I know Harrison whipped a storm in his contra-world building argument (alright, it was more nuanced than that; his thrust was to be more conscious of world building as an exercise in futility, given the fact that the world is not real), but anybody attempting to write a novel set in a fictional world knows that you need to ground your reader, and fast. It’s no good to go on about your characters for fifty pages and then suddenly have the car fly up off the road and soar up into the stratosphere; the reader will be surprised, disgusted, and will feel tricked.
No; absolutely not, indeed. The author needs to make the reader aware of the rules, the setting, the what’s what as quickly and naturally as possible, so that the reader can enter the right mindframe, relax in his chair, and prepare himself for the ride. Is it a space opera? Have the Captain gaze out of the ship’s porthole and wax poetic about the futility of man’s endeavours when contrasted with the vast indifference of space and planet below him (actually, don’t). Sword and sorcery? Have the warrior thief ambush a band of orcs as they walk along a path through a bucolic forest, laughing and rolling in a merry old fashion as a pointy-hat wearing man throws incandescent bolts of energy about and orcs call for succor from their god, Grimlock (how cool would a high fantasy novel be if all the gods were based on the Dinobots? Probably not very cool, but oh well). ETC. You get the point.
Now, a cool hand at this game is Mr. China Mieville, Esq. He sets up the city of New Crobuzon (a steampunk gone mad with magic and weirdness Victorian London), and pulls it off with aplomb. Which is no mean feat, given how varied and vast and complex and dynamic the city is. It’s London viewed through a cracked lens by an absinthe binging maniac who firmly believes that he’s a troll. Its strange and mesmerizing and brilliant, and China introduces us to it so smoothly and well that we never trip, stumble, or rear our heads back like frightened horses who have been frightened.
How does he do it? Well, that’s what I’m rereading his Perdido Street Station for. I’m going slowly, softly-softly, with my magnifying glass out and a Polaroid camera around my neck. There’s his brilliant use of the Prologue, where he has a foreign creature enter the city by boat, commenting on the accretion of buildings and stench and muck until he’s in the heart of the city, near overwhelmed and in despair. And the first chapter–well, that thing needs to be teased apart with the same care as a face-hugger from Aliens, so adroitly does he weave his characters and city into existence. I’ll do so perhaps in a next post (oh joy, I hear you call and cry, calloo callay!), and in doing so, hopefully learn a few lessons myself.
When asked, the director of Paprika (see my post below) answered that the most important part of putting together an anime like that was getting the backdrops done right. Because while they’re not really what people watch, they often fill 70% of the screen, and if done well they not only support the action and enrich the movie, but give viewers a reason to return and watch the anime again in order to tease out new details and textures that they might have missed the first time round.
So, yeah. World building. (insert witty motto here).