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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Revealing Story Background

   
Author Topic: Revealing Story Background
ambongan
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I struggled for a while and then finally got my story to where the background information is all in the story, but not dumped in clumps. It flows well.

Unfortunatly, my story has a few details, like three inhabitable planets in one solar system, that are more unusual and so some readers don't catch on.

I don't want to be too obvious when giving information, nor do I want to be too subtle. I feel I reached a happy medium, but some still miss some points.

So my question is what to do. I have a map I can include. But the map has all the systems planets, and some people may just skip it.

I wrote a nice description of the system and backstory, but am afraid that if I put that out with the story, people won't need the background that is currently in the story and in fact become anoyed at reading the information twice (though in the story you get much more).

Then, there is still the fact that the story really has all the information you would need.


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autumnmuse
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To an extent, there is nothing you can do. If people will not read the map or info, yet also do not get it out of the story, that is their own fault (assuming you are clear in your explanations).

I also struggle mightily with this in my WIP, so I am also looking for suggestions on how to incorporate the milieu.


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TruHero
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I know alot of people will frown at this, but how about a prologue? You could make a short lead-in intro and weave in the details of the system. Just like you did with the backstory in the main story. And it wouldn't be a huge info-dump pill to swallow. Make it seem natural, not a list or textbook explanation, keep it simple. Or write it from another characters POV... could work, perhaps?

[This message has been edited by TruHero (edited August 11, 2004).]


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yanos
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Ok, this is just my point of view, but I think that so long as the details are clearly explained somewhere in the story, stop worrying. This is obviously a good point to have someone read the story and then ask them... Another question to think about is if they do not get the information does this make the story difficult to follow.
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HSO
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about maps: I love when stories include maps! I'm a map geek. So, I never skip a map. I study them furiously -- scribbling notes, tracing paths taken, and measuring distances (if a scale is shown) to see if it all fits within the story. Okay... maybe I don't do any of that stuff... much.

I just read a novel called Nylon Angel -- not terrible, not great either, but it had maps. Those maps ehnanced an otherwise mostly crappy book and gave a sense of place... of reality. Maps can be wonderful additions to a story.

(Okay, it wasn't truly mostly crappy, but I struggled with they style of it. I was expecting something like Gibson [cyberpunkish] and got something completely different (my own fault). All in first person, too. Long stories in first person sometimes can be chore to read.)

That's all I wanted to say.


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wetwilly
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I think prologues get an unfair bad reputation. I have no problem with them. They can be very useful.

If the word "prologue" at the top of your prologue really bothers you, call it something else. In the book I'm trying to sell right now, I have a "Chapter Zero." There are other reasons I did that in my book, but maybe something like that could work.


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Robyn_Hood
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My major WIP seemed okay until I had someone else read it. Then I discovered I only had one character actually develop; I had no clear vision of anything outside the story; my characters and story were trying to operate in a vacuum.

So I wrote a prologue.

It started out as a few pages handwritten. Then a few more typed. Then it became the longest single section in the whole book. And now it morphed into Chapter 1!

My point, do what works for you and your story. Prologues aren't always good but for some stories they provide an important service. Lord of the Rings has a prologue and I doubt anyone would call Tolkien an poor writer for using it (although I'll admit it took me longer to get through the prologue than all the rest of The Fellowship of the Ring. Once into the story, I appreciated the information and the nuances). He also uses maps, and they're pretty simple but highly effective.

My questions are as follows:

If the information your afraid to dump doesn't have an impact on the overall story, then do you need to worry about it?
There are three inhabited planets, do all of them come into play in this story? Do they effect each other? Do they share history?
Is the information more useful to you as the teller of the story than it is to the reader (i.e. certain scientific realities that you want to stick to but that the reader would just bogged down in)?


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ambongan
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I'm not afraid of prologues, but in this case I'm not sure it would work as one. It might work as a "note from the author" or some such.

Don't worry about the map's accuracy. I have spent a long time making it completely accurate. I'm a map geek too.

The information is key to understanding some parts of the story. It has great impact. However, it is also -in- the story and I fear people will not like it if I use give the same information twice.

The relatoin ship between the planets is crutial. Only two are visited, but the third has a big role too, especually in the back story.

I had other information that was good for me, like differences in length of days, years, etc, between the planets, but everyone who read it said it was not necessary. So I took all that stuff out and left only what was needed for the story.

The readers who have so far read parts of my story are devided. Some say I need to have more, others say I do a great job and can even delay some information. That is why I assume I have found a balance.

If I do put in my background summary as a prologue, will that insult experianced readers?


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autumnmuse
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Have you thought about having an appendix? I have read several authors who do them successfully. Often an appendix will have name pronunciations or definitions of words the authors coined, maps, or like Tolkien, additional information/stories. Maybe what you have will work that way.
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Kolona
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quote:
some readers don't catch on

Some readers will never catch on, and you'll never get all readers to catch on. If you have most, you're probably fine.

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Robyn_Hood
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When you do your editting and revising, are you doing it all directly on the computer?

Sometimes, even if you have read and re-read a soft copy and hard copy, make changes, tweek things, etc., you can miss things.

If you're unsure about how certain information fits, try re-typing the scene, page, chapter or even the whole story. This is something that has worked for me on occasion. It forces you to really look at every word, evaluate all the information you have and how you present it. It isn't a quick or easy answer but it works for some people.

