World Building: Flashlights & Story Questions

Game Designer Insight

I heard a game designer describe world building in a way that is also relevant to fantasy writers. He said, “You the designer have a floodlight, but the gamer only gets a flashlight.” What he meant by that is that as the designer or writer you know the world inside out–its history, its background, its mythology and genealogies–but the gamer or reader will never experience the vast majority of that. It’s for you, the designer to know, so you can steer the story.

It’s the same basic message as the iceberg metaphor: your world’s background would make great reading for an encyclopedia fetishist, but lousy slogging for story readers.

Another Reason to be Stingy with Exposition

As it turns out, readers are as motivated by unanswered questions about your world as they are the cool things you reveal. It’s those unanswered “story questions” that keep the reader turning the pages to find out the answers.

(For more on the idea of not revealing to much to your readers, see entries below.)