As writers we all have different styles and approaches when it comes to how we brainstorm, plan, and write our stories. While there is a lot of advice out there on how to worldbuild, it doesn't mean that it's "one size fits all". If you're struggling to find the "right" approach for you, it may be that you're trying to fit inside a box that isn't meant for you or your muse. Most writers fall into two categories: Outliners and Pantsers. Today we'll explore the value of both styles and figure out which is right for you.
But first, a little THIS or THAT quiz!
If you chose more options on the left, chances are you're a pantser. If you chose the right, then you're an outliner. Somewhere in the middle? Read on!
Outliners tend to be highly organized, detail-oriented, and prone to research binges. Every bit of information needs to be in it's place and it all needs to make comprehensive sense. Usually there are binders and colored pens involved. The thought of throwing caution to the wind and simply writing freely is enough to make them cringe.
Pros: Keeping track of details is easy, well-thought out planning, no loose ends.
Cons: Restricted lines of thinking, can become overwhelming, may start to feel like work instead of fun.
Pantsers are the opposite of outliners. You couldn't pay them to pen an outline because they believe writing is a creative process better left alone. Ideas come and go and when they write it's because the muse is talking willingly. There's no such thing as "reigning" it in and the thought of putting together a comprehensive outline immediately takes the fun out of writing.
Pros: Free thinking leads to new ideas, makes writing an adventure, able to adapt and change.
Cons: Too many ideas, disorganized, may get discouraged easier due to lack of planning.
If you fall somewhere in the middle, congrats! You're equipped with all the pros of both styles. You have the perfect balance between being open to new ideas and listening to your muse, while being able to stay on-track and not get buried under your research pile. For you it'll be all about finding a balance between the two tactics. Don't be afraid to mix it up whenever you feel the need.
The Approaches & Worldbuilding
Okay, so now you know which approach works best for you, but you may be wondering how it applies to worldbuilding directly. I included this as a topic in this April's writing series because moving forward it becomes more and more important to have a system that will help you keep track of what you create. Part of finding out what works for you is knowing what kind of writer you are. Think of it as putting your "writing glasses" on. Each style requires a different lens through which to view your project from, and that means that you won't be worldbuilding in exactly the same way depending on which viewpoint you're using.
As an outliner your focus should be on identifying which pieces of your world need to be in place to make your outline work. Be specific and intentional with your world, just like you would be your setting. For example, start with the bigger chunks like how your government operates or how your magical system works. Starting with the larger pieces and working backwards will help you keep your creative mojo in check.
If your style is flying by the seat of your pants, then chances are you'll start wherever you feel most inspired and motivated. That's completely okay. For your approach, let your ideas spring forward and jot down whatever comes to mind. You can figure things out by trial and error. If something doesn't work or if you come up with a better idea, you'll have plenty of alternatives to work with till you get it right. The main thing you should focus on is keeping track of your ideas once you make them. Keep a notebook where you write everything that pops into your head down. By making sure that everything stays in one place, you'll have more success overall.
No matter what approach you use, there are some key questions that you have to answer, no matter which style you use. Take a moment to brainstorm these next topics in whichever way suits you:
Answering these questions first, no matter which style you use, will help build the foundation for your worldbuilding. In my next post we'll be breaking into the various topics of worldbuilding- getting into the "meat" if you will. Stay healthy and safe this week, don't forget to subscribe!