Welcome back to my analysis of the beginning of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, Book One of the Stormlight Archive series, from an editor’s perspective.
In Lesson 1, I covered the opening text, which is critical to draw in the reader. In Lesson 2, I discussed creating a balance with setting. In this lesson, I’ll discuss how to introduce information about the world to readers without info dumping.
Info dumping is when the author gives too much information about something when it’s not critical for the reader to know all of it. It interrupts the events of the story to provide explanation, and when that exposition goes on for a long time, readers lose interest.
Instead of info dumping, it’s best to sprinkle in the information when the reader needs it. It’s not critical for the reader to understand everything about the world or about the character before any action takes place. Rather, it’s better to give snippets of information as they’re relevant and keep moving on with the plot or the action of the scene.
Relationships between Peoples
In this example, Sanderson discusses Parshendi, parshmen, and Alethi very briefly, but we still get an idea of how they all relate to each other:
“Parshendi, they were named—cousins to the more docile servant peoples known as parshmen in most of the world. An oddity. They did not call themselves Parshendi; this was the Alethi name for them.”
Here we learn that the Parshendi are not as well-known or widespread in the world parshmen, but they are cousins to parshmen. Later in the book, we find out they look similar, which is implied here but confirmed later.
We also learn that the Alethi are another type of people, perhaps similar to another nation in the real world, and we can infer that the Alethi were the first to encounter the Parshendi since they go by the name the Alethi gave them.
This example infers there’s a caste-type system in this world:
“At first, the Alethi lighteyes had been hesitant. To them, drums were base instruments of the common, darkeyed people.”
So there’s a difference between those with light-colored eyes and those with dark-colored eyes. You might think it’s odd to base social class on the color of someone’s eyes, but then you may realize that it’s not all that different than basing social class on the color of one’s skin.
We also learn that of these two groups, the lighteyes are the higher social class while the darkeyes are the commoners. We also learn that lighteyes are probably more uptight than their counterparts.
But notice how this information about social class is woven into the story. The setting of the story is a party. It’s already been mentioned that there’s dancing, so we naturally expect that there’s music. The information about lighteyes and darkeyes is given in relation to this setting by discussing the drums rather than us just being told that there are two social classes based on eye color and which one is more elite.
It’s common in fantasy and science fiction to have new terms or things unique to that world. Again, you don’t want to just explain them to the reader. Instead, incorporate the information into the story.
“At the edge of the room, he passed rows of unwavering azure lights that bulged out where wall met floor. They held sapphires infused with Stormlight. Profane. How could the men of these lands use something to sacred for mere illumination? Worse, the Alethi scholars were said to be close to creating new Shardblades. Szeth hoped that was just wishful boasting.”
We’re introduced to something called Stormlight and something else called Shardblades here. It’s not specified, but it seems that they’re related.
Notice first how Stormlight is introduced. It’s being used to light the room, so it does cast illumination. It’s blue, as we can tell from both “azure” and “sapphires.” It’s stored in gems, sapphires here. The main character considers Stormlight to be sacred but not everyone does; to others, it seems common.
That’s a lot of information, right? But it’s all in the context of the main character walking through a room. It’s not just presented as if in a textbook; it’s presented as part of the forward momentum of the story.
We don’t get as much information about Shardblades, but we do get the feeling that Shardblades and Stormlight have something to do with each other since they mention of Shardblades follows after Szeth’s thoughts about Stormlight. By use of the term “blade,” we can infer that it’s a weapon. We can also tell that these Shardblades are rare and difficult, in fact impossible, to create.
We also learn that the main character doesn’t want there to be anymore of them. Thus, this new concept of Shardblades is presented from the perspective of the main character, not in a vacuum.
It’s critical to keep readers engaged in your story. The last thing you want is for a reader to get bored, right? To keep readers turning the page, only give them information as it’s necessary and in small, bite-size pieces rather than in large chunks of text. It’s also best if you can present this information in the context of the forward momentum of the story instead of as an aside.
I hope this gives you some ideas of how to effectively incorporate world-building into your writing. Need some help? Contact me so we can get started ensuring your readers are engaged.