Tuesday, February 11, 2014

MMGM: World Building In Middle Grade

Comparing world building techniques between two debut authors.

Saladin Ahmed: “Some readers/writers want scrupulous mimesis of an otherworld. Some want impressionistic wonder. No inherent right/wrong/better/worse there.”

Basically, like any genre, readers have preferences. There are those who want every detail of the world the author is creating, they are hungry to know how, why and what of the world they are reading about. Then there are readers who want the world believable but are more interested in the storytelling and what motivates the characters in relation to the world. I fall somewhere in between. 

Appreciating awesome world building is easy, but if there aren't characters I care about and cheer for, I lose interest. At the risk of slighting the God of world building, this is what Tolkien was for me. Once I understood the world, I lost interest, and it wasn't because the only real woman was an ethereal elf. (Though I did find it strange.) 

I can only tolerate so many characters running to and fro in an endless journey where they narrowly escape strange beasts and creatures through fighting, fighting and more fighting. But that's just me, I own it. To clarify, I love interesting details but they have to have an effect on the plot. I can get into an interesting weapon that's being used, or a belief system, but show me how it works, don't tell me. 

So when I evaluate a book and its use of world building I have several things I look for.

1. Opening Paragraphs: Do I care about this new world enough to immerse myself into it? What about the characters? Is there enough conflict to keep me interested?

2. Confidence: Does the writer's voice exude confidence, not just that the world is unique, but it's apparent that the author believes in his world.

3. Is the world complete and well rounded: Enough details to understand how the world works but not so many that there are pages of explanation about political, economic or cultural information that has no baring on the plot.

4. Does the world building get in the way of the narrative. Are there so many details, life forms, cultural strata, political posturing that the narrative begins to get lost in explanations. 

5. Storytelling: World building is a tool that an author uses to ultimately tell a story. The story and its conflicts must be compelling. Is the ending satisfying?

What I Thought: Overall, both these books were a good read and I look forward to seeing more from both of these authors.
The Lost Planet 
by Rachel Searles

About The Book: This is what the boy is told:

• He woke up on planet Trucon, inside a fence he shouldn't have been able to pass.
• He has an annirad blaster wound to the back of his head.
• He has no memory.
• He is now under the protection of a mysterious benefactor.
• His name is Chase Garrety.

This is what Chase Garrety knows:
• He has a message: "Guide the star."
• Time is running out.

First Line: The boy opened his eyes to a sky the color of melted butter and a sense of inexplicable terror.

DreamKeeper by Mikey Brooks
About The Book: 
Dreams: Dorothy called it Oz, Alice called it Wonderland, but Nightmares call it HOME.
When an evil shifter takes over the gateway to the realm of Dreams, it falls to 14-year-olds Parker and Kaelyn to stop him. Their only hope lies with Gladamyr, the Dream Keeper, but can they trust a Nightmare to save their world?

First Line: Parker was about to assassinate the general of the goblin army.

1. The opening paragraphs are equally compelling.  In The Lost Planet we meet our protagonist waking up in a strange place with no memory.
     In Dreamkeeper were whisked into an intense battle that we soon learn is a game on a console. This could have been a let down, except the author grabs his reader emotionally. Parker our protagonist, suffers his game screen turning to black because his mother has called him to do his homework. 
     Both books give us a compelling reason to continue to read because of the questions we, as readers want to find out. Who is the boy with no memory in a strange place and why is Parker so upset about not finishing the game. The premise of a Dream world impacting the real world was intriguing as was the idea of a lost planet. 

2. Serles confident introduction of her world contrasts with Brooks need to tell every detail.  While I'm uneasy about learning peripheral characters names first in The Lost Planet it helps me identify with the main character. The reader is learning about this strange world along with the main character. An excellent job of sprinkling in just enough detail naturally that I trust Searles knows this world. 
     Since Brooks immerses the reader in an accurate portrayal of school and the conflicts that are inherent in that environment we can believe this part of his world. When he begins to introduce the Dream world that is when Brooks seems to lose focus and seems more intent on explaining his world than telling the story, almost like he's trying to convince the reader of the logic of his world.   

3. This is where the books split and there is a distinct difference in the detail and information about each prospective world and how it is presented. 
      Searles is adept at adding just enough detail and each page reveals some new and interesting detail that keeps the reader interested. The characters are interesting, have depth and the world is discovered through their action in the world. There are no long passages of explanation about the world but there is non-stop adventure and bits and pieces of the the world are revealed.  
      Brooks middle grade world is awesome, showing all the social clicks and realities that exist. When it comes to the world of dreams, I felt that much of the information came as information dumps in the form of conversation. Sometimes you can have too many details and the reader has too much to keep track of. This is what happens when an author wants to explain everything about the world to the reader. If the details aren't necessary to move the story along, it shouldn't be there. 

4. As much as I loved the premise of Brooks dream world, the explanations of how it works, how humans pass from one place to another and the number of additional characters created a choppy narrative. I also felt the constant jump back and forth was jolting at times. 
     Searles details didn't get in the way of the narrative and there weren't any lulls in the action as the author explained the workings of the world. I think the narrative used the device of world building effectively to move the story forward. 

5. When a story is successfully told, the combination of interesting characters, compelling plot and satisfying narrative are what ultimately stands out and the world building serves the narrative. This is where both books came up a bit short for me.
     Searles pulled me all the way to the last page and then left me there, unsatisfied. If you're going to take me on this journey, I have to have some answers by the end of the book, some closure. I felt that it just suddenly ended. The author obviously has more of the story to tell but chopped it mid-action, which sometimes occurs when an author wants to write a sequel. 
      I really wanted to like Brooks story, so I pushed through even though I got bogged down several times in details. Except for fight scenes and interactions at the school, most details were shared in the form of telling instead of showing. That said, the story does tie up many important loose ends in the narrative and has a satisfying ending. 

If you've read these, do you agree? Disagree? What did you think?

What's good world building to you?


  1. I'm looking forward to The Lost Planet but haven't heard of The Dreamkeeper. And I'm revising an opening line of my own MG today, so this is helpful.

    1. Good, I'm glad you found something useful. I've started a new fantasy project. I'm at the fun part, brainstorming what my world will be like. What techniques have you found successful in building your world?


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