prettydragoon wrote: ↑27 Jun 2022 21:27
As You Know, Bob
, it's difficult to do infodumps so that they don't feel like infodumps. Or at least, at my level of writing skill it is. And my habit of using first person narration makes it feel even more contrived, or to me it feels so. So what's stopping me from doing literal infodumps, like excerpts from the Encyclopaedia Galactica
, or writing in third person omniscient or something? That's a very good question, I'm glad you asked, that is exactly the kind of question I'd like to see more of, next question please.
This is an issue a lot of fantasy writers have - particularly those with conworldy inclinations - and a lot of it really has to do with feeling locked in to a particular style of writing (that is, a typical modern style), which is typically not well suited to the style of storytelling (that is, old-fashioned, encyclopaedic) that they are drawn to. I really encourage reading more widely in the genre (and outside it) for inspiration here (not that I'm saying you, or anyone else, aren't "reading widely enough" or anything; just that, in my experience, reading older and stranger books can be really eye-opening in terms of what is possible, for those of us (most of us!) who instinctively read a certain style of modern fiction).
Specifically, modern writing tends toward what I think of as "the invisible narrator": the narrator gets out of the way of the action as much as possible, creating an effect almost like watching a film (where the director is invisible, and their only intervention is to decide where to point the camera - the content of the screen itself is, in the conceit of the film, usually only "what's actually going on", without external intrusions). This works well to create immediacy and intimacy. However, it's awful for exposition! If the narration is just telling us what's happening, the only way to sneak in exposition is to squeeze it artificially into the corners of the screen. That can work, of course, and work well - but it works best when the amount of exposition needed is minimal. This style works best when it's used to drop the reader in the middle of things and not bore them with extraneous details - let them work out the important things for themselves, and the rest doesn't matter.
But SFF has a tradition of really exposition-rich storytelling, where the exposition - the worldbuilding - is part of the story, and where readers can be hand-held and spoon-fed a little more than in other genres. This is probably because a lot of the key texts in the history of the genre - Middle-Earth, Narnia, Earthsea, etc - were written by authors intentionally looking back to older styles of writing. And it only just about worked then (c.f. how damn much Tolkien felt to need to just dump into appendices!).
Because what I think a lot of us don't realise - I certainly didn't for a long time - is that back then, when that sort of story was expected, people didn't write the way they do now. Specifically, much more intensive forms of "narratorial intrusion", to coin a term, were used. That is: the narrator was much more of an independent character, and so could, in character, tell us things that the main characters had no reason to say.
[people can confuse this with an omniscient narrator, but it's an orthogonal issue. An omniscient narrator need not be intrusive, although Victorian ones often were; an intrusive narrator is very often intentionally not omniscient (they may be ignorant, or highly biased)]
The best modern example I know of in this regard is Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is an absolute master of exposition: his novels are packed to the gills with memorable, evocative infodumps (it's one reason why his novels led to maps and encyclopedias and endless tie-in products: there's so much worldbuilding to mine, and it's so good). But the reason why he can do this is that he's intentionally aping a much older style of storytelling, in which the narrator (here a 'version' of Pratchett himself) is omniscient, highly opinionated, insanely talkative, and prone to rambling off on totally irrelevant tangents (which allows him to hide the foreshadowing he often using both humorously and dramatically, because there are so many damn red herrings that the foreshadowing doesn't become obvious).
But it doesn't have to be done that way. Another great example is something like The Left Hand of Darkness
, which actually uses two techniques: firstly, the narrator, who now is also the protagonist, is actively attempting to explain the weirdness of the world he finds himself in to his readers; but also, the story itself is interspersed with chapters that are nothing but worldbuilding, in the form of things like unrelated legends from the local culture. These 'asides' give us a lot of worldbuilding without bogging down the main narrative chapters. An even more extreme form of this is found in a novel like China Mountain Zhang
, in which about half the novel consists of chapters that have absolutely sod-all to do with the main plot whatsoever. The author has basically just inserted contemporaneous short stories about aspects of the world into every second chapter (iirc one chapter is outright set on Mars, when the rest of the novel is about an architecture student on Earth).
There's also the technique of the framing story. A novel like Ash: A Secret History
intersperses its gritty, heat-of-the-action mediaeval adventure story with brief framing interludes of e-mails between historians, who are able to provide entirely new perspectives and contexts for what's going on in the main story (do not skip these interludes, reader! They become really important!). And then there's the 'scholarly' footnote technique - famously, in Pale Fire
the footnoted text is secondary, and the footnotes themselves are the main novel. Or you can go the whole way into something like The Dictionary of the Khazars
where (almost) the entire novel is just encyclopaedia entries (iirc there's a bit of conventional narrative but it's stuck in an appendix rather than vice versa). Not to mention the 'nested narrator' concept, in which a meta-narrator can comment on the narrator's commentary.
