Life Defined

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Guest Post: World-building and Things Readers Never Need to See

 Greetings, Blogarrati (and a wonderful Tuesday morning to all)!

Today we are graced with a guest post on world-building and extraneous 'writerly' details by speculative fiction author and game enthusiast, R.S. Hunter. His next work - The Exile's Violin - will be published through Hydra Publications later this year. So without further ado, I invite you to pull up a chair, don your favorite top hat, and enjoy Mr. Hunter's exploration with world-crafting:

Worldbuilding and Things Readers Never Need to See
by R. S. Hunter 

You know what’s one the biggest things that drew me to science fiction and fantasy (speculative fiction) in the first place? It’s the worldbuilding. I have a feeling it’s the same for many authors and readers out there. Speculative fiction lets you take familiar things and give them an unfamiliar twist or create something entirely new from scratch.

Look at some of the biggest franchises out there: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or more recently Dragon Age. All of these franchises have extensive worlds and universes behind them that permeate the main stories. Sometimes, when it comes to speculative fiction the background stuff turns out to be more interesting than the main story. (Side bar: I really hope readers won’t end up feeling that way about The Exile’s Violin)

However, worldbuilding isn’t always about letting your creative side off the leash. When you’re creating a fictional universe you walk a delicate tightrope. Give the reader too little and they won’t know what the hell is going on. There’s nothing worse than reading some fantasy novel and it throws dozens of names and terms at you but barely acknowledges them at all. But on the other hand, give the reader too much, and your book turns into a bunch of wanker-y prose designed to beat the reader over the head with how clever you are. If an author put in every bit of info that they created for their world into the actual novel, readers wouldn’t read it.

For some fun examples, let’s look at some of the documents and sketches I created for The Exile’s Violin that will never make it into the finished book.

The Exile's Violin Timeline Notes


Despite its steampunk aesthetics, The Exile’s Violin is not set in Victorian Britain (Neo- or otherwise). It’s set in a fictional world called Tethys (no relation to Saturn’s moon). Since the story’s set in a fictional world, I had to create continents, countries, rivers, mountains, etc. I had a blast doing it. I even ended up drawing battle maps for wars that happened decades before the events in the novel! But the reader doesn’t need to know the exact order of battle for a skirmish that has no bearing on the main plot. If I included some of this stuff, nobody would care.

A lot of the plot of The Exile’s Violin takes place in a city called Vorleaux, which happens to be the capital of the Republic of Alesir. That’s pretty much all the reader needs to know about the city. As the author, I have three different maps of the city, one with streets and important locations, another out of date one, and finally one that has different neighborhoods and districts color-coded according to their levels of affluence. Again the reader doesn’t need to know about any of this. If I spent a couple of paragraphs describing the different neighborhoods, 9 out of 10 people would stop reading. Then that 10th person would probably give up somewhere further down the line.

Vorleaux Street Map



Great characters don’t just appear. They have be molded and shaped. Sometimes they have to be allowed to run wild through your manuscript. At the end of the day, hopefully you’ll have some great, memorable characters that the readers fall in love with. But do the readers need to see all that molding and shaping that goes on behind the scenes? Hell no! To me it’d be like watching a psychotic surgeon cobble a person together.

I have files and files among my documents that represent all the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting I put into creating my characters. Sometimes writers use character templates, but they’re nothing the reader needs to see. Plus do they really need to know that I filled in a section all about my main character’s favorite foods? No, not really. 


I tend to sketch a lot when I’m writing, terrible doodles mostly. As I was working on The Exile’s Violin I was in the middle of taking some boring classes in college. I have notebooks filled with American history notes and drawings of airships and other mechanical wonders. However, unless you’re putting out a picture book, chances are the reader will never see these sketches. (That’s what blogs are for!) Still, I found drawing settings, scenes, bits of technology really helped me put all the things I saw in my head down on the page.

War Machines

All of the extraneous bits of stuff that got created alongside The Exile’s Violin interest me because I’m the one responsible for it all. Readers who don’t have a vested interest in my book/world/characters (yet)? Not so much. Worldbuilding is a fun exercise, but at the same time, I don’t think I want readers to see all the bits of tape, nails, staples, and wishes that hold everything together.

Kenestan Battleship

About the Author:    

R.S. Hunter fell in love with science fiction when he watched Star Wars with his grandmother as a small child. From then on there was no turning back. To escape suburban life he turned to stories that took him on wild adventures through time, space, worlds both real and imagined. While he knows space combat won’t work the same way as it does in the movies, he still hopes that someday he’ll get his own X-Wing or TARDIS.

His short fiction has appeared in anthologies like Abaculus III, Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions, and the forthcoming In Situ. One reviewer commented that his story “Strike Breakers” from 20,001 A Steampunk Odyssey gave “an unsettling but profoundly necessary foundation to the prettier ideas of steampunk […] because it shows us that it’s not just gleaming brass.” Hunter’s tales love to answer the question “What if?” and they rarely end well for the protagonist.

He lives in San Diego and can be found on Twitter @RSHunter88 or reached via email at rshunter (at) rshunter-author (dot) com.

R.S. Hunter


  1. What a wonderful look behind the scenes! I love the depth of thought that went into figuring out all the little machines. Thanks, Bobby and Rachel, for sharing this with us!

  2. Fantastic points and love the sketches!

  3. Thank you for visiting, Barbara and Raven! Indeed - Mr. Hunter did a wonderful job portraying the 'behind-the-scenes' work that goes into planning a novel. It makes me wonder about all the side stories that have been developed through the drafting of some of my favorite pieces. And to think that we may never know any of them!


  4. This is a very helpful fact. I've noticed this as well. I read some books where they say things like, "And he was from this place." And you have a feeling it is important but you don't know why, so you end up lost. Also, I've read some books with so much information it is like reading a history book. I never make it far with those books. ;-D


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