Sort of along the same lines, when was the last time you printed off a hardcopy, waited a week or so without looking at the story at all, then read it from beginning to end as a reader? Don't sit down with a pen. Don't make notes in the margins. Just read it. See how it hits you. Then re-read it and make some notes. Do you find the text raises questions? Does it feel redundant or are you starved for info?

autumnmuse had a good suggestion. An appendix could let your readers discover more of the background at their leisure or allow them to reference things that interest them.

Although it doesn't work quite the same in modern lit, I love footnotes and endnotes when reading historical novels (i.e. The Three Musketeers saga by Alexandre Dumas, pere, or Les Miserables by Victor Hugo). Some of the references go over my head so I enjoy familliarizing myself with things the original audience would have known.


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djvdakota
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Maybe just three or four sentences on a lead-in page (kind of a mini-prologue) that clearly mentions all three planets and their relationship to each other.

Kinda like the Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away... bit from Star Wars.


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punahougirl84
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Ambongan - borrow a copy of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. Read the "Introduction" (it is very short, and provides info that is useful to the reader, and comes up much later in the story...) and the rest if you like (I recommend it). I think it might give you a great example for what you are trying to do. I'd have posted a link to it, but the Borders site starts with Chapter 1.

The book seems to be fantasy, but really the whole series is truely science fiction (most accurately called science fantasy, but only because the setting seems fantasy-like - don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read her books).

I hope it helps.


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HSO
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I still think including your map is a good idea. I, for one, am interested! More maps! More maps! More maps!

Maps rock.


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SamiJo
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I always think maps are a good idea, they allow readers to familiarize themselves with the setting. True, most people will just skip over it. However, if there are parts in your story that might leave the reader a bit confused, they will always have the map as a reference.

If most people you've had read it say they understand it, great. I feel that's all you need. As stated by others, many readers just won't get it, and that's not necessarily your fault.


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Survivor
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Differences in day length are critical, and can easily be included.

Also, three planets in the same system will have noticibly different climates, and will probably also have different gravities and atmospheric mixtures. Imagine traveling to a planet with a third more gravity, eh? Of course, heavier planets will tend to have denser atmospheres and thus more oxygen even if the actual percentage is a bit lower. But if you met someone from a heavier gravity planet, you would notice the differences pretty quick.

Atmospheric and weather differences can matter even more, though. For starters, one of these planets is going to be a lot more Earth-like than the other two. And for there to be three habitable planets in the same system, at least two have been heavily terraformed (I'd say all three, but who really knows?).

If anyone reading your story can't tell instantly that there is more than one planet involved, then you just aren't doing your job.


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QuantumLogic
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quote:
And for there to be three habitable planets in the same system, at least two have been heavily terraformed (I'd say all three, but who really knows?).
If your sun is capable of having habitable planets at all, it will probably have at least one (based on our system, and the fact that Mars would be habitable if it were big enough. The extra-solar planets they've found don't count statistically, since current technology only allows them to find the exceptions.) Considering that most of the planets in our solar system have orbits that are very close to circular, and that there are several planets in our solar system, I would expect that most solar systems would have a fair number of planets in roughly circular orbits, and most of them would have day lengths that allow for life. Usually only one will be habitable, sometimes two, very occasionally three. This story does not require terraforming, although it would help if there were some explanation (such as these people having explored the whole galaxy).

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Survivor
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But I doubt that the native environment on any given life-bearing planet would be particularly hospitible to humans. After all, the natural environments in many life bearing habitats on Earth are not very "habitable" to us. Even if the indigenous ecology is very complex, I would doubt that any alien planet would provide well for humans.

I meant that different day lengths would be plot critical, not that they would be important for habitability. Frankly, any day length whatsoever (including infinite, as for a gravitationally locked planet) could be compatible with life depending on the planets other parameters. But the length of days on different planets could and almost certainly would differ by significant amounts, and even if the amount was just a few hours more or less, people would notice (I might not, but I'm not all people).


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EricJamesStone
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quote:
Considering that most of the planets in our solar system have orbits that are very close to circular, and that there are several planets in our solar system, I would expect that most solar systems would have a fair number of planets in roughly circular orbits...

I don't think that expectation makes sense.

Yes, eight out of nine planets in our solar system have nearly circular orbits, but that doesn't imply that most solar systems would have planets in circular orbits.

If Jupiter's orbit were highly elliptical -- which is not unlikely, considering the fact that we have detected extrasolar gas giants in highly elliptical orbits -- then it would be difficult for any of the other planets to maintain stable orbits.

For an interesting news article discussing differences between our solar system and others discovered so far, see
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3532440.stm

The story does note that the observational technique used to discover extrasolar planets is biased toward discovering large gas giants in highly elliptical orbits. I'm not saying that there aren't other solar systems out there with several planets in near-circular orbits. I'm just saying that it's probably true that the small, rocky planets will be in circular orbits only if all the gas giants are.


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ambongan
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As far as the three planets goes, it does not have to be likely, only possible.]

It is.


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Survivor
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Heck, you could have ten or fifteen, if the star were big enough and the right spectral class.

Eric is right that many systems will have a massive object in an elliptical orbit, which will ruin the chances of finding many rocky planets in round orbits. But I think that it does make sense to expect that most stellar systems are circular and have distributed planets. And it is important to note that if there were a stellar system essentially identical to our own about 50 light years away (that's very close) our current methods would have almost no chance of detecting any planets (including the Jupiter/Saturn equivalents), as Eric has mentioned.

It appears that near misses between stars and supermassives are pretty rare, though they certainly do happen. Since that is the primary candidate for how a stellar system could end up with a non-distributed pattern, it makes sense to expect that non-distributed systems are the exceptions rather than the rule...at least, until we have the ability to spot distributed systems with confidence.


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