Best Practices: Deep Lore and World Building

How do we enrich with world-building without slowing pace? Especially in fantasy and science fiction where, in addition to advancing plot and character, many lines must also orient or explain? We all know about dreaded block text, using “the new guy” to give tours, and avoiding “as you know, Bob.” However, show-don’t-tell seems hardest in worlds where even the building blocks of “show” require explanation.

I’m all about helping the next person, but also want to master my own scenecraft. So, in the interest of gaining secrets, I offer some. To start us off:

  1. Remembering. I saw this used frequently in “Pon Para.” In a choice dropdown, one is something like, “Wait, what do I know about [blank]?” where “blank” is the person, place, or thing in question. This only works for a certain kind of narrative but, with use of *disable_reuse, *if, and *selectable_if, you can allow people to gain lore who want or need it without slowing those who don’t.
'Remembering' example.

Should we kill this evil weevil?
*label evil_weevil
*choice
#Wait, what do I know about this evil weevil, again?
Exposition disguised as MC remembering.
#Yes!
*goto kill_evil_weevil
#No?
*goto spare_evil_weevil

  1. Optional expounding. I use this a lot in my WiP. 4 choices in a *choice block, where the first three add lore with a *goto that places the reader at a *label before the *choice. With *disable_reuse, the choices grey out as they’re selected until they’re exhausted. I use it enough that my readers are trained to know that if they select the fourth option, the *goto moves the scene forward.
Optional expounding example.

*label ancient_pottery
*choice
#Ancient pottery question 1.
Exposition hidden as explanation, dialogue, or conflict.
*goto ancient_pottery
#Ancient pottery question 2.
Exposition hidden as explanation, dialogue, or conflict.
*goto ancient_pottery
#Ancient pottery question 3.
Exposition hidden as explanation, dialogue, or conflict.
*goto ancient_pottery
#If I hear anything else about ancient pottery, I’m going to scream.
Scene transition text.
*goto post_ancient_pottery

  1. Mandatory expounding. This is a variation of 2, when I want the reader to select each thing. I add a temp to the block heading.
    *temp this_lore_meter 0
    *label this_lore
    *choice
    Then, after each selection in the #choice dropdown, I add two lines, one that increases the meter by one and one that returns the reader to the branch. I try not to overuse this as it can get tedious, since the choice is artificial, but there is more interaction. So:
    #choice
    Text.
    *set this_lore_meter +1
    *goto this_lore
    It’s important to put the *label AFTER the *temp, or the *temp will keep resetting and you’ll never achieve a count. This all allows me to add choices when the player has picked enough of what I want them to with:
    *if (this_meter = 3) #choice
Mandatory expounding example.

*temp forest_danger_lore_meter 0
*label forest_danger_lore
*choice
#1st forest danger.
Exposition disguised as conflict, dialogue, or explanation.
*set forest_danger_lore_meter +1
*goto forest_danger_lore
#2nd forest danger.
Exposition disguised as conflict, dialogue, or explanation.
*set forest_danger_lore_meter +1
*goto forest_danger_lore
#3rd forest danger.
Exposition disguised as conflict, dialogue, or explanation.
*set forest_danger_lore_meter +1
*goto forest_danger_lore
*if (forest_danger_lore_meter = 3) #Damn, this forest sounds super dangerous.
It is. Let’s go in.
*goto next_scene

  1. Time dilation. This is less code than literary device (which everyone has an opinion about), but I saw Malin Ryden use this a lot in “Fallen Hero,” as well as Kyle Marquis in “Night Road.” It’s time dilation, flashback, or flashforward, usually immediately after a cliff hanger. Done poorly, it makes prose clunky. However, you can move the reader realistically to a time when they didn’t know what they now do, so that the PC can experience in “real time” with them. For some, time jumps break immersion. But they can be really effective in at least 2 major ways. First, you’re not having people tell each other what they already know for the player’s benefit. Second, when you return from flashback, you can return to a further period in time which allows you to jump plot forward by skipping boring transition stuff.

I have a few more things, but I don’t want to monopolize the conversation. Plus, I’d like to learn. Hope this helps someone. Cheers! :beers:

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Something to add: There’s also the 3 types of knowledge in fiction:

Author knowledge, reader knowledge and character knowledge.

The author needs to know the most. Some stuff can be winged, but the stuff that is important (characters’ backstories, how plottwists come together etc, if some stuff makes sense at all (this means doing research)), how stuff works etc) Most of Author’s Knowledge are things that will never appear explicitly in text, but can show if the author got it wrong.

Example: You don’t need to give precise timetables for when the characters are traveling by train, (unless the time IS important to the plot) but you should know how long trains would approximately take for the distance.

Example two: If there’s a secret heir to the throne, the reader needs to learn about potential rumours the character might know.

As for the OPs post:

Not much a fan of ‘remembering’ when it’s tied to a choice. I’d say that kind of thing can be done in the narrative text.
Asking another character about things is usually better when you want to tie specific knowledge to a choice.

