Blog Entry #19: Writing Advice-Worldbuilding #1: Shards


For many people, doing research and worldbuilding can be the most entertaining part of writing. It’s exciting, opportunity is limitless, your entire story is set before you. You can make your world as large or as small as you want. You can make it as detailed as you want. People, places, things, concepts, religions, creatures, everything is absolutely open to your creativity and breadth of ideas. But, for some, worldbuilding can be scary. Just like with writing your story, where do you begin? How do you know if you’ve done too much, or too little?

Worldbuilding is made up of its many individual pieces. For the most part, you have an inkling of what your story is going to be, who your characters are, what sort of era it’s in. If this is a fantasy novel, does your world have magick? How is it used? Where does it come from? Is it biological, chemical, or engineered? Can people use magick, or just creatures? Is it against religion or science to use magick? Is magick political? Is it determined by social class? It it morally good, or evil? This is where the pieces come in, the shards of your worldbuilding. When you sit down to create your worldbuilding document, it’s important to pick one thing at a time and follow it through to conclusion. 

Let’s keep going with the example of magick. The more detail you include in your worldbuilding, the easier it’s going to be to write your story. You won’t have to stop and think about too many things in depth because you have already created them. Your research and worldbuilding are done (for the most part, it’s always safe and fun to add more things as you think of them) and so you are free to write with assurance and confidence.

So, magick. If you have to, make a list of these questions and then simply answer them to your preferred level of detail. Do you want your magick to be explicit, or implied? Make sure that you have enough of your own details created that you can make the information flow naturally through your story, instead of dumping it all at once. I know, we get really excited about our stories and worlds, but it feels much better as a reader to have much of these things inferred or assumed by characters to make the world and its concepts feel natural. Suppose that this magick you’ve created is pulled from nature itself. Your characters can summon stones, or vines, or create fire if these things are natural around them. Perhaps write a scene where one character lights a cigar with his fingers near a camp fire, or another character uses vines to tangle the legs of a foe. Whatever your magick is, if you showcase it in a natural description, much of what you’ve done in worldbuilding can be conveyed to the reader as if they already knew about the concept.

Now that you have magick, move on to the next thing. Tackle race, geography, religion, philosophy, money, creatures, and class much in the same way. Save the bigger aspects, such as history or family, for the end of your worldbuilding. Try and start small, build up those shards until you have a full, formed gem. Maybe start with magick, then weapons, then creatures, and move on to religion, society, class. Keep building up and up and before long, you will have lists and sub lists of all the things you need. Once you are at a comfortable position, you can move on to the next step of your worldbuilding: organization.