From posts to DAVIDWEBER.NET forums on 10/11/2011 and 10/13/2011

Overabundance of detail

lyonheart wrote:
runsforcelery wrote: SNIP!

    Hmmmm…

    Perhaps the solution is simply for me not to write any more books in the series so that people won't have to keep analyzing every single page for errors, inconsistencies, and ommissions? Oh, and let's not forget reading things into my deathless prose which were never put there in the first place?

    Just saying…

    [G]

    WHOA!

    OUCH! :-0

    That may be the politest implied death threat I've ever received. :-(

    Even red shirts would last longer than I would were you ever to stop writing.

    Given al your fans desperate need to read your wonderful creations, for which I'm truly desperate for the next, a writing cessation might mean a very short personal life expectancy, just after the insurance company approved my policy because I was such a good risk. :-)

    And that's way before meeting your bodyguards that Drak warned us all about... :-)

    As a guest, may I apologize for being too impertinent?

    If I may venture to say, it seems at least to me that your ideas may have shifted somewhat from your initial concept.
If so, can they be shared in some kind of Safehold companion book as in the promised honorverse bible IIRC, coming out next year?

    Things like how Desnair had provinces opposite Tarot in OAR and now doesn't?

    Pretty please?

    You very humbled fan,

    L

     

    This is actually a perfect example of the sort of thing I'm talking about. The master map in the new book was updated in several areas. In the process, certain elements got left out of the art… which I did not see until the book printed. The provinces aren't gone, unless you think that they magically evaporated somehow between books. There are no internal divisions shown in Desnair on the master map, for whatever reason, but if you look at the detail maps… well, gosh! There in the map for Ithryia is the Duchy of Kohlman. If there's one duchy, there might be more, yes? And they might have been left off the master map for some reason without evaporating, no?

    My point is that worrying over why these territories have disappeared from the map, while no doubt a reasonable question for proofreading issues, is pretty silly where the books themselves are concerned. I mean, unless I've actually said they've disappeared or been eaten by slash lizards or something of the sort, isn't the reasonable assumption that there was an error on the map and not that I've removed them or "changed my mind" about what I'm doing? I'm seeing some of the same sort of arguments based on incomplete information and extrapolation by readers who don't have access to my notes, debates on climatic differences I never said existed, and quite a few other points (like population levels, growing seasons in Siddarmark, etc.) being argued over largely on the basis of things I never said but which people have interpreted me as saying. There is a limit to the number of moles I can whack as they poke their heads out of the ground, people!

    There are some places where I've made… les than optimal word choices (like "bitterly cold" to describe the winter on Gorath Bay from the Charisians' viewpoint), and I apologize if it seems misleading. Nonetheless, there's usually an underlying thread that ought to suggest I haven't completely lost my mind.

    For example, Gorath Bay is colder than Howell Bay for several reasons which have nothing (or very little) to do with degrees of latitude. It's further inland, the Gulf of Dohlar is really, really deep and does not have the warm currents which moderate Charis' climate, etc., but I never intended to suggest it was a blasted, frozen tundra. The overall temperature of Safehold averages significantly lower than Earth's, and the greater axial tilt means winter temperatures fall off faster as you move away from the equator (absent some significant ameliorating circumstance), and the currents circulating through the Gulf of Dohlar are bringing cold water down off the coast of Desnair from the northern reaches of the gulf while there is a powerful current sweeping south along the west coast of Charis, bringing warmer water from the Anvil down that coast. (One reason "The Cauldron" earned its name is because of the very turbulent current conditions where the Tranjyr Passage discharges into it.) This produces a winter in Gorath Bay which is quite a bit colder than winter in Tellesberg. What made the preceding winter "bitterly cold" in Gwyllym Manthyr's estimate, however, was the fact that the POWs had no cold weather (or even cool weather) clothing; they had been denied proper diet; they were on anchored galleys in the middle of the bay, with limited protection from the winds sweeping the anchorage; they had been given no fuel; they were denied proper medical care; and they didn't even have the opportunity for proper exercise. In that weakened condition, a temperature which would be considered only cool for a healthy man with even a light jacket can become deadly. I should have found a better word choice than "bitterly cold," and I apologize if the one I actually used was misleading, but unless you see me talking about heavy snowfalls and icicles hanging from the eaves, I think you can assume that I didn't mean they were lost in the Arctic Ocean. And, frankly, unless I start talking about how the climate in central Desnair is blasted by sleet and snow, I think trying to redesign the planet's entire geography to make the northern hemisphere significantly colder than the southern hemisphere is just a bit excessive, folks.

