Sketching, Not Painting: Taking a Light Hand with Setting

I like tossing in little throw-away details to illustrate ideas in House of Cards, but I’m of the mindset that too much information stifles the reader’s own imagination. To take just one example from the text, while discussing the strangely alien and capricious nature of the courts of the Comtes, I added the flourish, “In the court of the Masked Prince of Luthiers, for instance, a dismal place shrouded in gloom, a laugh causes rubies to rain from the sky – which is punishable by death.” The sentence is weirdly specific and yet leaves its context all but unsketched and full of questions.

Almost immediately, I got feedback from readers saying, “Tell me more about that!” That’s a nice thing for a writer, admittedly, but my reaction right away is to say, “No, you tell me more about it!” For me to dictate a fully fleshed-out setting with maps and distinct locations is not really in keeping with the ethos of House of Cards. Think of the creature in Alien: it’s effectively terrifying because we know only a little about it, and we instinctively fill in our own details – what’s scariest to us personally. Setting material in House of Cards is provided with a similar technique in mind: I want players to see a hook in the text and then spin it off into whatever unique thing their minds conceive, which is by nature going to be more interesting to them than whatever additional material I might put out there.

(But, yes, there will be more on the Masked Prince of Luthiers. Eventually.)