Worldbuilding is a complex facet of storytelling that often becomes a stumbling block for many writers. They tend to either disclose too much information prematurely or inundate the reader with an overload of facts—both approaches typically leading to disinterest or confusion. Essentially, if the reader isn’t sufficiently engaged or invested, lore-heavy segments may come across as tedious and are likely to be forgotten. Successful lore integration primarily hinges on delivering it when the reader is both invested and the unfolding context demands such information.
Lore Revelations Driven by Characters:
Characters frequently serve as conduits to your world’s lore. A prime moment for lore presentation emerges when a character is discovering it. This approach not only binds the lore directly to the character’s journey but also facilitates simultaneous learning for the reader, fostering a sense of investment.
Imagine a protagonist discovering a cryptic symbol etched into a wall, one that’s been subtly hinted at earlier but never fully elucidated. The character’s quest to decode its meaning becomes an ideal opportunity to delve into the associated lore. As the protagonist pieces together the enigma, the reader’s curiosity is satisfied, and the lore evolves into an essential plot component instead of an overwhelming information dump.
However, this tactic can be overused, making the main protagonist appear inexplicably uninformed about their lifelong world until the reader arrives. While this may work in an Isekai scenario or similar, it shouldn’t be excessively relied upon as it doesn’t seamlessly translate to all story types. Likewise, avoid poorly executed iterations of this like the “As you know” information dump where characters redundantly discuss known information for the reader’s benefit. Balancing this approach with other methods of lore delivery is recommended.
Lore Introduced Out of Necessity:
Lore should be introduced when it’s crucial for advancing the plot or understanding a character’s motivation. For instance, in a story where the protagonist is part of a secret society, there’s no need to delve into the intricate details of the society’s formation and rules right at the outset. However, as the protagonist ascends the ranks and the society’s rules start influencing their decisions and life, it becomes necessary for the reader to understand more.
G.R.R.M.'s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series exemplifies this approach well. The complex political and historical context of Westeros isn’t forced on the reader in the opening chapter. Instead, it’s gradually unveiled as characters interact, confront challenges, and navigate the politics of the Seven Kingdoms.
Withholding lore can also enhance the narrative, especially in situations where its understanding would drastically impact a sequence of events. In such cases, keeping both the character and reader/player in the dark can lead to surprising reveals later on. Alternatively, deliberately withholding certain information can prompt readers to revisit earlier moments in the narrative, stimulating deeper understanding and engagement in subsequent readings or playthroughs, and who doesn’t like replayability?
Investment Through Emotional Connections:
Creating emotional bonds between the reader and the characters can significantly enhance investment in the characters’ backstories and personal lore. Bioware successfully implemented this in their games by linking character relationship progression with plot advancement, ensuring that the player has sufficient time to form emotional attachments before delving into character histories.
As such, once the reader forms a deep attachment to a character who is haunted by a past event, it becomes appropriate to introduce the lore surrounding that event. This transforms what might have been dry historical facts into a poignant part of the character’s journey.
Organic Integration Through Dialogue and Action:
Instead of pausing the narrative for exposition, lore can be elegantly woven into dialogue, actions, and environmental descriptions. This tactic is exemplified in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” series, where lore is often conveyed through songs and stories of the elves. This technique transforms potential information dumps into immersive and meaningful experiences.
For instance, rather than explaining outright that the Queendom of Bardsdale is a matriarchal society valuing arts and employing underestimated spies trained in martial arts, show a character embodying these traits. Introduce a beautiful minstrel, who is underestimated by others, revealing her hidden depths later in the story. Then, as the narrative moves to Bardsdale, let the reader discover that she is an agent of the queen and that most of the powerful figures that the main character encounters in Bardsdale are women. Such an approach allows readers to absorb information naturally, avoiding a disengaging encyclopedia-like introduction.
The Golden Rule - Show, Don’t Tell:
To wrap it all together, ‘showing rather than telling’ is a vital writing principle that applies particularly well to lore. Present lore through characters’ actions and behaviors, societal norms, architectural details, landscape features, and more. This method makes lore feel like an integral part of the world, rather than an addition or afterthought.
Interactive fiction provides writers with an invaluable tool: codex entries. Authors like Tolkien have long utilized appendices to stow away extensive lore, and in the realm of interactive fiction, these codices afford writers the opportunity to let readers control the flow of information according to their comfort and interest.
Tucked away in menus, codex entries offer an ideal solution for revealing lore to inquisitive and invested readers at their own pace. This method enables those hungry for depth to indulge in the lore while permitting those who prefer a brisker narrative to bypass it effortlessly. With apt reminders sprinkled throughout the narrative, readers can be made aware of the steadily growing wealth of knowledge at their disposal. They can then delve into this repository to satisfy their curiosity about specific details and then seamlessly return to the main storyline. In this way, the lore enhances their experience without disrupting the pace of their adventure.