Just finished musing about How my own book reviews can make me a better writer over at Operation Awesome.
And now I'm thinking specifically about world building and how jealous I am of other writers for doing it so well. ;) It really does seem to be an art, weaving details into a narrative in a way that doesn't front-load or overload. The more I read, the more I get a sense for how it's done, but I still haven't mastered it.
I feel like a butterfly trying to weave a spiderweb, but my gigantic wings keep getting in the way. That's about how subtle my world building is.
I think my problem is that I geek out over science fiction, fantasy, or clever contemporary concepts. I make concept king, and everything else suffers. What should be king? CHARACTER.
The setting and the world building have to be a backdrop against which the character can work - like an actor on a set or... a spider in a web. Let the web get too prominent, and it just might strangle the spider it was built for.
Let me show you what I mean:
Azalea wants to find love, purpose, and a place on Earth to belong, since she's always felt out of place in her own world (which is literally another celestial orb in the sky). She happens to be an alien with the ability to manipulate humans emotionally. Because of that, she never knows when someone's feelings for her are genuine, and pretty much always assumes it's just the result of her beyond-her-control sway over mankind. She's lonely.
She finally meets someone who's impervious to her power, but he's fresh from a bad breakup and doesn't trust girls as far as he can throw them. (He doesn't throw them; he's a nice guy, really.) His lack of trust is only exacerbated by the secrecy Azalea's identity requires. The character conflict is there, right? But it's overshadowed in my current manuscript by details about the world Azalea comes from, the people on Earth who don't want her there, and the people back home who want to control her fate. I haven't succeeded at all in weaving a web. I've got a mass of silk instead. It's still a precious material, but it's impossible to appreciate in its current form.
I think reading my reviews of books I've loved by authors who've mastered world building is a good first step in learning what works.
But what other ways do you make sure you're weaving a web instead of sitting on a spool of silk? How do you keep from front-loading or overloading your story with detail?