Don’t get technical with me! — C-3PO
Some readers are content with a reasonably-plausible fantasy world (or just a well-written one, plausible or no.) I’m detail-oriented, so I enjoy a world that’s thoughtfully made, with explanations available if I’m curious enough to seek them. Here’s an example:
In Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor series, the planet Majipoor is many times the size of Earth, with Earth-like conditions, and giant oceans. The inquisitive (dare I say nerdy?) reader may be asking themselves, how is this giant planet physically possible? The answer: a severe depletion of metals, making the planet much less dense than Earth. (This fact generates a whole suite of conditions: a lack of metal-based technology, an astronomical value on what little metal exists, a dependence on other minerals for building materials and tools, and more.)
Majipoor’s planetary composition isn’t pivotal to the main plot, but it does explain why a technologically-advanced society (hello, mind-transference) travels between continents in sailing ships, harkening back to 18th century Earth. I marvel at how one simple change, a lack of metals, so greatly impacts the setting! It’s brilliant. (Please go read Lord Valentine’s Castle. You’re welcome.)
Now for a personal example. I started developing what became the world of Olivyn a decade ago, in 2007. In 2008, I wrote an extremely short story (I believe the proper term is micro-fiction), set in Olivyn. I was excited, for while my previous attempts were more snippets than anything substantial, this one came out (more or less) fully-formed. I included some details (but not many) about an object found in the story, and its proper name. The details were technical, but described in plain language, to sketch the object’s appearance. A knowledgable reader would know what I was referring to; everyone else would have at least a basic visual. (I hoped.)
My most trusted reader at the time protested these details, and advised against getting “too technical” (scientific?) in my descriptions and names. They insinuated I would lose readers. (Side note: I no longer trust this person or their opinions on anything, for reasons I won’t go into here.)
Greatly discouraged, I filed my little story, and the setting as a whole, away for many years. I resurrected Olivyn in November 2016 for NaNoWriMo, because I was still thinking about it, several years later. More recently, after relating the above experience to my best friends (fellow Wrimos), I hesitantly sent over the short story, as they were curious to see what was so “technical”. Much to my surprise, they relayed back that not only did they enjoy the story’s details, they had a nerd-fight over what exactly those details implied, did some Googling of the object’s proper name, and fell down a rabbit hole of delightful imagery. (I admit, the nerd-fighting pleases me no end.)
So, thus encouraged, I’m back to plinking away at Olivyn, resolving the timeline of historical events, figuring out what characters fit where and when, and developing all aspects of the world. It’s a joy to dive back in. I’m continuing that development for Camp NaNoWriMo this month. And yes, I’m working on all the details, because someone might want them later, and they won’t hurt the readers that don’t need them.
If you’re wondering what I’m on about, that’s okay! I hope you like this world I’m building. I promise, no story I write will require in-depth understanding of mineralogy, geology… or any -ology. Stories are built on great characters and plotting, conflict and action. I appreciate hard science fiction, where science and technology take center stage, but I vastly prefer space opera.
However, if you enjoy obscure facts about fictional settings — perhaps you’ve bickered with a friend over nitpicky Harry Potter stuff — HELLO, YOU ARE MY PEOPLE. These details I’m working on are for you. (Actually, that’s not true. They’re primarily for me. But I hope you like them too!)