More thoughts on worldbuilding

In an earlier post of mine, I wrote about the importance of keeping worldbuilding in perspective for speculative fiction writers. I wrote it because too often, I see speculative fiction writers (fantasy writers in particular) worrying far too often about some obscure detail about their world that may or may not be important to the story and not enough about the story itself. I was hoping to reach out to other speculative writers with similar opinions or at least let other people know what I thought.

One thing I forgot to talk about, however, is how you should worldbuild. Personally, I am against the idea of sitting down and planning out the entire world before you write the first word of the actual story. I find that method is a good way to kill your love for the story, mostly because it uses up all the creative energy that should have gone to the story itself.

Instead, I advocate worldbuilding through writing. That is, coming up with details about your fictional world or universe as they are needed in the story itself.

That’s how I’ve been approaching my upcoming novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I started out with only the barest knowledge of the world I was writing in, enough to get the story going but not enough to crush my imagination and creativity. Beyond those few basic details, the rest of the setting was a complete mystery to me.

And boy, was writing the first and second drafts fun. Both drafts came spilling out of my fingers like the ocean tide. New worldbuilding ideas constantly came to me, both while I was writing the drafts and while I was doing other things unrelated to the novel. In fact, I’ve come up with so many ideas that I doubt I’ll be able to showcase all of them in the novel itself (which is good, actually, because not all of the ideas are important to the story and not all ideas are equally interesting). I imagine that I’ll get even more ideas when I start work on the third draft later.

Now I didn’t worldbuild entirely through writing, mind you. I took some time out of my day to do a little bit of worldbuilding outside of my writing time, but even then, I was working mostly from what I’d already written in the story itself. Also, I didn’t let these details bind me down. If I came up with a better idea while writing the story that contradicted something I wrote in my worldbuilding notes, then the idea in the story became canon and the one in my notes was deleted.

Another important point I’d like to emphasize when using this method is taking notes. You will undoubtedly come up with a lot of worldbuilding ideas when writing, some major, some minor. To keep your ideas straight, I suggest writing down these little details in your worldbuilding notes, either during or after your writing time, and referring back to them when necessary. It will cut down on revision later and make you world seem far more consistent.

If you remember to do that, you might have a lot of fun using this method. So far, it’s been a lot of fun for me, much more fun than sitting down and figuring out every last detail before I write the actual story.

As usual, I must add that this method probably doesn’t work for everyone and that if you’ve already tried it and found you don’t enjoy it that you shouldn’t do it. There are no right or wrong ways of writing a story. Only what works for you.

Nonetheless, I suggest trying it out at least once. You might just enjoy it.

How do you worldbuild? Post your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

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3 thoughts on “More thoughts on worldbuilding

  1. I world build the same way. Just as I’m going through my story I’ll make notes as I build the world around the story. I agree that world building takes too much from you and the story. I’ve seen people build worlds with their own races and languages and never get around to the story because that’s all they’ve had time to write.

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    • Yeah. It’s kind of sad, actually, because a lot of these people come up with amazingly creative cultures, creatures, and magic systems — far more creative than anything I could come up with, I’m sure — that could make for some really cool stories, if they would only sit down and actually write them.

      -Tim

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  2. Great post! Worldbuilding is the bane of my existence. I am constantly at odds with the world, attempting to define its logic, attempting to reason with it. If I come to a question I can’t answer, I’ll agonize over it, which is detrimental to the actual writing process. As you said, many of these ideas aren’t even going to be in the story itself. I’m working on letting go — just writing the story and then seeing where I end up.

    Taking notes is an excellent suggestion. It helps to keep the facts straight. Even if those facts aren’t going to be explicitly stated in the work itself.

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