a dozen editorial articles and debuted our first podcast, Story Slayers, and our web show, Drink Ink. We’ve also beta tested the first workshop that will be offered through a new feature called Inkademy. With all that done in under four months, what could possibly be next?

The answer: So. Much. More!

In June we will beta test our second Inkademy workshop, which will focus on worldbuilding. The format is all online, including lessons, assignments, discussions, and a live chat, taking place over the course of two weeks. If you’re interested in being one of our beta testers (and experiencing this great class before we start charging!), drop us a line at indiepenink@gmail.com.

In July comes the team’s biggest pride and joy: the Research-a-Torium! We’ve been discussing and toiling away at this feature for quite some time now, and we cannot wait to open its doors. The R-a-T (as we’ve come to call it) will be a massively helpful resource to any creator looking for information or inspiration to help them build their world. If you’re new to research, there will be resources that teach you how to do it properly, and you’ll learn exactly how to get the answers you need quickly and without uncertainty. Over time, new content will be continuously added based on questions sent to the Ask-a-Librarian feature by other writers like you.

Also this summer, we will be launching a reformatted version of Drink Ink. Due to reasons beyond our control, we will no longer be able to able to host the show as a live event. So, we are going to experiment with shorter, pre-recorded episodes. The better experiments will be posted for all to see, and the other (more embarrassing hilarious) experiments will be shared exclusively in the IndiePen Den – a facebook group accessible by our patrons and content contributors.  

In the fall we will launch the full, official version of the Inkademy. The workshops will tie-in with several other “NaNo prep month” features coming out in October. We’re lucky to have the magnificent Elayna Mae Darcy on our team, who is a true NaNoWriMo guru and is putting together all sorts of fun content for that month.

Also on the horizon (though the dates for these items are a good deal fuzzier), we are hoping to expand the IndiePen Ink team, to open up the first of our Party Pages – the Women Writer’s Collective, and to announce our very first writing contest, which will help feed a literary magazine that we plan on publishing next year.

Is that…. Is that enough?

We certainly hope so. But if you’d like to see us do even more, let us know by showing your support through Patreon. Or offer to join our team! I hear we’ll be recruiting soon. 😉