Monday, February 22, 2016

On Worldbuilding

I will be the first to admit that worldbuilding is difficult. In fact, most days I don't have any clue what worldbuilding is. But still, I write fantasy, so there must be some part of me that can put the pieces of a world together so that it makes sense on the page.

At least, that's what I tell myself. The truth is though that I've spent the past few years trying to figure out what exactly worldbuilding is.

Because of this, I've found a few absolutely fantastic resources on world building: Patricia Van Wrede's massive questionnaire that covers everything from money to politics to magic, NK Jemisin on World building, Ava Jae on World building, Kate Messner’s TED talk on How to build a fictional world, Charlie N. Holmberg on World building for Speculative Fiction, and Kate Elliot's World building Wednesday series. There are many, many more beyond these!

And here are some wonderful templates/questions to ask yourself when you're world building: 5 Tips: Worldbuilding Template20 Worldbuilding Questions for Authors to Ask Themselves5 Foundations of Worldbuilding.

These are wonderful resources, but there's a part of me (a bigger part than I'd like to admit) that needs to write multiple drafts of a book to even begin figuring out my world building. So, if you're a natural pantser who's learned the art of plotting, or some other mash-up that struggles with worldbuilding like I do, here are some simple tips you might want to take into consideration when building the world of your novel (or, these are the things that I usually forget to include until at least draft five and then hate my past self for ignoring them).

A simple set of rules 
I have a habit of making overly complicated world rules, particularly for magic. Subsequent drafts after the first usually comprise of me paring down my magic and ripping out the bottom of my world building until it's the finest, most boiled-down version that it can be. The simpler and clearer your rules are (be it magic, politics, geography, religion, etc.), the easier it will be for readers to understand and the easier it will be for you to avoid writing infodumps.

Remember: more is not always better.

A world structure that directly leads to the beliefs the MC holds
Often for me, the world and the main character for a book are two separate entities that I figure out and then mesh together. When I first have a book concept, the two aren't always connected, and usually my alpha readers feedback consist of something like, "What is this MC doing in this world?"

There are enough books out there with MCs who heroically go against the grain of their culture's poisonous beliefs for no good reason. Don't let your book be one of those. Give your MC a specific, clear reason for holding the beliefs that they do and tie it back to the world. Your reader will thank you for this. If your MC hates witches, what about the world has made that so? If everyone in the world except for your MC hates witches, what is it that's caused them to think differently from everyone else? Your characters and your worldbuilding should be interconnected.

Don't include all of your world building in the book 
You know the adage: only 10% of your worldbuilding should be visible for the reader, while the rest should be hidden beneath the surface. An iceberg, if you will!

"But...I love my worldbuilding! I love the magic and the religions and the cultures and the geography and I want everyone to know everything!"

Except readers are concerned with the story, and anything you add that takes away from the forward momentum of the story (eh em, infodumps), will make the reader feel like they're bogged down by needless information, and you'll risk them setting the book aside.


Good luck with your worldbuilding! As with everything, practice, practice, practice! Every writing skill takes practice; don't worry if it takes you multiple books to get there :D And read books that have incredible world building multiple times so you can figure out how the author did what they did (ex: THE FIFTH SEASON--adult, THE THIEF--YA/MG crossover).

What resources have you found particularly helpful on worldbuilding? What books have wowed you with the world building? Share in the comments!

All the best,

1 comment:

  1. I'll be the first to admit I fail at this more often than I don't. Thanks for the resources! It's nice to know I'm not the only one struggling with it, and sometimes wondering what the heck it all means!