If you’re a fantasy writer (like me), you’ve probably, at some point, created a beautiful fictional universe; a world you are deeply proud of, complete with unique geography, creatures to defy imagination, and original languages to rival Tolkien himself.
There’s just one problem.
I don’t mean to put it so harshly, but there is an unfortunate truth we fantasy writers need to realize if we want anyone to read our stories. The truth is: no matter how amazing your world is, the only one who really cares about it is you.
“What are you trying to say, Brianna?” you may be thinking right now, frowning (and at least a little offended). “That I shouldn’t develop a complex world for my story?”
No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Deep, original fictional universes are vital for a successful fantasy or sci-fi narrative, as they add a rich layer of authenticity and flavor. My point is that it is crucial how you introduce your speculative world in your story. It could make the difference of whether or not your readers decide to stick through your book or screenplay.
Done with Dune
Let me give you an example.
Just yesterday, I tried reading the first chapter of Dune, a classic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert. I downloaded a free sample of the e-book on my Kindle app while I was waiting at a bus stop, thinking, “Eh, might as well give it a try.”
But there was a problem.
By the end of the chapter, I was frustrated that – while a lot had happened, and I had certainly been introduced to the author’s sci-fi world – I hadn’t connected with the 15-year-old main character at all. I couldn’t tell you anything about his personality, except that he had the stereotypical boldness of heroes and had a special aptitude for reading people. But there was nothing at all that made me care about him – nothing quirky, relatable, or unique enough to hold my interest.
Also, very little was introduced in regards to the plot; at least, certainly not enough to capture my attention. I ended up turning off the app after the first chapter, bored of the idea of reading more.
And why was that?
Because the author spent so much time in the first chapter showing off his world – by introducing foreign cultures, extravagant names and new places – that he missed focusing on the essentials… which are, basically, the essentials of telling a good story.
What do people care about?
Story. What people care about is story.
There are some exceptions; the fantasy/sci-fi enthusiasts, who delight in curling up with a speculative novel and savoring the feeling of traveling to another world…
But they are the minorities. Most people don’t care whether they are transported to another world, or if the remain right here. They just want to be entertained by a good story. They don’t care where or when the story takes place; they just want a great ride, with characters they can care about, and they want to feel something by the end – they want to be impacted, moved, and emotionally satisfied.
How to make people care
Here’s how you make your readers care about your fantasy world.
Don’t focus on the world. Focus on the story. Hook your readers from the first chapter with quirky, relatable characters (with easy-to-pronounce names!) and an intriguing story that starts off with a bang.
Introduce them slowly to the fact that they are in another world; let it be revealed naturally, organically, over the course of the story. Don’t show off your languages and history and geography unless it makes sense; but if it makes sense, then present your languages and history and geography with confidence. Make your readers believe the setting is real, and let them get caught up in the beautiful world you have created, so that they nearly forget about the real world, and come to crave yours – itching at all times to return to the world they’ve come to love…
Even though, it won’t really be the world they love; but rather, the characters and the story and all the unforgettable experiences they’ve had within that world. That is the connotation they will have. That is the connotation you want them to have.
For me personally, one of the biggest turn-offs when I open a new speculative novel is a proud author who can’t resist flaunting his or her world’s geography, names, cultures, etc., before I’ve had a chance to connect with the story and characters. Because honestly, I don’t care about your stupid fantasy world. I just want to be entertained.
But, if you achieve that…
…Then you, dear author, will procure my admiration.
Have you ever been guilty of fantasy-world exposition in your own writing? Or, have you come across it in books or screenplays you’ve read? Let me know in the comments below!