Anonymous asked: How do you go about introducing the fantasy world you've created for your story to your characters?
This is known as exposition. Before I go on, I feel like I need to differentiate: Do you need help introducing the world to the characters, or to the readers? These are two separate concepts, but they can coincide: the reader’s view and understanding of the world can be filtered through the character, or the reader’s understanding of the world can be greater than that of the character as fuel for tension and drama.
Introducing the world can take a number of different forms, some better than others. Those to avoid would be things like info dumping and writing in worldbuilding as though you were creating an encyclopedia entry on the subject. As general advice, expose development in small pieces and try not to devote paragraph upon page upon chapter to explaining the intricacies of your world. Chances are that we don’t need to see all of it, at least not right this second.
If the character is a newcomer to the world (portal fantasies, Prince-and-Pauper-esque stories, etc.), chances are that readers are new as well. In describing the world to the newcoming character, the readers are exposed and introduced to it as well. Exposition of this nature can look similar to description: describing the facet of the world we are currently involved with, such as the new school of magic that the stunned character has just witnessed, a creature that the protagonists have never seen before, working through the political climate with a character thrust into the center of a peace negotiation, etc.
If the character is well-acquainted with the world, it is the reader who needs an introduction and no one else (probably). This can be trickier, since your character already knows everything and does not need the explanation that the audience does. Consequently, this will look a little more overt than other types of exposition, since you will almost always need to put this in asides to the audience rather than force characters to rehash things they are already familiar with (resulting in As You Know speeches and other forms of infodump via dialogue).
Infodumping can be sneaky, and you may not realize that you’re doing it. It can take the form of long conversations and chunks of dialogue, an extended passage in which a character thinks about their backstory or another flashback type scene occurs, or it can be paragraphs of straight-up description. This can work in some cases, if the description or story is genuinely interesting, funny, or otherwise pleasant to read. However, most of the time readers will be anxious to get on with the plot.
The best way to make exposition work for you is to make it relevant to whatever is currently happening in the story. If the information being presented has little or no relevance to the current events (“that abandoned castle over there was once the home of King Olaf III who liked to eat soup with a fork, now let’s get back to stealing that diamond”), odds are that it doesn’t need to be there, no matter how interesting the facts. If you can make information relevant (“that abandoned castle over there was once the home of King Olaf III who had a secret passageway under the castle, we can use it to bypass security and steal that diamond”), you gain the double bonus of advancing the plot while giving the reader information about the world.
You will always know more than the reader. This is not a bad thing, just a fact to bear in mind. It is absolutely fine to know more than the reader; you are the writer and you need to know everything you can. What the reader needs to know can vary by situation and by event.
Think of exposition like Legos: they come in differently sized bricks, build on each other, and tend not to go anywhere if you don’t build the entire thing right now. Exposition handles much the same way. You can lay down a few blocks to be the foundation, run off and deal with swords and dragons for a bit, then come back and add another room to Fort Exposition. When the situation arises that something needs to be explained, have a break and build a bit. Know when to stop and get back to the action, or risk boring the readers.
There is a general rule that more than one paragraph of straight explanation is at least bordering infodumping, and that more than two paragraphs is almost definitely classified as an infodump. If you have an entire page of exposition and nothing else, it’s probably time to hit the brakes.
More links for you:
- TvTropes on Exposition, on Infodump, and on Expospeak
- Fixing the Info Dump
- Finessing the Infodump
- Avoiding the Info-Dump
- Info Dumps Aren’t Evil!
- In Defense of Flashbacks
I hope this helped. Let us know if you have any other questions.