13 July 2013

The Dangers if Infodump

When I was in my college years, I loved epic fantasy. I also loved Tom Clancy novels. Pretty much anything under 300 pages was a short story, and I would have nothing to do with them.

I can’t believe I had “extra” time in college. Where is it now???

Anyway, at one point in my life I loved the big, thick, intricately plotted books that I now realize take years and years to write.  And way back when, I didn't mind the info dump.

Now I’m older and far less patient.  When too much information is thrust at me, instead of embracing it and soaking it in, I glean the top layer off and cast the rest off like yesterday’s socks.

Not that I usually mistakenly put on old socks…

I’ve mentioned a few times that I recently returned from a trip to Israel.  Well, when you go there, your tour group will be assigned an Israeli guide. I think it’s a law or something.  Ours was named Bassam, we called him Sam for short.  After all, uncultured American’s can’t possibly be asked to remember a guy’s name that’s different.

No, no, not a name. However, he gave us so much information that I’m pretty sure I’ve ejected more than 80% of it out the port on the back of my head.  One name (Bassam) I could totally handle.  But the 117 names for cities, people, regions, bodies of water, religions beliefs, rulers and a bunch of other things was WAY too much.

Granted, they did tell us to read some book before we went, which was a comprehensive (and quite dull) guide to the places we went to visit. If I had prepared maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so lost.

And it’s really easy to Google most of these places and get the  information that I’ve most certainly mixed up in my head. 

King Herod built the Dead Sea in the mountain region near the brother of Jordan and lived there until his college buddy Tiberius ruled the world from the  Mount of Olives and they had a party under the Dome of the Rock.

You see! That’s how my brain feels when someone does a huge info dump at the beginning of a book. It’s especially bad if all the names are similar. Herod, Heronian, Hades, Helvitica…you see. I’m already confusing myself.

I realize that most people who read big, fat books expect big, fat info dumps, but if you can incorporate it into the story in a sneaky but helpful manner, then do it. Please. For those of us with simple minds.

Besides, the story of Herod and Tiberius as college buddies is probably a pretty good story. (If they even lived at the same time. My brain is seriously overloaded.)

06 July 2013

World Building

Some old guy at the very first Geek Fest (it was somewhere between a writer’s conference and a convention for fans—yes, there was some dressing up going on) I ever attended spewed forth a piece of advice that I will never forget.

A member of the audience, an aspiring writer I’m sure, asked the question, “Where do you get all your ideas for world building?”  If I recall correctly the old guy to whom the question was being asked had written some fairly epic fantasy novels.  So he had some experience at world building.

Well, instead of a long explanation from a scholar (which this man seemed to fancy himself), we got this bit of writing advise.  “Find something that sounds interesting and steal the Hell out of it.”

I’m pretty sure he wasn't just saying to look at the spot where the damned go in someone else’s world. Although I could be wrong, I don’t always get smart, old people jokes.  To me they’re just not funny.

However, this is good advice.  I’ve traveled a lot, but never before to the Middle East. I just returned from 9 days in Israel, and I have to say that the place is teeming with bits of world building to steal.

Seriously, think about it, first off, there have been multiple sets of people claiming this land for more generations than anyone can actually remember. Good thing for the Bible, right? So that particular conflict runs really deep.  And frankly, after driving through most of the country, I didn’t get the whole “bountiful, promised land” thing. The place is mostly a desert. I live in a desert. You have to work hard to get crops to grow and to get water where it should be.  So who came up with the land of plenty angle? And why are all these people so keen on keeping the land for themselves?

Good question. Make some answers and take your world building from there.

Let’s look at a different angle.  Jerusalem has been completely sacked like 8 times.(I didn’t Google, sorry, I’m on a plane, so that number could be off.)  What does that do to the land? Maybe the place itself is cursed, or blessed, or alive, or a crossroads to more than just trade routes, and all of the fighting is causing imbalances on a different plane or in a different part of the world.

We had an interesting discussion within our tour group. Basically, both the Palestinians and the Israelis (or maybe Jews and Muslims would be better to cite) believe that at the end of days, the other group will be wiped out by God because they are not worshiping the right thing or in the right way.  (It’s a long, long story that I’d rather not  go into here.)  But as we were discussing this, we thought about trying to negotiate a truce between the two peoples, and how fruitless that would be because both sides think that the other will eventually be gone. Why not start the annihilation now? Why wait?  There’s immediate conflict that can get both broader and deeper.

This is just a few ideas about world building.  If you can’t travel, view some documentaries and glean some ideas off of those. Take what you see and twist it. Steal the Hell out of it and make it your own.