July 17, 2019, 11:49:17 PM

Author Topic: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)  (Read 2062 times)

Offline CryptofCthulhu

This isn't a review or critique of GRRM but his works do provide the basis of my inquiry.

When does an author's world building become a detriment to the story and not an asset?

I've started A Storm of Swords and overall I've enjoyed Martin's tale so far, but I do find some of his world building details to seem almost pointless and at times very distracting. Food and clothing are two examples. Describing what someone is wearing seems appropriate when it is actually important to the plot and not just a way of showing one's knowledge of the garb of a certain time period. For example, if a commoner is seen dressed in rags and then when next we see them they are donning a suit of armor with the family crest of an important house then this can say a lot about what has happened to them and make us want to know what happened. But when some secondary character with little impact on the plot comes in the room and his/her garments are described from head to toe it really makes me ask, who the hell care? I want to know what their purpose is and how they interact with others, unless what he's wearing is vital to understanding the character.

Then you have the food descriptions, which again don't really further the plot or add much. I imagine GRRM has ever missed a meal given his physique, so he's probably a foodie; yet when you describe every single meal in detail just because you like gourmet food it doesn't necessarily add anything. Maybe if what they are eating is exotic, disgusting, or something you would never expect, then it would have a point. Or if the feast was a reflection of the wealth of the host that would make sense.

Perhaps these are supposed to be integral to understanding what court life is like for different people, but I really don't get that impression.

Obviously there is a market for readers that like this sort of thing but I just don't see this as amazing world building.

Then you have the constant element of describing genealogy, but that's an entirely different subject. I really don't care to know how somebody is the 20th in line to the throne and then get a description of why the other 19 are in front of him/her. The Silmarillion was bad enough with trying to keep track of all the elves and their confusing names.
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Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2016, 09:41:59 AM »
This isn't meant to disparage GRRM but his works do provide the basis of my inquiry.

When does an author's world building become a detriment to the story and not an asset?

I've started A Storm of Swords and overall I've enjoyed Martin's tale so far, but I do find some of his world building details to seem almost pointless and at times very distracting. Food and clothing are two examples. Describing what someone is wearing seems appropriate when it is actually important to the plot and not just a way of showing one's knowledge of the garb of a certain time period. For example, if a commoner is seen dressed in rags and then when next we see them they are donning a suit of armor with the family crest of an important house then this can say a lot about what has happened to them and make us want to know what happened. But when some secondary character with little impact on the plot comes in the room and his/her garments are described from head to toe it really makes me ask, who the hell care? I want to know what their purpose is and how they interact with others, unless what he's wearing is vital to understanding the character.

Then you have the food descriptions, which again don't really further the plot or add much. I imagine GRRM has ever missed a meal given his physique, so he's probably a foodie; yet when you describe every single meal in detail just because you like gourmet food it doesn't necessarily add anything. Maybe if what they are eating is exotic, disgusting, or something you would never expect, then it would have a point. Or if the feast was a reflection of the wealth of the host that would make sense.

Perhaps these are supposed to be integral to understanding what court life is like for different people, but I really don't get that impression.

Obviously there is a market for readers that like this sort of thing but I just don't see this as amazing world building.

Then you have the constant element of describing genealogy, but that's an entirely different subject. I really don't care to know how somebody is the 20th in line to the throne and then get a description of why the other 19 are in front of him/her. The Silmarillion was bad enough with trying to keep track of all the elves and their confusing names.
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs

Offline Yora

Re: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2016, 10:05:57 AM »
The amount of worldbuilding is never the issue. It always comes down to how much details you are told during the course of the story. When the plot stops to talk about details of the world that don't have anything to do with progressing the story, that's generally when things go bad.
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Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2016, 10:26:39 AM »
The amount of worldbuilding is never the issue. It always comes down to how much details you are told during the course of the story. When the plot stops to talk about details of the world that don't have anything to do with progressing the story, that's generally when things go bad.

