One of the most difficult things to nail in writing, I’ve found, is establishing setting. If a world is different from our own, it’s very tempting to “info dump” and try to establish as much as possible right up front so that everything is understood. It’s been fairly well established that this is bad form and not the way that writing should happen. It’s boring to read and unrealistic to an extreme. The balancing act between introduction and story can be difficult.
There is another method, however–and I almost dislike it more than info dumping.
I’ve mentioned The Black Jewels trilogy in my posts before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever touched on the one reason I almost never read them.
The very first book in the trilogy, Daughter of the Blood, begins in a court with a prophecy. And suddenly I’m launched into a whole prologue of terms I don’t know. Blood as they are Blood. Blood-Jeweled lords and ladies. Something called the Craft, and the Twisted Kingdom… I was utterly lost. Three pages in, and I had no idea what anything was, what anything meant, what I was supposed to be paying attention to. I tried several times and just gave up. I couldn’t do it.
I messaged my friend who’d given me the books, trying to figure out why he’d put me through this madness. “Just keep trying,” he insisted. “Give it a chance. It’ll get explained as it goes.” So I stuck it out, and sure enough, I did eventually get the hang of the story.
However, there isn’t a proper explanation until the middle of book three. Yes, the last book in the trilogy. And this is my frustration.
This isn’t the first book which has employed what I consider “instant immersion.” Books which toss you in and expect you to know exactly what the world is and how it all works–or rather, expect you to figure it out as you go. There’s something to be said for treating your readers as smart people who can understand clues, but it’s something else entirely to toss your reader into the deep end and expect them to swim. I end up spending too much time asking myself “wait, who is that?” and “was I told that term? I don’t remember that term” and “how many different places are there now?” that I can’t focus on the story itself. It’s the easiest way for me to lose interest in a book: confusing me too much that the plot is lost.
Now, I know that not everyone agrees with me. I’ve spoken to people who love the concept of instant immersion and figuring out the world as they go. The challenge and intrigue of it appeals to them. Absolutely, to each their own. I just can’t personally do it. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve been told too many times by writing teachers to establish the setting first and not lose my readers. Is that a rule meant to be broken? Maybe. It’s up to each individual author, I suppose. I’m just not one who can do it.
I’m interested to know what you all think. What are some books which have instantly immersed you? Did they work or not? What are your thoughts on the matter in general? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear from you.