J. Robert King

Ed Greenwood: Day 3

On World Building and Storytelling

Ed is both a world builder and a novelist—which are kind of opposite roles. A world builder has to work primarily with setting and situation while a novelist works primarily with story and plot. I asked Ed how he shifts gears from one role to the other:

I don’t find much difficulty in moving back and forth because as I’m working on the setting and its unfolding situations (a war brewing, for example), I’m thinking of all the stories that can come out of that. I’m really more like a stripper—of the burlesque variety rather than the “reveal all, swiftly” approach—deciding what secrets of the setting to show the reader, when, and how. Just how much can I keep secret or teased with but not explored or exhausted, so they can be used in future stories? If I kill off King Azoun in this novel, I can’t use him in the next one (and neither, in a shared world setting like the Realms, can anyone else, unless they resurrect him, or cheapen the events of my novel by saying the death wasn’t real, or go back into the past or even dabble in time travel).

I build fantasy worlds, for the purpose of telling stories (both fictional and in games), so I’m tailoring those worlds to support and spur the telling of many tales as I design them and go on detailing them. I do have to resist the temptation to slow down a tale by pouring information about the locales and characters into the reader’s lap, but I began by telling stories and “saw” the setting around ongoing tales of Mirt, so I never encountered the hurdle that many novice world builders stumble over: moving from their delight and sense of wonder in designing the setting to actually getting down to tell stories in it (which will inevitably change lore they’ve created, and plunge them into the real-world frustration of never getting anything finished, and of having everything that happens leave behind litter in what they thought they’d cleaned and ordered and were hopefully done with).

In real life, things change constantly. Words, once written, are set and done if you’re the sole chronicler of say, Sherlock Holmes. Yet if the characters outlive you the creator, nothing becomes set and done, as later writers and comic book artists and filmmakers all have a go at your creation. Doyle had to bring back Holmes because his audiences demanded it and he liked to eat; I knew from the outset of the published Realms that other hands would be at work on “my” baby constantly, so I ran and ran to keep ahead of it all, by describing new geographical corners of the Realms in ways that set up crops of new stories, for others to decide which would flourish and be told and stayed with, and which would wither or be passed over.

February 3rd, 2010
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3 Responses to “Ed Greenwood: Day 3”

  1. Curtis Says:

    I am enjoying this series. You have a wonderful economy of style. Correct me if I am wrong or just goofy. But, I think that economy comes from knowing what you want to say. I have a feeling that wordy authors are so because they are hunting for what they want to say while they write. It’s like they practice on their reader.

    I have to ask about writers who influenced you?

  2. admin Says:

    Speaking for myself–J. Robert King–

    I think you are absolutely right about economy of language. When I first started writing, I was so in love with words that I piled them up needlessly. They became a barrier that obscured my subject. As I’ve progressed, I’ve learned to cut writing back to its essentials so that the words that remain become a lens that focuses attention on the subject.

    As a result, I routinely cut ten to fifteen percent of my first draft before turning it in. Those extra words were me trying to figure out what I was saying, just as you suggest. Removing them makes the words that remain much more confident and powerful.

    As to the authors that have inspired me, well, aside from Tolkien and Lewis, they have mostly been Americans–Vonnegut, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Cather, Hemingway, and Faulkner. I’ve learned different things from each of them–perhaps the topic for a future blog!

  3. Curtis Says:

    Chronicles of Narnia I’m going to guess. And, I figured Heinlein would be in the mix somewhere. A tad on the cynical side. But, still he filled a need in my young and rowdy days. LOL

    I would welcome the different things you learned from each. Maybe more than one blog topic. You also sound like a person who has run across G.K. Chesterton.

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