World Building

I’m working my way through Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. The interesting thing to look at is how she built her world.

On one hand, she explains very little. She tosses the reader right into the midst of rakunks and a post-apocalyptic world. It’s not until much later that she explains about the genetic manipulation that created the menagerie of unusual critters. I haven’t gotten to the explanation about the apocalypse yet, and I’m half way through the book. Atwood is confident enough to think you’ll just go along for the ride, which is cool.

On the other hand, there’s oodles of extra stuff. She includes sermons from one of the characters and religious hymns throughout. It adds texture. Or, it’s intended to. At first, I read them. Now I skip them. For my money, I’m just not into it. But, then I’m reminded of something Neil Gaiman said about Fragile Things when people said they weren’t into the poetry. To paraphrase, he said, “Don’t think of it as a book of short stories and poetry. Think of it as a book of short stories with free poems added in.” Based on my impression of Atwood, I think she’d be on the same page as Gaiman.

World building is such a fine balance. Do it right, and people get sucked in. Miss the mark, and…

So far, I’m kind of on the fence about The Year of the Flood. More commentary on that later.

6 thoughts on “World Building

  1. So true. Effective world building is essential. It gives the reader something to picture as they travel with the characters. Leave it open, and a reader may just be picturing her Aunt Lois's cat urine-stained shag carpeting from 1973. Unless, of course, your character is visiting Aunt Lois, then pull up a chair and have a cup of tea!

  2. I wonder how much of her world building is impacted because she's relying on Oryx and Crake to have done the building portion? Perhaps the difficulty in Year of the Flood is a backstory problem (which is a type of world building issue)?

    J.K. Rowling is a master at the backstory/worldbuilding. You can pick up any of her books out of order and still get the gist because she lays out stuff like who died and when and why in each story whenever it becomes relevent. I had a harder time with George RR Martin's Clash of Kings because it jumped straight into where Game of Thrones left off and assumed I'd pick up the pieces along the way. I guess that's okay…I'm just glad I was reading in order – something the writer can't know the reader will do for certain. Better to have the world building/backstory right there, regardless of which book in the series you're writing.

  3. Year of the Flood wasn't my favorite Atwood–not my least favorite either. But where I was willing, even excited, to keep going with her in Oryx and Crake to see how we got from the earliest timeline to Snowman, I kinda wanted her to just get on with it in YotF.

    I haven't start Clash of Kings yet. I want to read some more mainstream/literary stuff while I'm editing. And I'm not prepared to dive into another 800+ fantasy again.

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