Balance: Narrative, World Building, and Backstory

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Progress on my latest version of book two in the Swords & Shields series is going very well.  I’ve done some major cutting and rewriting over the past year and it’s vastly improved the book.  My latest task in the revision process is to add back in a little bit of a planning scene and it’s gotten me thinking about the balance every author has to strike between their narrative, world building, and character backstory.

In this equation, the narrative is by far the most important.  That is the story you are telling right now.  The rest doesn’t really matter if the narrative gets lost.  Character backstory can also be important, but a little can go a very long way most of the time.  World building information has been my struggle with book two.  Because this is a modern day fantasy there’s some terminology that’s not familiar to the average reader, so I’m having to include enough context for readers to pick up on the meaning on the new words.  This goes well enough for vocabulary, but world building can come in many forms.

World building includes everything about your world.  Why do people act as they do, live where they do, or have the jobs that they do?  How is society structured?  Even a setting that is largely based on our own reality relies on world building to define certain relationships and facets of the world.  Social and political relationships can be especially tricky to properly describe to readers.

As an author, I’m trying very hard to make sure that the narrative is getting the proper treatment as the primary part of the novel, while not excluding so much of the world building that readers get confused.  That can lead to some very specifically designed scenes, which is not my strong suite as a writer.  I much prefer to let the scenes evolve and grow with the story rather than write something very specific to fill a very specific hole.  If I’m lucky, my readers will never be able to pick out which scenes are the ones I’ve struggled to add in and which ones I’ve whittled down from earlier more rambling versions.

I’d love to hear how you strike a balance between your narrative and the world building and backstory.  It can be a struggle to get the balance exactly right in any given book so I’m always looking for new ways to look at the problem and new techniques to try out.

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