LoTR and Info Dumps

The biggest problem with writing fantasy stories is that we have to present a whole new world organically without overwhelming readers with names and places. Tolkien has an interesting way of presenting his world which I don’t think many have tried to emulate since. He does something that is generally frowned upon in the writer’s world today and that is he stops the plot by giving context to his places. This might seem like a bad idea but I think this is extremely vital to do in a fantasy setting. It usually goes like this: The heroes reaches a new place and then Tolkien gives some context to the history of that place and what the people living there are like through narration. One example is his introduction to the people of Bree, why there are both Humans and Hobbits living there and that it once was a an important crossroad town.

What’s so genius about this is that Tolkien can show a world and tell about organically because he makes us care about his world as we explore it. Many writers dumps a lot of information about places that the reader, and often the heroes, have never been to.

Why should we care?

Another important thing that most fantasy authors don’t do, I think, is that they fail to give context, or history, to small places, places that does not necessarily involve the main plot. Often the heroes just visits a town, something happens there, and then they move on. It’s just a nameless town with nameless people, a plot device. This makes the world hollow and forgettable, I believe.

Is there other ways one can convey the same information? You could use dialogue but I find it highly unlikely that the history of the places the heroes visits would come up in conversation very often if they are on a quest to save the world.

I don’t know about you guys, but if I would journey across the land, I would like to know a thing or two about the places I visit. Today we have the internet, but decades ago, people would have to pick up a history book, and that’s how LoTRs sometimes feel like, a very entertaining history book.

Why does LotR still hold up today?

I still hold that Lord of the rings is the greatest fantasy story ever written, at least among those that I have read, and I often wonder why? Why does Tolkien’s story still hold up? It’s far from perfect and you know what will happen a mile away, but strangely, I never considered what would happen next and was just taken on a pleasant ride through the story. I think the longevity of Tolkien’s tale is his superb world building ability. He was a historian and linguist and he knew exactly how to cater to that crowd, he knew what he liked and he liked deep history and that’s what he focused on.

I’m currently reading a fantasy epic “The Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan. It’s a well written story, much better (at times) than Tolkien. But 200 pages in and the heroes have left their hobble of a village and I find myself disinterested. I am not captivated by the world the author created. I’m not drawn into the mystery, the names and places, and I find myself skimming through a lot of the action scenes. It’s a dull world and everything is explained to me. There’s a mountain over there and something bad happened. There’s monsters in the forest across the lake, bla bla bla. I would be much more intrigued if they were actually at those places when this information is revealed to me, which I think Tolkien does excellently.

There’s one particular scene in the first book of the Lord of the rings when the Hobbits and Gandalf comes across some ancient ruins. They are almost trapped by the ghosts there, and afterwards, Gandalf explains that this was the sight of a great kingdom once and you are instantly hooked! It’s a bit of information that has no consequence, also, because it has no bearings to the plot overall, it’s only purpose is to enrich the world.

Something happened there; a lot is unexplained; the reader wants to know, but the reader doesn’t need to know more. The author won’t reveal anything else and thus this piece of information will linger in the readers mind until they learn what really happened. They would have to read the Silmarillion to do that…

This is a fantasy world done right and is what I aspire to do.

I Abandoned a Story and I Couldn’t be Happier.

 There’s this story that I’ve worked on for about 2 years, and during this time, there’s been a lot of changes to the plot, which is not a good thing…

A short story should be simple, with a clear plot and it should be easy to grasp and explain to anyone who ask about it. But to achieve this, there must be a clear backstory and beginning, much like a gardener planting his seed:

(…) The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what the seed is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or a mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows (…)

 -George R. R. Martin  Full Quote

The backstory is the seed, in my mind.

But as you learn to write, you’ll apply what you’ve learned as you learn them, which will result in an entangled mess of subplots and character motivation until it doesn’t make sense anymore – if it ever made sense to begin with.

I tried my darndest to fix the plot, and to give you an idea: the story was 24 pages at on one point; I ended up with 120.

It was then that I finally realised there was no way… It hurt at first, a lot even. I didn’t want to think about how much time I’ve sunk into the story, but as I came to terms with it, I only felt relief.

But my time wasn’t totally wasted for what I’ve begun was the bones of a novel. I abandoned the plot almost completely and salvaged what I could. I used the worldbuilding I’ve already done and expanded upon it.

I’ve now learned not to be lazy and that everything rides on the beginning/backstory, otherwise, the rest won’t make sense. Hence, I spent a week working on the first chapter alone. There’s  not going to be any loose end this time around.

We’ll see how it all turns out, in worst case, it’s another learning experience…