Warning: From here it’s spoilers all the way down.
One thing he brought in was The Genowska, one of the Forest People. Now, I’m an avid reader, but I didn’t remember them at all. I was wondering if I’d missed a book, and it turns out I had. The Forest People were introduced in a short story published in an obscure anthology I haven’t read.4 However, because Butcher is a master of exposition, he managed it subtly.
|(Presumably the Zombie T-Rex has it?)|
Something’s eating them, one at each meal. We get about 170 pages to worry about what terrible, invisible monster Dresden’s employer is feeding. Dresden, being tactful as a jar of live bees, gets tired of being in the dark.
“Whatever big, ugly, stinking, stupid thing you've got hanging around in here with us probably doesn't deserve to be in this company. Given our goal, I don’t see the point in taking along a mindless mound of muscle.”
But then the Genowska removes its veil. We get a good paragraph of description of a big, hulking thing, like the side of a mountain, growling at Dresden’s rudeness. But it’s not the size, or the growl, or the eyes “glinting like an assassin’s knives from a cave’s mouth.” It’s that Dresden stops being a wiseass.
“An ogre?” Ascher asked.
“Not an ogre,” I replied immediately.5 “He’s one of the Forest People.”
Dresden then launches into a description of a Forest Person tearing through “about twenty ghouls in a fair fight.” However, note the technique: Butcher doesn’t just tell us that the thing mighty, but gives us an example of exactly how mighty. We’ve seen Dresden struggle with just three ghouls a few chapters back, so this is an impressive juxtaposition.
To reinforce that he’s worried enough about this thing to be respectful, he apologizes to it. “Sorry about what I said earlier. I figured [my employer] had a troll stashed around here somewhere. Didn’t realize it was one of the Forest People. I’ve done a little business with River Shoulders in the past. Maybe you’ve heard of–”
And then the Genowska punches Dresden across the room.
|"The Ice that should have entombed him just...drained away..."|
This is what's called “The Worf Effect.” When you have something badass, if something else beats that thing up it proves how dangerous it is. Here we have the Genowska calling something that can tear through a score of Ghouls “Whimpering” and “flower-chewing.”
And thus we have a dangerous and powerful foe established, juxtaposed against characters the reader hasn’t met (if they didn’t know about the short story, like me) and a mythology built up around them, all done through a single scene that builds on a history that, for all I knew, could have been only in the author’s head, but I still understood all of it.
|The "Dean of contemporary|
urban fantasy." – Booklist
In this single scene, we learn enough a suitable amount about
- The Forest People
- How dangerous they are
- The Genowska
- How much more dangerous he is
To review, Butcher built up this monster by
- Hinting at its presence several times
- Revealing it visually
- Showing how a character reacts to it, to give context
- Gives it an action and a line of dialogue
At no point does the book flat out say “The Genowska is dangerous.” We learn that through action.
Exposition can very easily bog down a book, especially a fantasy book. The lesson here is that when introducing something important to the novel, give it its own scene, show how it interacts with the world in action, as opposed to exposition.
If you want to learn more about how to write good fantasy, go pick up these books. It’s one of he best choices an aspiring fantasy author can make.
|This isn't really related to writing, I just wanted to remind everyone that|
this is canonically part of the Dresden Files now.