I am writing a fantasy novel and there are many elements that will need explaining, such as precious items, cities, creatures, and certain terms.

A glossary won't suffice and I'm stuck as to what this "section" should be called and where it should be placed. I'm thinking it should be placed in the back matter as people may read it first if it is included in the front matter, thus eliminating any "surprise".

What is it called and where is the best place for it?


An example of this would be in the "Miss Peregrine" novels where there is a section at the beginning of the books which explains who the characters are and also what some of them are (see "ymbryne", for example).

Some people feel that such a feature within a book would detract from the story, but I am of the view that such information could be helpful if there are so many elements that it would require the reader to remember a lot of extra information. Also, characters explaining things is all well and good, but as my story contains a lot of unique, world-specific elements, it would mean that a significant portion of my book would be taken up by characters explaining things; however, there will of course be explanations by characters about the key elements within the story - the appendix/addendum would be for reference, briefly reiterating what each specific thing is and/or what it does.


5 Answers 5


It sounds like the word you are looking for is "appendix":

supplementary material at the end of a book, article, document, or other text, usually of an explanatory, statistical, or bibliographic nature.


As the definition implies, it is best to be placed at the end of the book.

EDIT: Thanks @Lew for another good term, "addendum":

something that is added; especially : a section of a book that is added to the main or original text


The main difference between the two is that an appendix holds additional useful information, whereas an addendum generally adds new material after the first printing of the book. I would expect most people would understand what you meant if you used either.

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    Or Addendum. Anything, which holds supplemental information.
    – Lew
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 21:27
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    While the other answers have good insights on why to not include an appendix, I agree with Kik that, for certain styles of writing, having an appendix can make the book feel more real or engaging. One compromise may be to give the readers basic info on the used terminology in the story proper such that the appendix isn't really needed and then use the appendix to flesh them out without distracting from your main story. (Of course, if you take that far enough, your worldbuilding appendix may end up turning into a collection of short stories that could constitute its own work.)
    – JAB
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:53

You are telling a story, not writing a manual. Everything goes in the story. The order in which it occurs in the story is the order in which it matters to the story.

There are two ways to introduce background material into a story. You can tell the reader yourself as narrator, or you can have one character tell another character. Both approaches are entirely legitimate, but they presume a different narrative style.

If you choose to do have one character tell another, you need to do something to make it convincing that the characters are actually having this conversation.

This can be bogus, as in every episode of every CSI show ever, in which one CSI explains the experiment to another CSI (who presumably would know all about it) as a means to tell it to the viewer. This is utterly bogus but is somehow made acceptable to the audience as part of the overall stylized nature of the show. Nothing is authentic about these shows, but they sell their conventions so relentlessly, and with so much glamour, that you half-willingly accept them.

You can also do something like the Council of Elrond in which you contrive a reason for people of different backgrounds to be in one place to make an important decision and have each of them in turn explain part of the background to the others. The thing to note about this is that such explanations have to be in character -- the thing that this character would say at this moment to serve their personal agenda -- or they are not convincing and sound like an infodump.

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    I really like your approach to background material, but in my opinion this does not answer the question, which is "what is a section of supplemental information called, and where does it go" Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 13:22
  • @CaptainCalvert my answer is that there isn't one. This kind of thing does show up occasionally, in many different forms. Often they are added to particularly successful work in later additions to satisfy a particular kind of fan who wants to know how many rivets there are in the hull of a starship. But they are not a normal part of storytelling.
    – user16226
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 14:10
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    I would disagree with that, there are many popular works of fiction that provide supplemental information on characters and setting (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings). Your opinion that it is not good storytelling may be valid, but it is clearly a literary tool which is used, if infrequently. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 14:20
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    In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with an appendix or appendices, but you should be able to understand the story without them. All relevant information should be woven into the story, anything in appendices should be bonus info for the interested reader. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 14:29
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    @mbakeranalecta The OP stated "however, there will of course be explanations by characters about the key elements within the story - the appendix/addendum would be for reference, briefly reiterating what each specific thing is and/or what it does." That was in an update though. I would also argue that worldbuilding is a very old tradition in storytelling, going back to original myth in which genealogies and other information about the mythical figures were recounted in addition to the stories. But your reminder is a good one. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 14:42

This is called your setting

Setting is a very real part of any book, and especially of fantasy novels, as they take place in an unfamiliar setting, and therefore require more explanation. Setting is more than merely the backdrop for the story though. Through its rules, you can create circumstances you normally couldn't (ie, magic and the like), often driving the plot forwards. Its most powerful use though, is creating mood. If you're writing a cheery novel, you probably won't set it during a dreary rainy day. Likewise, if you are writing a horror tale, odds are it doesn't take place in a summer valley at high noon. Those are of course basic examples; you can use setting to convey mood in a much more detailed manner, as well as use it to show parts of your characters. However, that was not your question.

