This past week I did a major edit of my novel to get it ready for submission to editors. It ended up taking me quite awhile. I added two new scenes and had to go through each chapter to make sure every little detail was in place. No, this wasn't a line edit. It was something far more difficult.
A world building edit.
I did not make this book easy for myself when I set the story in this world. The religion is complicated, the plot even more complicated and don't even get me started on the map (Which is in a clock, by the way. If this book ever gets published, brace yourself for clock puns). Its not an easy world to ground a reader in without an info dump.
Never in my life have I had to so meticulously try to avoid info dumps. I have used ever possible venue to try not to be boring when I dispense important world information. I inject a lot of humor into the situation. I add banter. I put an action scene in the middle of the explanation so that the plot keeps advancing. I feel like an acrobat doing jumps and contortions around the inevitable info dump.
Any writer of fantasy knows: world building is hard. Its hard because you don't know how much information is too much. Its hard because there is a time and a place for each element of the world to be revealed and it must be revealed at exactly the right moment. Its hard because the reader must feel absolutely grounded in the world in order to go along with the plot and characters.
Sometimes we really just want to sneak in a chapter on 'everything you need to know about my world before we continue' similar to the chapter on whaling in Moby Dick or 'Concerning Hobbits' in Lord of the Rings. Why can't we just go Victor Hugo on the reader and say, "Enough with the story! Time for a history lesson on the Battle of Waterloo! You don't want to hear about the detailed back story of this nunnery or the construction of the sewer system in Paris? Well too bad! I'm Victor Hugo! I can do what I want!"
Alas, we are no Victor Hugo, and we are not allowed the grace of an info dump. So we must delicately weave the thread of our world into the tapestry of our novel, hoping that we are giving just the right amount of information. For all my writing friends out there trying to write in a unique fantasy world, keeping soldiering on. Its an uphill battle your fighting, but it will all be worth it if you get it just right!