(QUIZ: Which MY SO-CALLED LIFE character utters this post’s title, and what’s the context? Emily, you’re not eligible to play.)
I’ve always read those writing exercises where you do things like come up with your characters’ backstory, and been kinda skeptical — although I’m not a writer, so what do I know? But lately I’ve been noticing how much world-building comes through dropping small, unexplained details.
Like, I just read SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE by Austin Grossman (adult fiction! I know!), which is a funny non-graphical novel in the tradition of WATCHMEN, half of it from the perspective of the pathetic evil genius of a villain (“Why is no one afraid of my blaster?”). Grossman does a nice job of introducing you to the world and its background without over-explaining, as here where he combines exposition with… unposition?:
Rainbow Triumph taps one foot, glances over at me or at the ceiling, and drums polished fingernails. She was an obvious choice, a high-profile hero with great approval ratings and generous corporate backing. The invitation had probably been cleared through GenTech, and her agent. I’m a little surprised to see her still in the field. Child superheroes so rarely turn out well — look at the Impkin now; look at poor Theodore Bear.
GenTech reappears, in other small references; the Impkin and Theodore Bear never come up again. But isn’t it kind of funner to imagine on your own what might have happened to the unfortunate Theodore Bear?
M.T. Anderson does this really well (surprise!) in FEED, I think. He drops in references like “SchoolTM”; in that case, you happen to get some more details later on, but you don’t need them, and he doesn’t needlessly provide them. The same way you pick up his invented slang of the future, you figure out how the world works. Nobody needs to tell you that SchoolTM is way mal. That’s trusting your readers.
So, do you think Grossman knows what happened with the Impkin and poor old T.B., or not? If he did, would he have been overly tempted to tell us and spoil it?