Wednesday, February 11, 2015


But unlike the Titanic, icebergs are good for writers ;).  As long as we use them properly.

A reader really only sees the surface of any story.  As readers, we may see depths that are hinted at, or events that we knew influenced who the character is, but we don't see the whole thing. Readers see the tip of the iceberg.  

But as writers, we NEED to know the entire iceberg--the huge back story, what motivated the characters to do what they do, world-building, in some cases, universe-building that can cover everything from history to religions to the way magic works in our worlds.  

But we shouldn't show it.

I know, I just said it has to be there, and the reader needs to feel it's there, feel the weight of the history of the world you've created (even if you have a contemporary story), but you can't put it in your book.

It can be painful sometimes, you do a ton of research on historical events, weapons, religion, whathaveyou, create a fully functioning world, only to be told you really shouldn't share it with readers.

Because readers don't care.

All of us pick up a novel because we want to get lost in the story.  And as awesome as it is, research, history, and world-building are NOT story. You may have spent hours tracking down the perfect period authentic dagger for your Mongolian romance from the 1600's.  You may know all about it, how it was made, the ceremonies behind it, etc.  And all of that for it to just pop up as a piece of set-dressing. You cannot devote a page or two to all of the wonderful back-story of that dagger. Your reader just wants to know who is using it and who its been stuck into recently.

The problem with some authors is that they have all this cool stuff--and they want to USE all that cool stuff!  "I know this!  It's awesome! I spent years developing my world and want everyone to know the smallest detail!"  Those bits, the under-the-water side of your iceberg, are not story.  They support your story, give it a weight and heft it would lack otherwise (had the iceberg that took down the Titanic just been some floating surface ice, they probably wouldn't have gone down) BUT they are NOT your story.

So keep building your icebergs, you need them for a good story, but remember that the strength of the iceberg isn't what's seen on the surface.


  1. " the reader needs to feel it's there, feel the weight of the history of the world you've created."

    That's what Tolkien did so well, and why everyone tries to dump in so much backstory these days. Subtlety is the key here. Great post.

    1. Great point, Ken! We need to be subtle with our wealth of information ;). Glad you liked the post and thanks for coming by and commenting!
      Marie- stuck at day job--can't go on Blogger

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Loni! And thank you for coming by the blog today :)

      Marie- stuck at day job--can't go on Blogger

  3. I have to agree with Ken....a lot of what you see comes from Tolkien and the imitation of his style and the borrowing of his tropes. Some famous authors are kitchen sinkers when they write and since they are famous, it must be permissible for all of us, right? I like your analogy of an iceberg. So much beneath the surface holding up what we can see.
    Thoughtful post, Marie,

  4. I love the tip of the iceberg analogy. Doing research can be daunting and time consuming, especially when you want to be writing story, but it is so important. I won't repeat what you have already said, just wanted to add that writers today don't have to keep all of that research and world-building to themselves. They can post some of the information on their websites. Fans often want more and are filled with questions about the wonderful worlds authors create and websites and social media allow us to share our worlds beyond the story.