J.K. Rowling’s “clever instinct”
A recent article on io9 (which refers to this original article) discusses Harry Potter as an example of accessible conveyance of backstory and worldbuilding. There’s some common ground with stuff I’ve talked about before…
While I don’t consider the Harry Potter books a particularly stellar example of an invented setting (though I really like them!), the article emphasizes a point about them that is really important to note, particularly if you’re interested in making invented-setting fiction yourself:
[J.K. Rowling]’s clever instinct, the editor said, was to postpone the point where you need to learn a complex background in order to continue following the story. By then you would have absorbed so many small, easy-to-learn, easy-to-digest details that when you finally got to the Big Lesson, it wasn’t intimidating.
In the context of the article this is presented as the “mainstream” approach, as opposed to the more hardcore sf/f approach of dropping in massive, distracting blocks of explanation of the history and context of the world in the midst of the story.
Maybe this makes me less of a serious genre-fiction guy, but I really think it is valuable to teach readers the setting and its rules in a way that goes along with the story and makes for a seamless, immersive experience— rather than going into asides to deliberately explain aspects of the setting, to an extent often exceeding their value within the context of the story.
Worldbuilding does not have to mean explaining every aspect of your setting.