I think the sheer amount of writing required for the world building descriptions can at some point ultimately lead to a breakdown in quality, continuity and pace.

Tolkien was able to do a good job of world building because the LOTR wasn't a series like WOT or ASoIaF with millions of words. He saved a lot of that world building for other volumes, appendices, etc., that supplemented the main story, which I think is the way to go.

Taking too much time to stop and smell the roses can decrease the sense of urgency, which I feel was always present in the LOTR, even when the characters were somewhere that was relatively safe. Rivendale and Lothlorien weren't completely safe from Sauron's power so even then Tolkien couldn't take all day to describe these places and in the process make us forget completely about what the purpose of the Fellowship is.

I've seen plenty of comments and reviews that seem pretty consistent with the length of WOT and ASoIaF (used as examples because they are so long) needing a trimming of the fat. Some have said certain books should have just been left out of WOT or that they purposely skip them. That says quite a bit. This isn't as common as ASoIaF but it hasn't reached the sheer size that WOT did. The last two books seemed to have mixed opinions about what they were able to accomplish where the story itself is concerned. Some see them as merely filler, while others like some parts but find other stuff unnecessary.

Of course everyone has their preferences but I still think world building can, if taken to a certain extreme, can diminish the quality of the story, and the story is what most of us read fiction books for.
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2016, 02:49:43 PM »
It's important for the author to build the world. They just have to know how to relay the information to the reader. Also, just because they came up with everything, doesn't mean we need to know it all. Some things only the writer needs so that he gets everything right.
I completely agree with the geneology thing. Ugh! And all the backstory for even the minor characters... I zoned out during those parts.

Offline Nora

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Re: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2016, 10:22:22 PM »
Mmmmh, I think that in the ASOIAF case, it'll be a matter of taste, since I've never felt the world building to be clunky as you do.
Some books are more descriptive than others. Some readers like it more than others.

Elantris is a book where I skimmed passages. Not because of world building details but of dragging plot. It's a debut novel for a guy who likes actions to take their time coming, and it didn't work so well.
I agree with Yora, if the action is sweet, I can take a large amount of world building with no complaints.
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Re: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2016, 11:52:26 PM »
It's weird.  When reading, I actually love all those details but when writing I don't.  Reading them makes me feel like I'm in a fresh, new world, I can really feel what's going on.  But I'm sort of into the visceral experience.  I actually really loved all of Robert Jordan's descriptions in WoT. No one else on this board probably feels that way, but there are a fair amount of other Jordan-lovers out there in the world so I'm not entirely alone.

On the flip side, when I'm writing, my descriptions are pretty sparse.  I'm too lazy to imagine the number of stones in the dungeon or leaves on the trees. I struggle A LOT to come up with cool names for plants and building materials and cultural flourishes that make the world... well my world, because i"m just not that good at it.

It's strange, but I write totally differently from the way I like to read.

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: When worldbuilding goes overboard (Possible spoilers for ASoIaF)
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2016, 08:19:28 PM »
It's weird.  When reading, I actually love all those details but when writing I don't.  Reading them makes me feel like I'm in a fresh, new world, I can really feel what's going on.  But I'm sort of into the visceral experience.  I actually really loved all of Robert Jordan's descriptions in WoT. No one else on this board probably feels that way, but there are a fair amount of other Jordan-lovers out there in the world so I'm not entirely alone.

On the flip side, when I'm writing, my descriptions are pretty sparse.  I'm too lazy to imagine the number of stones in the dungeon or leaves on the trees. I struggle A LOT to come up with cool names for plants and building materials and cultural flourishes that make the world... well my world, because i"m just not that good at it.

It's strange, but I write totally differently from the way I like to read.

Castles and architecture, ancient civilizations, mythology, are all things I love reading about and are great subjects. All the different side dishes served in Westeros and what secondary characters are wearing described to the most minute detail? Not so much.
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs