Explaining stuff

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by lazykbys_left, Jul 20, 2008.

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  1. lazykbys_left

    lazykbys_left Jedi Padawan star 4

    Feb 17, 2005

    I've been going through my non-SW plot bunnies in anticipation of the Non-Star Wars Fan Fiction forum and realized that most of them are for fandoms that I doubt any of you JCers have even heard of. I suspect this means few people will bother to read them.

    Not that I'm going to refrain from writing them, of course. But it does mean that I have to explain quite a few things - the basic story premise, character relations, ordinary Japanese life, etc. - if I want to keep the few readers I'll get.

    Which brings me to the topic of this thread:

    How do you decide if something gets explained or not in your fics?

    For example (and switching from non-SW to SW to avoid the Mods' wrath :D ) since the JC boards are for SW fans, I doubt that anyone who comes here needs the Force explained to them. Also, unless they've been living under a rock for the past thirty years, they should be aware of who the main movie characters are.

    But for some of the lesser-known characters, a sentence or two might be needed to avoid confusion. For example, people who are not familiar with the JJK may not realize that Jedi Master Ikrit is a large talking rabbit.

    On the other hand, I've seen it stated here and there that people generally don't read things unless they already know who the characters are. And even if they haven't read the books (or played the games, etc.), finding out is a simple matter here.

    As you can see, I'm now thoroughly confused on the issue and would appreciate any thoughts you would be willing to share on this matter.

    - lazy
  2. Juliet316

    Juliet316 Chosen One star 10

    Apr 27, 2005
    It's something a lot of us who write crossovers deal with. How to explain who characters from other fandoms are that probably have never heard of these characters without derailing the story or stalling the momentum.
  3. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Mar 1, 2002
    Since I have friends who read my stories and don't have the background in the non-movie characters (Mara, Jacen, Xanatos, etc), I usually put in some character development or background into the storyline to help flesh them out. But not a data dump! Avoid that at all costs!

    You can put a lot about the character in words here and there to give a flavor of who the characters are and what their histories are. Also when the main characters react to the less known characters, you can imply a lot.

    For backgrounds on location/culture/etc, I tend to put a little bit more into it but again it's scattered in the storyline so that it flows and reads better.

    But I would definitely put some background in so that people will get some idea of what's going on.

  4. RX_Sith

    RX_Sith C&G Game Host star 6 VIP - Game Host

    Mar 13, 2006
    Well, the main thing I would say is to not really worry about explaining stuff. Just write the story and you will either get readers or you won't. Most other stories are going to be about one particular movie or TV series. So, if you write Japanese anime, Serenity/Firefly, Stargate, Star Trek, Alias, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the other numerous popular ones out there then you already have an audience that likes that particular show.

    So, they are going to know beforehand what type of weapon, plot device, or whatever that has been used in each show. If you want to go into an explanation of a certain tech or something that is used in that particular universe then I would make it as short as possible as to not derail your story or your readers.
  5. ardavenport

    ardavenport Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Dec 16, 2004
    Generally, I explain everything.......but without stopping to 'explain' everything.

    For writing any story, you generally don't want to take a paragraph or two just to describe something unless you really want to slow the story down. A lot. I generally don't do it unless a character is chained up in a cell and staring at the same walls for hours. Or days.

    I add the explanation as characters do something. Padme brushing out her long hair. Obi-Wan putting on his boots. Yoda filing his claws. You know that the characters have long hair and boots and claws, but because the characters are doing something with them, they automatically get 'explained' while still keeping the story moving.

    One convenient trick to writing well-known characters in a fandom that the reader may not know well is to switch the story POV to an OC who doesn't know anything about those characters. It can be interesting to even fans of those characters because you get a different perspective on them, but you can also introduce them to new readers.

    Another trick is to drastically change something about the character that the character is uncomfortable with and that draws the attention of the other characters in the story. Luke hasn't bathed in ten days and smells really bad. R2 has a short and is accidentally setting fires. Qui-Gon's skin and hair are dyed pink.

    Or you can put the character in a place where they just stand out in the crowd and describing the contrast is more natural in the narrative. Dooku dealing with a room full of muddy minions. Obi-Wan standing in a room where everything is black or dark gray. Anakin on a Wookiee ship.

    But if a reader is only in the mood for the characters they like there isn't much you can do if you don't have those characters in your story, so I don't worry about that.

  6. Katana_Geldar

    Katana_Geldar Jedi Grand Master star 8

    Mar 3, 2003
    There are two ways to explain stuff, out of universe in your initial post if you can't fit it in or within the story. The former method I would only use if it was essential to the story for both characters to know what's going on, the latter if I wanted to inform a character as well as the readers.

    Sometimes you can't get away from explainations though, even if you might want to. I remember in one of my fics I had to explain how a CO2 processing plant worked as it was integral to the story and not a very thoroughly covered topic in SW.

    EDIT: Remember also, George Lucas rarely explains things in the films unless it's important (like midi-chlorians), his approach is to have the audience sit there in the world he has created and watch what is going on. There's a lot of things in the SW that are not completely explained, like how lightsabers work for instance, and the HOW isn't important, the point is they DO work they're the bestest weapon out there that we all want to have.
  7. Alexis_Wingstar

    Alexis_Wingstar Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 16, 2006
    Sometimes it's best to just write the story. Sometimes questions can be answered by just good old fashioned story telling.
  8. Handmaiden_Azul

    Handmaiden_Azul Jedi Padawan star 4

    Dec 29, 2005
    I ran into this problem awhile back when writing a story, I just linked to a wikipedia/wookiepedia article on the character.
  9. 1Yodimus_Prime

    1Yodimus_Prime Jedi Master star 4

    Mar 13, 2004
    Well I think one thing all writers in any fanfiction strive to avoid is 'HEY, remember him/her?!' fests. And that's understandable, but there's the other direction to consider as well. Often, explanation is more detrimental than it is helpful to a story's goals. As writers of fanfiction, this truth is magnified - we are holders of reams and reams of unnecessary, irrelevent information on a given character. Knowing what to tell and what to leave out can be nearly impossible.

    What we have to remember is that readers don't need to know every detail of an established canon character simply because you do. Only the pertinent details. For instance, if I ever wrote something in Jasper Fforde's universe, it would be psychotic to try and explain Thursday Next's life. Her story is a continuity nightmare and would leave a reader more confused than knowledgable b the end. More important is to explain the one or two facets of her life that might be pertinent to the story. And even then, it might be beneficial to withold that info, depending on the kind of story.

    Rule of thumb: If you want your readers to not feel alienated, you should treat all preexisting characters as if you'd just invented them right then. It sounds egotistical, but it works, and that's more important.
  10. Katana_Geldar

    Katana_Geldar Jedi Grand Master star 8

    Mar 3, 2003
    Sometimes also with characters if you want them to have a history, you need to ESTABLISH that history. Take a few steps back in your story to make it earlier, or write another story and direct your readers to it.
  11. Corellian_Ale

    Corellian_Ale Manager Emeritus star 4 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Mar 3, 2008

    I think profic authors are the ones who set the bad example. EU authors in particular that can spend 1 -2 paragraphs recapping who these characters are, what makes them significant - and in the case of a series, what has occured thus far in the story. Either Zahn or one of the X-Wing authors I found make me nauseas with how much background they try to cram into a scene at times.

    In my first WIP I posted here, someone commented that I treat the reader as being intelligent, and not explaining things I shouldn't have to. in other words, I only went into detail and background on things I added to the genre, not what was already established. My contention is that if this person is a fan of a popular genre, or even if they are new to it, and we are NOT starting at the beginning of the overall story (here it would be Episode IV or I, pending how you look at it), there's no need to cover it all.

  12. Katana_Geldar

    Katana_Geldar Jedi Grand Master star 8

    Mar 3, 2003
    Point, Corellian ;)

    Sorry, can't get away with a Zahnism when you talk about Zahn.

    But you do have a fair point, that's what really gets my Wookiee when I read some novel, particularly if I read them one right after the other. The author spends a good deal of time rehashing the previous story which I had just finished reading! I always tell my readers when I get on to part two of a series to read the firts story, as I'm not retelling what happened before unless I have to.
  13. Lilith Demodae

    Lilith Demodae Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Oct 1, 1999
    Rehashing old stuff to the point of boredom is a good thing to avoid, but being lazy and skipping characterisation and world-building just because many of your readers are already familiar with both the characters and the world is another naughty habit.

    Whether I'm working in an original world or playing in Uncle George's sandbox, I like to try and spread my world building and characterisation throughout the story, working it in where it fits, rather than jamming it in a lump that distorts the story around it. This isn't always easy, and goodness knows I don't always succeed in getting a smooth story, but a slightly lumpy story is better than one where the author doesn't bother to describe things because (s)he assumes you already know.


    She stared out the window at Coruscant's spectacular skyline as the sun set.

    (Yes, we all know that Coruscant is pretty much a single city that has taken over every usable surface of the planet, but this sentence made the reader do the work.)

    She stared out the window, the setting sun casting the towering spires and delicate minarettes of the city as matt black shapes against the orange-rose sky.

    Granted there's no real world-building in the example, but you'd be amazed how much you can fit in simply by making a casual mention here or there. And the very casualness of it will tell your reader that it's normal, that it's the way things should be on this world.
  14. Katana_Geldar

    Katana_Geldar Jedi Grand Master star 8

    Mar 3, 2003
    Another thing you can do to remind people of things, even of a previous story, is to tell it from a character's POV, this is from The White Twi'lek and it shows the passage of time as well as what has happened sonce the last story:

    It had been about a year since he had got out of prison, nine months since his record had been cleared, and four months since Tira?s trial. Tira Sengel, his former girlfriend, murderer of his best friend and victim of the criminal organisation the Silver Ring, was serving her two sentences in a maximum security prison on Coruscant. Jali tried not to think about her, and in the months since he had set up his private detective agency it wasn?t that hard.
    Was it only seven months since he had been granted his license? It seemed much longer, even given the few cases that he had taken. A month after that he had set up his office in a mid-level building in Eastport. The rent was high, but that was the way it was on Coruscant. A Sullustan would even call it cramped, and there was the faint smell of rancid cheese that he hadn?t been able to banish.

    The rancid cheese smell gives it a little bit of realism IMHO
  15. furrylittlebantha

    furrylittlebantha Jedi Master star 3

    Dec 2, 2005
    I agree that working exposition into a story naturally is a good practice for any kind of writing. I see how your particular problem is unique, though, lazy. Fanfic generally has far less world building to do because other fans are the audience; the world's already established. To write fanfic for an audience unfamiliar with the setting or characters, you could argue it's hardly fanfic in some respects. Fanfics is a little like sequels. There's so much buildup you're freed from. That's part of the fun, at least to me. So when I say writing to a non-fan audience is more like writing original fic, I mean that you don't quite have the flexibility of fanfic anymore. Superhero move franchises are like that. A slice of their audience is diehard fans, but a large slice is a clueless public. There always has to be an origin story first, before the action really takes off in the sequals. I'm not saying there isn't need for exposition, characterization, setting, etc. in fanfic. It's absolutely necessary, and obviously in some fics more than others. There's just (usually) more of it in original fiction.

    If you're okay with re-building up your universe for us, that's cool, and more power to you. Here's a hare-brained idea, though: what if, instead of a lengthy author's note at the beginning, or a link to a ponderous wiki article, you write a concise but thorough of who/what/where/context/etc., tailored to what they need to know for your story. Link to that. Or how about this: we have a thread, kind of like the Prolific Writer's thread, where each fandom gets a post or something. This way, the people who already know what's up can skip the intro, and those who are already fans of your writing but need backstory for the new material can catch up, your way. Just a thought.
  16. Persephone_Kore

    Persephone_Kore Jedi Master star 4

    Jan 19, 2006
    It's true that fanfic generally requires less world-building, and aside from taking shortcuts, sometimes you can get a really neat effect by leaving a lot of the significance unsaid, so that one has to know the canon and where the fic is supposed to fit to really get it.

    I disagree with the idea that fanfic for an audience of non-fans is any less fanfic, though. Some of the best fanfics I've read have been very accessible to people who've never tried the source material, or who simply aren't familiar with a particular segment of it. My first fandom was X-Men comics; it's pretty easy to read those for a while and still have no idea what happened in someone else's favorite storyline that took place a few years before you started, and you may or may not be able to find the issues you want once you find out it exists. I've gone looking for books because someone wrote a good fanfic and got me interested, and I read fanfic for a handful of TV shows that I have no plans at all to watch.

    I think the comparison to sequels is a good one, but I think I'd look at another side of it. You can do less worldbuilding... but if you want to maximize your possible audience, you'll make an effort to make your sequels reasonably accessible to people who might see a newer book on the shelf without the older one, and who either don't realize it's a sequel or don't mind picking up mid-series. A good author can set things up so that there's enough information that a new reader who's willing to be reasonable about not knowing everything can pick up in the middle of a series and still follow what's going on, without putting in so many infodumps as to annoy a returning reader who's willing to be reasonable about the possibility that some people will come in late or need to be reminded where they left off. Some authors are more graceful about this than others, and there are different methods which may appeal more or less to one reader or another.

    *considers* It can be a bit like starting in medias res, actually. In fanfic, it's true that you don't have to do all of the worldbuilding, but even if you're writing strictly for other avid fans you'll have to give enough cues along the way to let people know where and when you've set your fic, much as with an original story you have to drop cues to explain what the heck is going on. ;) Perhaps writing fanfic for an audience who's not in the fandom is more like starting an AU in the middle of things and working back and around to show how things split off.