I'm not saying anyone should automatically adopt an extreme approach to narration per se, but it's really worth bearing in mind the range of what is possible, and considering straying a little from the pure-dry-camera approach.
For example, a less extreme instance of a story that breaks away from the invisible narrator, effectively but far less obviously, is Robin Hobb's trilogy-of-trilogies about FitzChivalry Farseer. Each trilogy has Fitz as the protagonist, but is also narrated by Fitz - but a version of Fitz who is considerably older, and who does not always agree with the actions of the younger Fitz he's looking back on. The narrative Fitz - or a meta-narrative editor - is also able to insert various entries at the head of each chapter, often entries from in-world history books or encyclopaedias, or sometimes otherwise hidden texts like diary entries and the like. And then again, the protagonist-Fitz in each trilogy is in turn older than the narrator-Fitz of the preceding trilogy - so neither the protagonist nor the narrator of the second trilogy, for example, necessarily agrees with either the protagonist or the narrator of the first trilogy. And the chapter-heading entries are in some cases given more context (and either strengthened or undermined) by later books, in which the source texts may appear or be mentioned. It's actually a fairly sophisticated set-up, and it adds a great deal of emotive resonance and narrative intrigue - not to mention enough wriggle-room to facilitate a great deal of exposition without it feeling too unnatural. But equally importantly, it feels like a fairly standard epic fantasy - it doesn't feel like a literary experiment, because it's done subtly. It's more something you gradually start to think about than something that immediately hits you in the face - but, in the meantime, it allows the author to do a lot more than an invisible narrator could have accomplished.
Anyway, I'm wittering on and on about what was only a minor point, but I really wanted people who might be considering writing themselves to think a little about what is possible, and not just barrel ahead with the default option. Because there's a lot of potential in these narrative tricks, and in paticular they're really helpful in letting you integrate narrative and exposition.
If you are member of a One Gender Race
(even if that isn't technically quite accurate), attracted to your fellow members, are you then homosexual? I submit you are, even if heterosexuality is not an option.
You certainly have homosexual behaviour and desires, yes. The key thing to bear in mind here is that 'homosexual' is an English word, so English concepts apply: a conculture without a certain distinction cannot meaningly have words that relate to that distinction (they cannot have a word for 'woman' without a word for 'man' and so on; if there's no gender distinction they just have a word for 'person'); but of course whenever we talk about a conculture in English, our English distinctions do (and, vexingly at times, also must) apply.
However, arguably such people would not be homosexual in one way, in that they would not have a homosexual identity. Identity is built upon the rejection of the Other, and without an Other there can be no identity (just as nobody on earth identifies as a wing-lacker or a matter-eater...). So they would certainly be homosexual, but they would not be homosexual in quite the same sense as anyone in modern Western culture (in which questions of homosexual and heterosexual identities are unavoidable and must be negotiated in some way (even refusing to answer a question is still engaging with the question)).
I have occasionally used the phrase 'obligate lesbians' to describe the Rireinukave.
The bigger issue there would be that of course these people, while homosexual, would not really 'be' lesbians, because they are not women. There are no women without men - without a contrast, we have no good reason to call them women rather than men. We could do so, of course, but that would only be a statement about Western culture and the English language, and what the speaker considered important, rather than a meaningful statement about the people being spoken of.
(Also 'obligate female supremacist', which is another thing they didn't know they were before meeting some galactics.)
Until they encounter people with a sex distinction that they can recognise (whether or not the people they meet have a gender distinction on that basis), they don't only "don't know" they're female supremacists, they literally AREN'T female supremacists. You can't, even subconsciously, advocate the supremacy of one group over a second group if you have no idea the second group do or can exist.
Conversely, the moment they DO develop a sex or gender concept, they are no longer 'obligate' anything! They may be xenophobes who hate outsiders and their oddities, or prefer outsiders they see as more similar to themselves over those they see as more distinct, but that's entirely a choice, not anything in any way obligatory.
[sidenote: I suspect they'd never actually develop the idea of sex or gender at all. I suspect that either they'd see humans as a single gender with many non-gender variations (after all, there are many 'types' of women, biologically and culturally, but we don't call every type a gender), or they'd see men and women as different species, and reason that the two species are interfertile (but not fertile within their own species). The thing about cultural concepts is that there's never really any facts that can dictate one worldview or another, so a non-sex culture has no reason to ever invent - or accept, if told about - the idea of sexes.]
...sorry, tangential rambling on pedantic matters of hypothesis are a downside of a philosophy degree...