I really enjoy worldbuilding. Or rather, in the case of my favorite setting (Earth), world-modifying. I tend to put a fair amount of effort into it (sometimes more than my storytelling!) and want to show off what I’ve created.
This is a problem, though, and one I struggle with whenever I tell a story (in any medium, including games).
How is it a problem? According to all the advice I’ve ever seen, we should as storytellers prepare a lot more of our world than we share. I’ve seen various percentages and fractions and ratios thrown around, but the basic point is we should know a lot more than we show. It helps us add verisimilitude and consistency to our stories, and helps us reduce the chances of contradiction and logical fallacies.
But if you’re at all like me, you want to show off everything you’ve made, often at the expense of your story or the interest of your audience.
I think this is a natural inclination, but maybe not. It might come, especially among fantasy writers, by our introduction at impressionable ages to the works of Professor Tolkien. He is the master of oversharing, and indeed that seems to be the point of his works: to reveal a vibrant and living fantasy world. Character and plot take back seats to setting. Note that there is nothing at all wrong with this (see my article on The Three Foci for why I believe that), but even then, you can and should hold back something.
On the other hand, an author I believe who not only does incredible worldbuilding but also knows exactly how much to share and how much to hold back is the author of another popular fantasy series: JK Rowling. Ann and I have been re-”reading” the books (in audiobook format) and I’ve been struck by her excellent use of foreshadowing and subtle worldbuilding. It is clear, knowing what I know about the overall storyline, that she knew a lot about her universe and her storyline as early as… well… the first chapter of the first book! Yes, Rowling has revealed a lot more about her universe since she completed the books, but it is all superfluous. It might explain a few things, but none of it was needed for her story so, although she knew it, she left it out.
That takes discipline as a storyteller (I think… although maybe for some people it just comes naturally?), and it’s something I want to begin to emulate (say, for my recently mentioned NaNoWriMo story…).
How about you? Do you find it easy or difficult to hold back from sharing everything you’ve created? And if you do hold back, how easy is it for you to decide what to share and what not to?