The Confidence Not to Explain

I’m in the midst of a reading binge at the moment and I’m on book three of a very popular fantasy series and, as a reader, am experiencing a certain amount of frustration.  Now, problem once you start writing is that I don’t think you can ever really read just as a reader ever again.  So it’s quite possible that what I’m about to mention is something I notice because I write and that your average everyday reader wouldn’t notice, but it’s bugging the hell out of me and this is my blog where I get to discuss these sorts of things, so I’m going to.

What is the issue?

It feels like the author of this book took a lot of flak for their worldbuilding in books one and two and decided they had to explain themselves in book three.  So, thankfully not as part of the main action and dialogue, this book is full of verbose explanations around why this world works differently than our world.

It’s like someone asked, “Hey, such and such cataclysmic thing is happening in this world so how is x even possible at all?” and the author either thought, “Oh shit, I didn’t think about it, better come up with a good explanation” or “Well, let me let you in on this absolutely irrelevant bit of worldbuilding that explains that.”

Either way, I don’t think it’s necessary and I think it probably has the exact opposite effect of what the author intended.  Because there were probably 1-2% of readers who cared about this at all in books 1 and 2, but now, with the author stopping to point it all out and explain it, every single reader notices the discrepancies and has to buy into the explanations for them.

Getting a reader to buy into your exact explanation for something is a helluva lot harder than just leaving it up to readers to explain for themselves.  (Just like with character descriptions.  The more detailed you are in describing a character, the more of a disconnect you’ll likely have with your readers on what that character looks like.)

This author needed the confidence to say, “This is my world, this is how it works.  It’s internally consistent and if you’re bought into the world you shouldn’t have a problem,” and left it at that.

If they really wanted to explain themselves to that 1-2% of readers they should’ve done it on a blog.  Or in the appendix.  Or an expensive, special edition compendium on the world.  Anywhere but in the midst of the story.

After all, part of reading any story (especially spec fic) is the suspension of disbelief.  Sure, it’s cool when it all works in accordance with how we think things work today, but…it’s fantasy.  It’s a completely different world.  Or it’s sci-fi, five hundred years in the future and in a part of the galaxy we’ve never seen.  It needs to be somewhat close to modern understanding, but not 100%.  Not if it’s a good story.  (I mean, Star Wars.  Really?)

Personally, I prefer those authors that have the confidence in their story to not explain those kinds of things.  Ideally, they’ve thought about them and know that x is possible due to a genetic mutation or whatever, but I’d rather they just wrote the world they’re writing and made sure it was internally consistent and didn’t stop to try to convince their readers to agree with it.

But maybe that’s just me…

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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