Today, I’m working on the Boston Story that I drafted as part of NaNoWriMo. It’s an urban-fantasy-time-travel epic that demands far more world building than anything I’ve ever done. It’s a pain in the ass.
It starts off as an almost claustrophobic locked room tale. Today, I hit the point where everything opens up, and it’s delicious. I’m plagued by wondering if that needs to happen sooner than 28,000 words in. Yet, if it opens up too soon, it won’t have enough impact.
Because of the need for world building, I think readers of speculative fiction tolerate a longer set up than readers of other genres, as long as characters are developing and you have compelling action all the way through.
The catch-22 with speculitive fiction is that info dumps have to happen, but they cannot feel like an info dump. I don’t always nail this one. I once wrote a 45 minute PowerPoint presentation that felt exactly like one (I only wish I was joking. My critique group wishes it too.).
This morning, I did. I’ve used this technique before but not with direct intention. Now that I’ve named it, maybe I can save myself some future pain (and Power Pointing).
I’m fascinated by the minutiae of people at work. In Bee Candy, the whole novel grew up around the details of how to carve headstones. In the Sticking Place, a character fleshed out fully once I realized he was a glass blower. I love taking the details of work, and how people do it, and structuring them into metaphors for character and action.
Today, I was at the section where two characters needed to explain a legend to the audience without it sounding stilted, authorial, or As-You-Know-Bobish. I’ve found that the key to a good dump of info is to make the action of the page about something else.
Siobhan, my protag, stumbles in on O’Sheen, the proprietor and band leader in a bar where 60 years pass each night, while he’s prepping and seasoning his bagpipes (Thanks to Matt for the how-to that I freely embellished for my own use). Neither the how-to nor the info dump would work if the scene was about either one of them. Instead, the scene is about the deepening flirtation between the two characters.
Working on the pipes gives Siobhan and O’Sheen a reason to interact. Talking about the legend gives them a chance to recognize a shared, secret, understanding. The combination allows for a sexy subtext that both develops character and moves the story along. That is the job of any scene, no matter what else it does or how else it enables authorial self-gratification.
It can’t be all about the reader all the time. Some things can be just for us (as long as we make them serve the story). That’s how we develop that oh-so-elusive sense of voice and style.