By Evan Dahm.
Some excellent stuff was submitted in response to the prompt, thanks very much everybody! I am surprised and pleased. I didn’t publish everything to the blog, mostly out of concerns of staying on-topic, and redundancy on top of what’s already been said. Feel free to continue submitting things you have to say in response to the article indefinitely; it’s obviously pretty fertile ground, and I think cuts to the heart of a lot of concerns involving place-making.
My response to what’s been said:
Basically every submission that I’ve published makes mention of the INFODUMP: that inelegant block of text explaining this or that element of the setting, which has plagued genre fiction for decades. I’m inclined to agree with Angela that this kind of thing is at the core of what’s frustrating Harrison: super-developed background information presented encyclopedically, with little or no regard for its utility in the story. Yes, that is certainly the ”clomping foot of nerdism.”
It is worth noting that the infodump is a problem in PROSE in particular, and that prose is basically what Harrison’s talking about. Something that also came up repeatedly was a mention of visual narrative media, and how it works with the problem of conveying massive amounts of background information. This has come up in the Worldbuilding panels I’ve run (I’ve brought it up, usually, because it’s fascinating to me and one of the things I love most about comics). You guys have summed this up pretty clearly. Angela:
You can leave details in fashion and architecture that say a lot about a culture without getting bogged down by descriptive paragraphs.
…any story told in a visual medium requires that its creator convey information easily withheld in prose, whether that information is a landscape, or a character’s body language – a necessity counterbalanced by the fact that it is much easier to convey that information without causing the narrative to drag (through showing, rather than telling, naturally).
But visual narrative media aren’t immune to the problem, and prose is not stuck with it, obviously. There are several points on which I think I would absolutely agree with Harrison, and you might too:
The narrative is the most important thing. It is more important than the setting, and the setting must work for it. I fully understand the satisfaction and joy in inventing every aspect of a place and making it real, but that is a PERSONAL facet to all of this. Whether the setting is developed thoroughly or not, the story is the narrow lens through which all of this is seen, and perhaps the only lens through which it should be seen.