    This is a literary universe with a fictitious planet. Overall, I've actually put a fair amount of thought into making its climate and geography make sense, and I'm usually perfectly happy to discuss it with the readers. I think, though, that we might want to sweat the details a little less… OCD-ishly, perhaps? I promise there really is an underlying plan and that I really won't send any icebergs drifting into Gorath Bay, nor will I turn the southern regions of Siddarmark into a frozen tundra. It does sometimes seem, though, that everytime I explain something, there are those among you (I name no names… but I'm sure you know who you are! [G]) who immediatelty respond much like my eight-year-old son "Well, yes, but…"

    I know you don't mean it that way, but sometimes it comes across as "Well, yes, but you're too stupid to have really thought this through, Dave, because if you had you'd obviously agree with me," if you know what I mean.

    Sort of takes some of the shine off of discussing it with you, somehow. [G]

     


     

    There's a reason that a lot of authors simply don't discuss their literary universes or their world building, especially when they are series writers. Actually, there are probably several reasons, now that I think about it, but the one I had in mind is that every time they hand out a hard-and-fast detail — whether it's political, social, economic, geophysical, whatever — (a) they nail their feet to the floor on that particular detail, (b) they invite reader analysis which is… obsessively detailed, let's say, (c) they give up at least some potential surprise/plot hook, and (d) things tend to concertina in terms of analysis/critique/discussion/explanation/fresh analysis/fresh critique/etc.

    As a general rule, I'm one of those authors who happen to enjoy sharing discussions of their literary universes. At the same time, I am very well aware of all of the points above. And there is an additional element, I might as well admit, which comes into play when a reader or readers seem to be "piling on" in criticizing a decision which I made for a combination of storytelling reasons and logical implications in constructing my universe, particularly when — in my opinion — I've explained why I did it. What's even more frustrating is when people begin criticizing my decisions in the book based on their interpretations of things I said or (more infuriatingly) didn't say. And what's most frustrating of all is when someone constructs an elaborate analysis chain based on hypothetical fragments (and massaging of bits and pieces of data which may not have any real bearing on what they're trying to figure out) and then uses their analysis — which may have exactly zero to do with what's actually going on in the books — as a basis basis to expand on what I ought to be doing, or what I am doing (when I'm not), or why I have been blind/foolish/careless/choose your turn of phrase in having done something that I haven't done. That's when I find myself writing five thousand-word posts trying to untangle what people have simply decided I'm doing from what I really am doing. And more than once, I've written the aforesaid five thousand-word posts only to have someone, in effect, say "Yes, but —" At which point they are off to the races again on their pet bugaboo, having discounted, ignored, or — to their satisfaction — disproved whatever I've just told them about the internal workings of my own literary creation.

    That's where it gets frustrating. It gets even more frustrating, frankly, when I'm pushing a deadline (which I'm doing right now) and fatigue builds up on my part. I would imagine that everyone gets more… sensitive, perhaps, under those circumstances. At any rate, I find myself having the reaction more than once that "I just TOLD you how that worked, why the hell weren't you LISTENING?" And I'll also admit that I do have somewhat the perspective that as the person who built the world I have a right to determine the parameters of that world.

    One example of an area in which it can be frustrating, frankly, for fans to get too enthusiastic and too carried away is maps. Mind you, it's extraordinarily flattering that anyone wants to visualize the world or the star scape against which the books are set in that kind of detail and then wants to share the visualization with everyone else. However, there is a specific reason that the general maps of Safehold published in the books are not very detailed, whereas the maps which focus on specific localities and nations and landmasses discussed in the books are quite detailed. And that reason, quite frankly, is that I haven't put in the detailed information, and I don't want the detailed information to be available to the readers or anyone else, until I write the portions of the books dealing with those areas. I know in what I think of as "generalized detail" what every portion of the planet looks like. I know where there are mountains, I know where rivers are, etc., but I haven't put them in on the maps because when I actually start telling the part of the story that deals with those regions I need to have a free hand to see how the terrain, etc., needs to develop for storytelling purposes. In many ways, I regret having made my electronic maps of Safehold available at all, because fans — quite naturally — begin exploring them and picking detail out of them, and those details may change in the course of my writing about them. If a fan puts together a map based on my maps and releases it into the wild on the net, and I don't specifically say "No, that's not right, take it down immediately," I find myself with people coming up to me and saying "But I saw the map on so-and-so, and it says — "

    I can explain to someone all day long that I never authorized the map, that the map was based on partial information, etc., etc., and quite often they blame me for the inconsistency at the end of the day, anyway. That's not a very enjoyable experience. And it's like trying to deal with any other erroneous piece of information on the net — corrections can never catch up with the original error.

