As I prepare to begin work on my fantasy novel in September,* and also as part of Holy Worlds’s summer Read-a-Thon, I have been rereading Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel** for the third time.
Ever since I first read Crown Duel a couple years ago, it has been on my list of favourite books, and while I grow tired of rereading even favourite books at times, I feel like I can never get weary of it. I know how the story goes, but the book never ceases to show me new facets of Smith’s artistry.
Through my many rereads of Crown Duel, I have learned one big thing about writing.*** Make your world’s culture unnoticeable.
What?! I’m putting all this work into worldbuilding my culture, and people aren’t supposed to notice it?!
When I first read Crown Duel, I was fully engrossed in the plot. There were some elements of worldbuilding that I couldn’t help noticing, like the colorwoods, glowglobes, summons stones, and the like, but she wove in the culture so skilfully that I scarcely noticed it, my mind automatically accepting it as real. I was fully transported to Remalna, seeing everything as though I was as used to it as Meliara herself.
Now, I just finished reading it for the third time, and, being familiar enough with it to pay more attention to the worldbuilding than the story, put it down floored by the the amount of work she put into making the culture unique. Because of how realistically it was presented, I had originally thought that it was minimal. Good, but minimal. How wrong I was. From the emotions communicated in a simple curtsy to fan language and the complicated maze of court etiquette and procedure, Remalna’s unique culture was present everywhere. It wasn’t that Smith didn’t worldbuild. She did – extensively. She just wove it with the threads of story so well that the reader’s mind automatically accepts Remalna as a real place, and feels as though they’ve lived there all their life.
So do your worldbuilding and all the intense background work, but instead of showing it off to your readers, slip it in silently, carefully, as though you were writing about someplace everyone is familiar with. And maybe readers will read your book over and over again, finding new facets each time and loving it more with every read.****
*Tentatively titled either Masquerade or The King’s Bluff. See, told you it was tentative.
**Note: I do not recommend Smith’s other books, due to inappropriate content.
***Other than: “My novel is never going to be so amazingly good like this in a million years.”
****Of course, this doesn’t fix having a poor plot and flat characters. Work on those too. Oh, and read Crown Duel while you’re at it. You won’t regret it, I promise.