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.

Some quotes relevant to my interests & perhaps yours

"One’s view of the world and one’s technique are indivisible" - Hayao Miyazaki

"Part of the appeal of the fantastic is taking ridiculous ideas very seriously and pretending they’re not absurd" - China Míeville

"Reality is the apparent absence of contradiction. The fantastic [maravilloso] is the contradiction that appears in the real." - Luis Aragon

SPX Worldbuilding panel

I’ve uploaded a recording of the Comics and Worldbuilding panel I moderated at last weekend’s SPX. Listen to it HERE. Panelists are myself, Spike Trotman, Carla Speed McNeil, Aaron Diaz, and Liz Baillie.

BE AWARE that the program I recorded this with has, because it was a trial version, covered a couple of minutes throughout in static, rendering a bit of it nearly unintelligible. But most of the recording is ok! And someone from SPX got the whole thing on video so hopefully we’ll be able to see that, too.

This is a panel that I’d like to do multiple times! I even feel like the five of us could have talked much longer on the subject. So hopefully we can run this panel at other conventions in the future!

Narrative media, worldbuilding

Following, some pompous rambling ideas about narrative media.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot, in a sort of over-simplified and competitive way, about how comics compare to other narrative media. Comics are as capable of telling stories as prose, verse, film, or video game, but the domain of narrative technique covered by each of these of course varies. This is why, I think, a perfect adaptation between media is impossible (as perfect translation between languages is impossible). People making stories must play to the strengths of the medium, then, right? Any story could be told as a comic, but not in the same way, with the same emphases, or necessarily as well as it could be told in prose or in film.

Reading Perdido Street Station is making me think about this. The way it’s written is so elegant and strange, and so tied to the English language and the author’s use of it, that the book and the invented setting of the book seem completely tied to the medium. I keep thinking about drawing something from the book but I don’t think I could do it. It couldn’t be adapted; it IS the book; it is the way it’s written. Visual representations of it would be too concrete, and would lack the voice of the book, which seems to be some elemental part of the story and its characters.

It reminds me of looking at a comic like Bone, and seeing the characters and the world of that comic, and being unable to imagine them existing in a world not made of Jeff Smith’s drawings. The world of Bone is made believable and real, but in such a way that it is tied fundamentally to the most basic aspects of how each image is drawn. The atoms of the world are in how he draws; how he renders the rhythm of the story.

I think this about my own comics, too, though I don’t mean to say I think I’m good enough for it to carry over into anyone else’s view of them. Overside is less a setting than it is the comics that take place in it— I can’t really wrap my head around Overside stories rendered in prose, or in film, or in video game. I have made these stories and their setting with comics in mind. I try to use the medium such that the stories seem tied to it; such that they could be rendered faithfully in no other way.