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Really good point, re: 3 types of knowledge.

I’ve seen some interesting design decisions playing on this distinction. The first that comes to mind is from the VtM games “Night Road” and “Out for Blood.” The player has been the option to toggle on or off “Storyteller Mode.” When on, the game will display immersion-breaking mechanics text, e.g. experience gains. In a way, the ability toggle achievement displays does this as well. It’s akin to IC-OOC (in-character, out-of-character) distinctions in roleplay.

I agree that “remembering” can break the 4th wall. I think subtle execution can be useful. Like, “I review my case file on the murder.” Probably, it’s much to do with consistent variety and a deft hand.

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Or
‘You wreck your brain about what you know about X’

and then giving a relevant rundown.

As for the types of knowledge:
Personally I’ve grown quite careful with keeping an eye on it, cause I read a few stories (usually regular novels) too many that had page after page in which the author went and detailed how a certain thing functioned, without any real relevance to the plot or anything, and it felt more like just showing off THAT they did the research. And on one occasion it was clear that it was showing off… and they got things wrong (this is why you don’t just rely on ONE source, people)

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*wrack

Personally I don’t really care too much about worldbuilding. If it comes up I’ll have an answer, otherwise I’m not spending any time fleshing out parts of the world that nobody’s gonna see.

A Kiss from Death has worldbuilding, but it’s completely incidental. There are explanations for almost everything if you’re looking for it but it’s almost always secondary to the focus on the characters. The most “expositiony” it gets is describing the gods of the world, but that has practical ramifications later when the player has to interact with them directly.

Even though Invite Only is set in 2012 New York, it also has some worldbuilding. The main character has a diary where they keep their thoughts, which you can find at any time in the stats screen. It offers extra detail if the player cares, otherwise it’s not in the way. There’s also the opportunity to think about aspects of the world in a subroutine between chapters. If you get to the end of a thread there’ll be a little bonus option in some choices you can make, though I’m still working on it.

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If I want unwanted input like that I’ll open w´Words and ask the paperclip, thank you very much.

But back on topic:

If you view worldbuilding like that, expect it to come back round and bite you in the arse. By experience handling worldbuilding like that leads to a certain detached sense towards the story and its characters, which commonly hinders and devalues the work.

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On my end, I adore worldbuilding and lore. It gives so much to a story if it is executed correctly. I don’t care if this is in a novel, a video game, or an interactive story. I would say, as far as my personal interests rest, knowing the lore and the world of your game/story is very important within fantasy and science fiction.

Writing what you know is easier in areas that are based on real-life or off of revisioned life experiences. Having magic, fantasy worlds, a train that goes between realities? Those are things that are harder to “know” as they don’t actually exist within our world.

I think part of my love of lore and worldbuilding lies in the fact I can’t actually visualize a scene I’m reading, so the extra lore and worldbuilding weaved into the story help draw me in deeper because it tells me more about what’s going on.

When it comes to exposition, remembering scenes are hit-and-miss. Sometimes it’s just thrown into our faces and jars me from the story. It’s usually better when the “remembering” parts come from conversations or from subtle observations that might be made.

Time Dilation. Now that’s a fun, new turn of phrase. And one I enjoy.

Flashbacks can provide a very good push forward in a story, I feel. Again, if done correctly. Fallen Hero did it well, from what I can recall. I’ll have to go back and read it again to be sure, though. I remember enjoying that particular story quite a lot.

As MeltingPenguins had stated, the three sorts of knowledge are also important. I have documents of stories I’ve worked on that are 40-70 pages filled with information about the world, the plot, characters – and most of it no one but me would know. I’m a heavy plotter, and it’s because of this I’ve taken a step back from my own Interactive Stories.

I was having a hard time figuring out how to actually plot an IF story, and my brain crashed rather spectacularly. Now I’m working on figuring out how to plot an IF story that has multiple, branching pathways – I’ve tried Twine, but I don’t like it.

I think the largest thing to consider, as far as lore and worldbuilding go, is the sort of story you’re telling. Some don’t need a lot of it (or much at all) while others would do with a lot more in it. I’m a fan of Wayhaven, for instance. Not for the characters or the romance, but for the way Wayhaven, the town itself, is made ‘real’ to me.

Bits and pieces of the town itself are sprinkled in with enough detail that I can think, ‘Yeah, that sounds like what I would recognize as a police station.’ Sometimes worldbuilding lies in the small details, from what I’ve experienced.

And with all the above done and said, I’ll leave this ungodly long post as is.

Have a wonderful day! :slight_smile:

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Lore is a slippery slope.

For me it’s important to know the feel of the world, what I want to bring across. As long as I know the flavor, the taste, the impression at the back of my mind the rest doesn’t really matter. I don’t have massive documents with details, I don’t know who or where or what, but I do know why. As long as I have a clear conception of “why” something is, the rest will come.

For me, building a world is like snowboarding off-pist. I know where I am, on top of a slope, I know where I am going, which is downhill. I know how, snowboard and not skies or a tobbogan. The rest? We’ll see. That unbroken snowy slope is what I need. No charted pists, no map-reader next to me. Just me and the snow and momentum.

