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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have not yet begun to use footnotes in my fantasy novels, except occasionally using comments to help myself remember things between writing sessions.  My question to the world today is:

How do you feel about an author footnoting things in their fantasy novels?  Do you feel that this is a distraction?  Or does it help add another dimension?  How many people here footnote their own creations?  Do footnotes (references to other things that happened in the world in which you are reading or writing) turn you off?  How many feel that a good author should not need to use them?  These are merely curiosity asking. 

Thanks for any replies. 
 

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I love Terry Pratchett's footnotes, but they're mostly to get you to laugh.  As far as straight up info dump, I think a glossary/appendix generally works better for epic fantasy novels, as seen in Wheel of Time or Malazan. That way those who want to look can go look and those who just want to keep the flow can keep reading.
 

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I"m with Richard on this.  Pratchett is the footnote master ... and I would prefer a pseudo-scholarly article in an appendix if background information is not apparent in the book but still interesting enough to be included.
 

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I think the best solution is one where neither is necessary for the story to be understood, though it may be fun to add an appendix to provide curious readers with more information about the world. But if the reader has to read footnotes or an appendix to understand the story, then there is something wrong with the story-telling. I suppose a classic example is The Lord of the Rings, which has appendixes which most readers enjoyed, but which did not have to be read in order to enjoy and understand the story.

Rather than spending pages explaining the History of the Old Kings, a few mentions here and there about King So-and-So and how he united the nations centuries ago and had the Great Western Road built can be sufficient to give the reader a good enough understanding of his impact on the times being recounted in the story. The secret, of course, is to throw in just enough such references to impart just enough information without bogging things down. The real art is figuring out how much is "just enough" in each case. :)
 

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I recently finished a novel called The Meaning of Night, which while not a fantasy did contain copious footnotes. At first they were mildly interesting but after a time they became simply annoying. This is especially true because of the necessity of using the five-way controller to access footnotes on the Kindle, which I find awkward. I'm currently debating whether to buy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and one of the things weighing against it is the fact that it's heavily footnoted.

On footnotes in general, someone once said it was like having to answer a knock at the door on your wedding night...
 
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NogDog said:
The real art is figuring out how much is "just enough" in each case. :)
Well, there's no single answer to that question.

There are a LOT of fans of "fantasy" --- but they are extremely fragmented. This is just one of the fault lines. No matter where you are on the continuum, some readers will reject it because it's "too loaded down with exposition" or "not fleshed out enough".

Of course, it's also likely that some readers will think your level of detail is just right. So it's okay.
 

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I don't do footnotes in my books. I'm terrified of boring the reader with exposition as it is.

Footnotes automatically pull me out of the story and ruin my suspension of disbelief. This is probably the result of reading a lot of non-fiction scholarly texts where footnotes are common. I like to stay in the flow of the story.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
David Alastair Hayden said:
I don't do footnotes in my books. I'm terrified of boring the reader with exposition as it is.

Footnotes automatically pull me out of the story and ruin my suspension of disbelief. This is probably the result of reading a lot of non-fiction scholarly texts where footnotes are common. I like to stay in the flow of the story.
These are pretty much what I was thinking, but wanted to confirm before I tried using them in anything heretofore publishable. Still, I thought some people might draw them in, perhaps even in a Pratchetty way. Oh well.
 

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If you do need to have info stashed in places, the best place does seem to be the glossary. In the end, you need to think from the point of view of the reader; what is the least intrusive method.

Once you get a reader into your story you shouldn't do anything to hook them out of it.
 

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Sometimes, if you know bits of information are going to be needed throughout, you can begin each chapter with a sentence or two from a fictional book within the world. Gives you a way to impart a little setting information, and since it begins each chapter, it's not so intrusive as footnotes. Of course, you have to keep it simple and only one per chapter.
 

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No footnotes in my writing, and I'm with the majority here who seems to think they are a bit distracting. Especially in copious amounts.

Appendices are fine, for the most part. I'm especially appreciative of an author who provides an extended universe to explore in the form of a website relating to their book or series.
 

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I read Fantasy almost exclusively, but I find footnotes to be annoying and usually don't read appendices or the like--I prefer to have information delivered within the story itself, and I sort of enjoy not knowing everything. For me, an intriguing hint of information goes a long way for the stuff that I don't need to know in detail. Appendices, on the other hand, tend to be very dry, hard for me to get through, and I almost always find the information in them unnecessary or redundant if I've been paying attention to the story. That said, I can understand wanting to know more information about the world that couldn't logically fit into the proper story, and appendices are a better option than footnotes for people who want the bonus info, I'd say.

One thing I have occasionally liked and tried to use myself a few times is short excerpts from made up in-world books, placed at the beginning of chapters like in Robin Hobb's Farseer Saga, or even in an appendix or such. It has to fit with the nature of the story being told, but I find it more engaging than when the author just sort of dumps a bunch of info in the back of the book.
 