    I think it's fair to say that, especially in Safehold's case, I've given my readers far more detailed maps than they're going to get most anywhere else in fiction. A lot of writers simply won't release maps, and the reason they won't is that they then get watched like hawks by readers waiting to pounce over any inconsistencies that turn up later on. And, frankly, because as long as they haven't released "official" maps they can always simply say to their readers "Oh, no, you simply misunderstood the geography" when someone points out that, according to their own maps, their characters can't do the equivalent of getting to the Philippines from the United States by train. I want the reader to be able to have that information, to track where the characters are going, why they're going there, what the problems in getting their are, and what sort of constraints people living in any given region may face. However, there is a downside to it, for all of the reasons I've discussed above.

    My point in this perhaps somewhat rambling message is that I don't want people to stop discussing the books, by any means. I obviously don't want people to stop analyzing the parts of the books that are of most interest to them and sharing their thoughts. Unlike some writers, I actively want to hear what my readers have to say about the storyline and about events and about the consistency of my characters' actions and the options I allow them. I'm not going to let any of you become backseat drivers, but I genuinely want to know how you think the story is progressing and if there is a part of it that doesn't quite ring true for you. But I would appreciate it if when I tell you that something works in a certain way you'd sort of take my word for it, and if we could be a little more cautious about stringing together long, involved chains of analysis and extrapolation and then "proving" that I've changed my mind about something when I haven't done anything of the sort. Charges of arbitrary inconsistency, and of in effect deliberately "changing the rules" under the reader's feet are serious. And, in fact, to be brutally frank, they really, really piss me off, especially when they're based on single phrases in the books, or fragments of information (which may even represent a character's misperceptions, for crying out loud), or a radical misinterpretation of something I said in one of the books. I give you my word that I do not go around randomly changing things that I have put into the books. I may occasionally have a continuity error, especially in something as extensive as the honorverse, for example, and it's obviously possible for any writer to "misspeak" himself and not realize he's done it. As a general rule, though, when that happens, I fess up. I would consider it a matter of simple courtesy if people would take my word for it when I say that I didn't misspeak, or that — just perhaps, foolish though it may seem — I actually know more about the world and the environment of my story than the reader does.

    Having a dialogue with you guys is (usually) an enormous amount of fun, and the last thing that I want to do is to put a damper on that or on your conversations with one another. I usually attempt to respond to anyone with a degree of conscious courtesy, even if they have just stepped on one of my toes. I sometimes think that as incredibly well behaved as you folks are (and trust me, I do realize how well behaved you are compared to certain other forums out there), some of you tend to get a little caught up in your personal thesis — or in contesting someone else's personal thesis — and lose track of the tone in which you're talking to one another. It's part of that "playing nice" thing, and you're usually good enough about it that it jumps up and hits me in the eye even harder when you aren't. And I do have to say that I think sometimes there is just a trace — only a soupçon, if you will [G] — of discourtesy in essentially telling the author that he obviously doesn't know what he's talking about in his own universe. Maybe I'm just feeling thin-skinned, but there it is, and in the final analysis, the simple truth of the matter is that I do know far more about Safehold or any of my other fictitious universes than you do. I mean, I really do, guys!

    I'm pretty sure that none of you (well, most any of you [G]) have ever set out deliberately to whack the author, or tick me off, or be intentionally rude in any way. You can be a fractious lot, and I really don't mind that, and I'm really not sitting here in my office and feeling abused, spindled, or mutilated. It's more a matter of my enthusiasm quotient. I have to steal time from the writing to discuss things in the forum with you at all, and there have been times when I've either simply decided not to comment in a strand at all (because I felt it had the potential to turn ugly) or lost my enthusiasm for continuing to discuss a strand (because I felt pretty strongly that I'd already answered the question, only to discover that certain parties obviously disagreed with me) or simply decided that I didn't have the time to waste on someone who was being a jerk. Well, "being a jerk" might be putting it a little strongly, I suppose, but one of the drawbacks of an electronic format is that you don't get the face-to-face visual cues or the tonal cues in someone's voice that might suggest to you that you are stepping on their toes and you might want to find a more… diplomatic, shall we say, way to express yourself while continuing the discussion. [G]

    Anyway, go play, have fun, discuss things. Just bear in mind that when I enter the discussion I'm going to try to be as informative as I can (without giving away critical plot points), that I'm going to be as honest and accurate as I can, and that when I say "that's the way it is," I'm saying that because — flourish of trumpets — that is the way it is.

    Go. Enjoy. Don't poke the author with a stick… he bites. [G]