Putting the “Story” in “Storyworld” – Part 3
Welcome to the third part of my series on how stories and storyworlds relate to each other. We’ve already discussed how storyworlds only exist to serve as backdrops for their stories, and how creating stories can develop new details for their storyworlds.
Today I’d like to take a brief look at revealing the storyworld through the story. There are three main things to keep in mind:
Keep it Minimal: Only reveal the parts of the storyworld that are relevant to the story. You may know the complete ecology of the two-headed bird-ape, but unless that trivia’s essential to the plot, you don’t really need to share that knowledge with the audience. Just mention the bird-ape in passing (“Jane tossed the bird-ape an apple. It caught the fruit in one mouth while continuing to sing with its other.”) and move on. Avoid the dreaded info-dump.
Think Organically: Reveal the world organically through character actions, words, and attitudes. Characters don’t spout well-known backstory, but act as though everyone knows it. For example, instead of having Jane explain to someone, “Bird-apes are vicious when they’re hungry, so we need to keep them fed,” have Jane stay a healthy distance from the beast and ask its keeper, “You just fed this thing, right?” You can get a lot of mileage out of inferring background by how the characters act.
Learn With the Characters: As your characters learn more about the world, so does your audience. Over the course of the story, more worldbuilding elements may become relevant; as they do, reveal them to both the characters and the audience. The Harry Potter books were great at this. While the author had a whole wizarding world fleshed out, she only gave us bits of its history, economy, and weird relationship with house elves as Harry ran into those elements, so it wasn’t overwhelming.
Thanks for joining me on this jaunt through the realm of mashing stories into storyworlds. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions, or great meatloaf recipes, please share them in the comments or hit me up on the various social media. And if you’d like more of my world-building thoughts, please come visit behind the scenes at my Patreon page, and consider helping support this website.