    Superhero movies are an interesting example. I was about to say that the first X-Men movie didn't really bother with an origin story, but then I remembered that while it doesn't follow the creation of the X-Men, it does introduce them through the eyes of newcomers, which is probably close enough for your purposes. I would note, though, that sometimes a lot of the appeal to people who are already fans is the idea of seeing classic moments on the big screen, and the origins often are among those classic moments, as well as being easier to recreate as something comparatively self-contained than the often more episodic later storylines. How that relates to fanfic, I... actually am not sure. Although I guess there's some connection to retelling favorite scenes through a particular favorite/alternate point of view.

    Anyway, I think my actual advice would be... not to worry about it too much. If you originally wrote your stories so that the effect of the story is absolutely dependent on what you don't say that canon does, on the reader making the connection, perhaps on the shock of the reader making the connection that is not initially obvious... then your audience at the NSWFF will be limited, though you may be able to expand it a bit with a carefully crafted summary (at the possible risk of ruining the Oh-so-THAT'S-it moment).

    If you just wrote them assuming people would know what's going on, you can either supply a summary (or glossary) of canon or take your chances with people figuring o
  17. Thorn058

    Thorn058 Jedi Master star 3

    Jul 28, 2008
    I have always believed that when you are writing something you have two paths to choose. On the one hand you can stay true to your own vision for your story. The next is writing for your audience. The latter be the tougher of the two because sometimes the sudience isn't going to get it. In today's society reading is falling by the wayside as is the use of language. We are constantly dumbing things down to the point were it becomes ridiculous. There is talk of changing the spelling of certain words in the english language simply because they think it is too hard for people to learn the words like soldier and monkey are not spelled soulja and munkee. My point being write for you, set the bar to which you want your readers to reach.

    As far as explaining things or details. I for one have a mind that what I read I visualize and if it is rich in description so much the better. Now I am not talking about two pages describing a simply chair but rather giving me a mental image of what the scene holds. As far as mainstream authors who right books for lucasfilm ie Zahn, Traviss, Allison, Stackpole. These authors write serials and while they are hoping you have read previous books they cant take the chance so the have to give you a retelling of previous books. Many times they are hoping the title catchs your eye and you buy book four and then go back and get earlier novels. Most of the time I will skip over rehashing of the previous books and start into the new.

    I guess my point here is that explaining isn't a bad thing. at least not to me.
  18. C1-J2

    C1-J2 Jedi Youngling star 3

    May 16, 2007
    I tend to switch back and forth between explaining too much and not enough, though I've gotten much better about the former. I've gotten complaints on other sites in different fandoms about how I didn't give enough backstory. Usually though, if I don't give the backstory I find it irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make. I wrote a death scene in a another fandom, where I never told the reader how the character died. The point of the fic was to be an introspection about his life and his last words to his best friend. It was an experimental story and knowing the "how" wasn't as necessary as knowing the mental turmoil he was going through. Explanation would have changed the feel of the fic.

    The other thing I usually do is withhold details from the reader. The first few paragraphs in my stories often don't even say which character it is I'm speaking of. I'll slowly give out the little details, like eye and hair color and gender, just to see how long it would take the reader to realize who I'm talking about. Instead of saying:

    He has brown hair, blue eyes, and his tunic is always spotless. He is also the master to the greatest Padawan in the Jedi Temple, Anakin Skywalker.

    I would say:

    A soft breeze ruffled his brown hair as he stood on the ledge outside of the window. His blue eyes gleamed in the moonlight as he peered into the room. As he climbed through the window, his clean tunic brushed against the window sill leaving streaks of dirt across it.

    "Sithspit," he whispered.

    "Master? What are you doing?" Anakin asked, watching Obi-Wan sneak into their shared apartment after hours.

    Not the greatest example, but you get everything in the first version and more. Giving lots of facts at the same time breaks up the flow. If there is the chance that someone reading won't know who you're talking about, I'd say go ahead and give a brief fact about the character, if it fits at the moment of introduction (or later on). I write about Revan from Kotor a lot, which a lot of people don't know as well. Since it's usually from Carth's POV about Revan being his wife, I'll have him think or say something about how he still can't picture her as the Sith Lord everyone says she once was. The reader knows that she was once a Sith Lord, and now, at least from what Carth thinks, she no longer is.

    That's my main writing style. I think a lot of it depends on how the author writes and what exactly the topic is that needs to be discussed. If the story involves something highly intellectual, I would have say Qui-Gon explain it in a simpler form to Obi-Wan, rather than put it in the description. A lot of times I think the character can give a better explanation than the narrator.
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