Yeah, I am a pantser when it comes to the world, because whatever past me could come up with would not be as immersive as what current me could write. Why? Because it’s only when it’s needed in the story that it will be anything more than just background facts. This also leaves the world mutable and changing to me, and enables me to twist and form it as the plot progress. I don’t need to know. I thrive on not knowing.

Maybe that’s why I have such fun with Patreon questions and Lore dumps. I have to take all those feelings and impressions I have and make hard facts from them, not because they are needed in the story, but because people care enough to ask a question. If it matters to them, it matters to me, and so the world gets filled in in ways that might not have happened before. On there, the questions are trees and boulders, the things I could not predict, and new ways of looking at what’s inside my own head. It makes exploring my own world fun in a way that just writing it down for myself would never be.

However, I do know my plot by heart. Why people do what they do. I need to, in order to seed information, but most of the time that is not world related.

I think, in the end, do what you need to do to be able to write. There’s not a single right way to do this, just like there’s no right way to write a book.

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@will I’ve been known to wreck my brain from time to time! Would you classify AkfD as urban fantasy? I think that kind may be advantaged against “high fantasy” in world building because you’re still drawing heavily from the real world. Or maybe not? “He took his iPhone on his cyber-pegasus to the zoo to break up with his boyfriend.” Here, the reader probably knows what an iPhone, zoo, and boyfriend are, even if they don’t know what a cyber-pegasus is. It feels like world building gets harder the farther your departure from present reality. :iphone: :carousel_horse: :broken_heart:

This seems to become the case the longer you go and the more elaborate your work becomes. You open yourself up to breaks in logic and and to inconsistencies. E.g. in GoT why don’t the white walkers or wildlings go around the Wall? I was at a conference where Glen Cook said he never draws a map for precisely this reason. Another example that comes to mind is Steven Eriksen (a brilliant fantacist, went to Iowa Writers Workshop). He writes mostly stream-of-consciousness which mostly works for him, but Malazan fans were kind of upset when he lost an ottaral sword (negates magic). Just kind of lost track of it with everything going on. Which is totally feasible in his world and how it operates–shit happens. But people were sad about it. :cry: :shushing_face: :zipper_mouth_face: @MeltingPenguins

Not ungodly at all. Most gods seem prolix! Plus, I asked. So, thank you. I agree that Wayhaven did a particularly good job of establishing a concrete sense of place. It had to be believable as both a real town and one where some shady magical stuff was going on. I think the author really did herself a favor limiting her scope in this way. That way, she could focus on the gender-swap ROs and relationships, which are her centerpiece anyway. So, maybe that’s one of the better pieces of advice in here? Fantasy doesn’t have to be epic, and the smaller your scope the more detail becomes easier for the writer to address and for the reader to digest? :house: :thinking: @TheChaosArchivist

I’ve seen this before! And done it! As a writer, you want to justify the time you spent. But it has to stay like a glacier (90-10, invisible-visible). Subtext and the right telling details. Crime TV shows do this a lot! Migrate wikipedia. Part of the appeal of fantasy, for me, is the lack of research. Otherwise, I get carried away. I once lived homeless for 100 days as research for a piece. With my WiP, I get to make stuff up. As long as it makes a loose kind of sense, readers will suspend disbelief. How is that sword on fire? Oh, it’s full of captured souls, and they’re angry! :crossed_swords: :fire:

That metaphor is so cool. I think it must have to do with neural wiring, like the thing you’re surfing is actually your subconscious, which might be planning for you. That’s how my brain-head works too. But I know some writers who not only write completely differently, they live differently too. Especially wrt control. And they produce beautiful art. I wonder if spec fic (I’m lumping in super heroes as low sci-fi) draws more pants-ers than other stuff? If “going with it” is part of how you end up somewhere no one, even you, could have imagined. :snowboarder: :mountain_snow: @malinryden

P.S. that’s a cool way to look at draft participation–fleshing out details important to them. The whole co-creation part of this medium is new to me, but that would definitely seem like one of the advantages to open working drafts. :people_holding_hands: :two_men_holding_hands: :two_women_holding_hands:

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another thing important with this is how characters perceive information, i’d say.

As in: when an npc tells the MC about something, which info will they share: what do they perceive as important, what might they thing is not for the MC to know etc.

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One thing I like to see is a character’s desire to learn about their world paying off. It’s why learning about the main monsters in UnNatural raises the relevant lore which affects your stat checks which can be the difference between success and failure.

I also like that a few of the longer games now have character glossary’s if you ever forget who someone is.

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I like lore as much as the next guy, but please don’t overwhelm the reader with paragraphs of lore that they can’t skip. This type of info dumps lead me to not reading otherwise interesting WIPs. I like lore when it’s relevant to the story, or it’s tackled through characters reacting to it or giving their own perspectives on it, so it feels that it’s being “lived” by the characters of the story. Or it could be told through events

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