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Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 26th, 2010, 8:32 am
by charlotte49ers
I'm just getting the the point in my WIP where I'm having to world build and I'm really losing confidence because I've never done it before. I actually blogged about it today: ... ilding-is/

If you are having to world build, what are you finding particularly difficult? Easy?

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 26th, 2010, 11:50 am
by dios4vida
When I first started writing I tried to build the entire world before hand - I'd draw maps and name all kinds of places that I didn't know if they would ever make it into the book. I found that I was getting sidetracked and discouraged because I didn't know anything about these places, or what I would need when my MC needed a plot twist or something. Now I just start writing whenever I have a basic idea or plotline. Wherever the story takes me is where I go, so I create the world as I write. It's usually sometime between halfway and the end of the first draft that I really start figuring this world out and can begin to do the serious world-building. It's much easier when you know where you've been and have an idea of where you're going.

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 26th, 2010, 5:46 pm
by Rik
My only problem with worldbuilding is that I don't know when to stop.

This is what happens when worldbuilding takes over your life.

Seriously, don't talk to me about maps! Seasons can go by before I remember that I'm supposed to be, you know, writing a novel.

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 26th, 2010, 10:15 pm
by Quill
I'm going to be radical and suggest that every story requires world building. Less so for present day narratives set in one's own society perhaps, more so for historical fiction, and most for fantasy and science fiction. But yeah, all story-tellers must pick their details and make it authentic. It is like production design in film, there's sets, costume, props, lighting. And of course, language.

I once started a book in which the characters were talking animals, a la Wind In The Willows, and got totally bogged down in world building, trying to figure their level of technology, means of manufacture, etc. It wasn't as simple as slapping a pair of pants on a groundhog. Although, granted, that works in some books.

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 27th, 2010, 12:28 am
by r louis scott
I think the important thing to remember about world building is that just because you know it doesn't mean you have to tell your reader all about it.

I write historical fiction. Part of the reason I am drawn to it I think is because it gives me this absolutely tremendous excuse to go off on these reading junkets where I learn the most fundamental things about times past. Personally, I am absolutely fascinated by the engineering of the ancient world, but also the glimpse into the daily life of common people that such reading exposes.

I once wrote a scene that involved working a forge. I thought that I had done a masterful job of tying the increasing heat of the work with the building excitement of the characters right up to the moment when a stone in the forge explodes, sending the orderly progress of the work into utter chaos. My critique partner said "Richard, it's obvious to me that you could do this in your backyard, but frankly, I started to skim".


After bouncing the scene off of a couple of beta readers, I realized that maybe I had set the scene a little too well. A bit too much world building, a few too many details about heating iron.

So remember, just because you can (fill in the blank with something you can do in your backyard) doesn't mean you have to.

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 27th, 2010, 12:49 am
by JaEvans
I have to agree with r louis scott and others. The novel I have posted the query for in the feedback forum is set in the eighteenth century (England, France, America, and Canada). I did my research and got a good sense of language, ship construction, industries, etc. But the thing is, as I write I want my reader to be able to connect with the environment in a way that is relevant to them. For me, this means putting in enough detail for them to get the gist of where I am at but not so much as to force their mental image. I want them to see in their mind a hotel, carriage, ship, etc. in a way that fits for them.

After I do my research the world building takes care of itself as I tell the story. I think that it is likely much more difficult in a pure fantasy novel where the world is built from the ground up. For that I would suggest allowing the world to unfold as it meets the needs of the story line. When I was a dungeon master for D&D in my teen years I found that completely new worlds would unfold in the telling of the story. At least that is my experience.


Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 29th, 2010, 12:54 am
by ryanznock
I've got a lot of experience with world-building thanks to twenty years of D&D and other roleplaying games. Most of my early never-should-see-light-of-day novels were fantasy, and I fiddled around with the same fantasy setting for a long time, constantly revising things to purge cliches and make stuff more interesting. Maybe I'll go back to that world some day, but I'm working on a near-future magical realism-ish novel now, and even hopping 6 years into the future, it's been a chore. I can barely predict the technological and political developments of my own country, and I thought it would be a good idea to set the novel in Brazil. Hoo.

But it's fun. The hard part for me is letting the reader know about the world. I think I'm finally getting a good sense at gently diving into the setting and dropping environmental cues so the reader can infer the details of the world.

Thanks for the links on your page. You've kept me up rather late on a work night reading those.

Oh, and you're in Georgia? You wouldn't happen to be in Atlanta? I'm trying to wrangle together a group of writers.

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 30th, 2010, 8:04 am
by charlotte49ers
Thanks, guys. This is all very helpful. I just didn't expect it to be so hard and multilayered!

And I'm glad you found those links helpful, Ryan. I was excited to read them! And I'm in Dalton, actually. If you do get something together, I have a writer friend in ATL that I can mention it to. :-)

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: March 30th, 2010, 2:56 pm
by Mira
What I find most difficult is not copying someone else's world. Although, in some ways, I think some copying is unavoidable and necessary. The reader needs to feel somewhat familiar and comfortable. But it's also important to have an orginial stamp - that tweaking is what I find the hardest.

I tend to start huge - with the continents and layout of the planet. Then I think about how different people in different places created different cultures, economies and political systems. Then, how did those cultures interact - trade agreements, wars, cultural exchange, slavery, imperalism, evil rulers, heros, great rulers, natural disasters.

If all of that is not relevant to your story, you can paint all of this with a very broad brush. Then I figure the parts of my story that I need cultural and political details and start narrowing it down.

I usually find this to be pretty fun. I like to play with things. I had one world where there was only one very small continent, so everyone just learned to get along.

I think what's important here is to remember that environment very much influences culture. Europe was very cold, and that created a culture that was very motivated toward survival and comfort - thus the industrial revolution.

And, of course, it also depends, on whether you're dealing with humans or other species. Other species may respond in very different ways and have different motivations.

Anyway, my best advice would be to relax and have fun with it. You can always change things up.

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: April 5th, 2010, 11:15 am
by worstwriterever
I definitely would struggle with world building. This is why I've turned to world-destroying, i.e. Dystopia. United States, now Divided. Lots easier to tear down instead of build :)

Re: Have we talked about world building?

Posted: April 5th, 2010, 11:38 am
by Margo
I am one of those people who gets heavily into world-building for my fantasy writing. I find I really enjoy it (*cough* history major*cough*), even though it can take enormous effort. For someone who hasn't done it before and is feeling anxious, I suggest starting out with Patricia Wrede's world-building questions, found here: ... questions/

I found that I wanted to go beyond these questions, so I dug out a doorstopper 2-volume book set called A Social History of Ancient Ireland. I has used it for research in college and had been very impressed with the variety of topics, even if some of the actual information had proven erroneous since its publication. I sat down with a pad and pen and noted every topic the volumes covered. I then combined these questions with Patricia Wrede's question to come up with a massive world-building template. I will skip revealing how many pages of questions I have, so as not to frighten any novice world-builders. I will say, however, that I find it incredibly useful for generating plots and story ideas. I also feel less anxious that, in the course of writing, I might accidentally toss in some detail that just would not fit with a particular culture or landscape.

Of course, as mentioned already, it is very important to recognize that the vast majority of the information should not end up in a novel or short story. It will provide context for the decisions the writer makes. Beware of adding more just because the info is so darn cool. The reader will spot this every time.