When it comes to setting in novels, there is one very simple rule: Do not infodump. Infodumping is when an author, having a surplus of information which might or might not be relevant to the actual story, decides to dump it all in one place. The reader is correspondingly overwhelmed, and usually driven away by the lack of story. Remember, the reader is reading for the story, not the setting. Stop the story and you lose the reader.

So where do you put your setting? Everywhere.

Show your setting through your characters. Don't focus on it. Have your characters interact with it naturally, in a normal fashion. Let the reader draw his own picture of what they are seeing, touching, smelling, or hearing.

Show your setting through the emotions. If your characters feel a certain way, have that reflected in the setting. Once again, don't focus on it during the description, merely mention the clouds, the sun, the grass, the man-eating trees - whatever there is - as you go along.

Show your setting through the plot of the story. Maybe that man-eating tree is a major plot device. Are the social habits of the orcs a main part of the plot that has to be described? Are you sure? Really? Okay then, have one of your characters discover them as the plot goes. You say all of your character know the social habits of orcs? Create one that doesn't. If it comes to it, have him ask questions that the others answer.

You can see the common thread here. Show your setting through your story as your characters come across it. Don't force the description. Let it flow naturally. Never focus on it, unless it is actually a part of the plot. And if it is, check again. Ask yourself if the reader really truly needs to know this about your world.

That will be the hardest part: realizing that a lot of your setting won't be in the novel because the reader simply doesn't need it. As @what said recently on a different question, you can take that extra setting and put it on your site. By all means include it in an appendix (keep it in the back, otherwise the reader might start with it and become bored). Include a glossary, especially if there is a complex net of characters and places to remember.

The basic rule is this: Don't tell your setting. Show it through your story and your characters naturally.

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    I disagree. Show through the story and characters naturally is one narrative style. Telling your setting is another. Steinbeck almost always spends pages telling his setting before the action begins, and he did all right for himself.
    – user16226
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 19:51
  • Steinbeck wrote in the mid-ish 1900's. When readers picked up a book back then, they intended to read it. Same goes for Tolkein, who also described his setting ad naseum. Today, it is far easier for readers to become distracted or bored. Certainly telling the setting is a method. I just don't think it works any longer. This could just be me, but I think the majority of authors would agree with me. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 19:55
  • There are all kinds of things that different audiences will and won't like. But there are lots of people who still read Steinbeck and Tolkien, and there are modern authors who adopt the same style. If you want to qualify your advice by identifying a readership for which it is true, that is fine. But don't generalize a preference into a rule.
    – user16226
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:05
  • @mbakeranalecta Certainly there are different audiences. That is not my point. People read Steinbeck and Tolkein because they are classics. They are classics because they were written for their time. What a lot of authors do not seem to realize is that times change, and with them, how readers see novels. Back when Steinbeck wrote, novels were a major form of entertainment. Today they have been shadowed by TV and videogames. Authors who do not realize this continue to reference 'what worked,' back then, and copy it. Back then is the key phrase. Times have changed, and with them, readers. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:37
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    I will grant that this is my opinion, and it might not be shared by the majority of authors as my research has indicated. I will ask a question about it and see what the answer is. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:39

If you need to do this, you should create an in-universe book within your book.

People have mentioned Tolkien: I've seen copies of his books with beautifiul maps at the beginning or end (always in a fake olde-worlde style to give the idea that they are genuine Middle Earth artefacts.)

Douglas Adams's real book The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy isn't a guide to the galaxy; it is a novel. But it contains excerpts from an in-universe book called The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is an actual guide to the galaxy as its name suggests. This serves to explain some of the weird concepts Adams comes up with, which are at least as entertaining as the main plot.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy_(novel) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy_(fictional)

Once you have created your in-universe reference work, you can present it either as a separate volume at the end of your novel (like the Tolkien map) or insert excerpts into the text (As in Douglas Adams' Hitchiker series.) This could possibly be done in a different font. I remember one book I read had standard narrative interspersed with Police reports, the latter being in a very typewriter-ish font.

A third possibility, as used in Moby Dick, is to have your story told in the first person, and dedicate entire chapters to the narrator describing in his own words aspects of his world, as a break from telling the main story.


A common name for the kind of section you're describing in fiction is a "Codex". Specifically for monsters you could also use "Bestiary".

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