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I don't use footnotes when I write, but I agree with the glossary/appendix that I've seen in many fantasy books.
 

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I like an appendix or a spleen, I mean, glossary.  ;-)  Maybe a cast of characters, if the cast is big enough, but I do agree that most of that should be delivered in the story.  It shouldn't be necessary information, but something that readers *can* use if they're of a mind.  With footnotes, I think it's hard to hit that balance between too much information and interesting side note, and if done at the wrong time it can really steal the tension out of the story.

Obviously, Terry Pratchett can do it.  But I think it's easy to do it badly, and then it's just an annoyance.
 

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I tend not to look at them. When I bought mostly paper books, I used to find myself occasionally flipping to the back of the book. Now that I read mostly digitally, I find it to be a hassle and time consuming to constantly switch back and forth, even with bookmarking, search function and notes.
 

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I'm good with footnotes for humour, but otherwise I don't want something that pulls me out of the story. The best stories for me are the ones that immerse me fully in them. One thing I don't like about the Malazan reading experience is I have to keep flicking to the end to find out what magic domain they're talking about this time. It usually matters to whatever's happening, so you can't just breeze by it and hope for the best.

Straker said:
I'm currently debating whether to buy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and one of the things weighing against it is the fact that it's heavily footnoted.
At first I found the footnotes in this book maddening, both because it knocks you out of the story and because it involves some serious screen-tapping, but all of a sudden the sense of humour clicked for me and I was good with them. It's a very dry, understated British kind of humour, so you'd need to give it a test, but it started to work for me within the Kindle sample. Time-poor as I am it took me a month to read it, but I'm very glad I did.

Ben Dobson said:
One thing I have occasionally liked and tried to use myself a few times is short excerpts from made up in-world books, placed at the beginning of chapters like in Robin Hobb's Farseer Saga, or even in an appendix or such. It has to fit with the nature of the story being told, but I find it more engaging than when the author just sort of dumps a bunch of info in the back of the book.
Catherine Fisher does these start of chapter notes very well in Incarceron, giving you information on the world and the important background to it, but she does it in a very stylised way, like a fairy tale or myth told by firelight. Neal Asher has his "From How It Is by Gordon" notes in his Polity books, and uses them to step you through the entire fearsome food chain of the planet Spatterjay in his Spatterjay books. The food chain notes make for a good little sub-story of their own.

The start of a chapter is a good place for that sort of thing. You've already paused, so it isn't disrupting the flow of a scene.
 

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I'm currently debating whether to buy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and one of the things weighing against it is the fact that it's heavily footnoted.
As I recall, the footnotes had some of the best moments in that book.

I personally don't have any strong feelings about footnotes one way or another. For in-depth background information, an appendix can be more appropriate, but a footnote is good for a one or two sentence long clarification, be it the definition of some made-up word, or a blurb on some historical figure or event. You really have to carefully consider whether or not it's worth breaking the flow of the story for, though. If it's something crucial to understanding the main story, it should really be in the main text. If it's a little bonus, or something that only the sort of fantasy reader who reads footnotes will care about, then put it in a footnote.

I also feel like footnotes are more of a hassle in ebooks, both for the author and the reader, so that's something to take into consideration.
 

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For fiction, I tend to not like footnotes. As others have said, it pulls me out of the story. There are rare exceptions where an author can pull it off, but ... well, they're called rare exceptions for a reason.

I also read a lot of fantasy, and generally I find that if I have to go look up something in a footnote or appendix, as far as I'm concerned the author isn't doing his or her job. Making up exotic-sounding words for mundane things strikes me as being a little silly, and if I have to read an appendix to learn the back story so I can understand a novel, the author definitely isn't doing his or her job. Now don't get me wrong, because some fantasy authors can throw a lot of weird names and places at you right in chapter one, but they work in the exposition well so that I don't have to run to an encyclopedia of their world to figure out what's going on; Steven Erikson comes to mind. Then you have writers such as Rowling, who gradually works in the differences between her Potter world and the mundane world.

I also think some writers need to trust their readers more, and not expect that their readers are such dunces they need every little thing explained for them. For example (a bad one, I admit), if a writer use the word kwan for "coin" but uses it in context, the reader is going to understand, at least as long as the writer is consistent with the use of the word.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
So most people do not like being pulled out of the story by footnotes. 

Some think footnotes are rather appropriate for satirical or comedic reasons.  I agree that Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's use of footnotes in Good Omens was absolutely necessary, and incredibly funny.  I'm still laughing about the "Bugger Me For a Lark" translation of the Bible they talk about in that book. 

In story-driven fantasy, most people on here think footnotes and etc. are not really all that appropriate. 

I am gathering a roll-over button in a Kindle doc would be no better received, yes? 

 
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