As a writer, one of my absolute favorite things to do when it comes to exploring a new story is worldbuilding. I love the feeling of freedom and adventure that comes with creating a place that's entirely new and never-before seen. While some writers find the endless to-do list that comes with worldbuilding exhausting, I find it invigorating. That's because I have a system for working things out that helps keep me motivated and on-track. This month I'm excited to bring my perspective on worldbuilding to all of you as April's new writing series! Join me while I guide you through this intricate process of creation- Subscribe to stay updated and never miss an opportunity to expand your writing capabilities.
What is worldbuilding?
For any first-time writers out there, worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world. This can also refer to creating a fictional universe, as the case may be, and is typically referred to as a constructed world or "conworld". These worlds are packed with realistic qualities such as history, geography, ecology, etc. It can require quite an extensive amount of resources such as maps, backstory, people, social customs, and inverted language.
Typically this sort of intricate story-planning is used by fantasy and sci-fi writers, but can be useful in all genres. One of the most noteworthy fictional worlds built through the process of worldbuilding is The Lord of the Ring series by J.R.R. Tolkien. We can see the amount of planning that went into this series because of it's vivid imagery, attention to details, and extraordinary fantasy characters. It's hard not to get pulled into this world because of how immersive it is- and that's exactly what we're going to be learing how to do throughout this month.
To build or not to build?
You may be looking at this endeavor and thinking, "Do I have to? It's a lot of work. Couldn't I go straight to writing?" You may even be shaking your head and saying, "But I've written novels before and never had to do this!".
The answer to both of these responses, put simply, is YES. You absolutely, 100%, beyond any fraction of a doubt should do at least the bare minimum of world building. With writing there is NEVER any shortcuts worth taking. If you dream of one day being on the NY Times Best Seller's list, then trust me. You're going to want to invest your time doing whatever it takes to make your story the best it can be.
Worldbuilding plays a vital role in creating an appealing, interesting, and consistent world for your story to take place in. Beyond setting, these are the tangible details that give readers a broader scope through which to view your world. How else are they supposed to understand how the Elves in your story operate differently from humans?
The truth is that your readers are going to supply the details themselves if left to their own devices. But I guarantee you they won't appreciate having to do so. Readers are reading because they want to escape from reality. They want to be transported to someplace new when they can't go someplace different in real life. What they want is instant-gratification, not to do your dirty work for you. If forced to, you'll find that a lot of readers will simply opt to walk away instead.
How do I keep myself from spiraling out of control?
If you're a writer familiar with worldbuilding, then you know how addictive it can be. When you surrender yourself to your story, you become an explorer, a sorcerer, and in some cases even God-like. That sort of creative power is intoxicating. You can spend hours, days, weeks, months, and even years worldbuilding. It is a never-ending source of creativity and inspiration. The problem here is that we can easily lose sight of WHY we're worldbuilding in the first place, and that's where the writers are separated from the online gamers and D&D players.
Some writers spend hours perfecting linguistics. Others have to know what the national food of their kingdom is and how to make it. Whatever suits your fancy, have fun, but not too much fun. While it's perfectly fine to lose yourself within the mystery and mysticism of your story for an afternoon, it's important to remember why you're working on this part of the project to begin with. You're not writing it because it's entertaining or because it's a mental vacation. You're crafting it for the purpose of having it enhance the other elements of your story. It is a contributing factor, but not the overall end goal.
On the flip side you don't want to have too little when it comes to worldbuilding either. At the risk of your story being cookie-cutter or boring, you do need to spend a good amount of time exploring the in's and out's of your world- no matter what kind of world it is. The more you know, the more you have to use. And that's the whole point.
Finding a happy medium
The balance between too much and too little worldbuilding is sometimes hard to distinguish. It is largely up to what your story requires, but typically one thing is for certain: most of your worldbuilding details will NOT make it into your story. That's right, you heard correctly.
The vast majority of your worldbuilding does not belong in your story. This is something you must accept and be okay with. If not, you'll wind up with a book filled with useless facts and details that are only interesting to you. Sad? Yes. True? Also yes.
While this fact may be incredibly frustrating at times, keep in mind what the purpose of worldbuilding actually is- to supplement your story and act like the glue that helps hold readers' interest. You still get to write the story that you love, just with less fluff.
The ultimate way to tell if you've succeeded with worldbuilding is if your readers don't even notice how much time and effort went into it. You want the end result to be seamless. If it belongs, then that's how you know you've done a good job.
What will I see in April's Worldbuilding series?
As we progress through April, we'll be covering a variety of topics that fall under the category of worldbuilding. Below is a list of topics that will be covered, though not necessarily in the order that they appear here:
- The Do's and Don't of Worldbuilding
- How to Start Worldbuilding
- Finding What Approach Works Best For You
- Worldbuilding Tools & Ideas
-Various Worldbuilding topics such as natural, societal, and structural details
-Advanced worldbuilding topics such as language-building and magic systems
Worldbuilding is such a magical stage of the writing process. Now that we are halfway through planning out our novels, if you need personalized assistance, I'm ready and willing to be of service! Please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm here to answer any questions, comments, concerns, or assist on beta reading projects.