Building Worlds

Some tips on worldbuilding

I’ve been working on my worldbuilding for the same world for a couple of years now. It evolved from another WIP I never finished and ended up shelving after trying to rewrite it several times. I just wasn’t ready for it I think, but because of it, I do have this universe now. I have all these regions, histories, the lives and these stories thanks to that one WIP where I bit off more than I could chew. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a learning moment for me. 

Image of papers with the words “think outside the box”, and “live breathe create” on a table with pensils, a cup of tea with a lemon slice, and a potted plant. Underneath a black bar with the text “Elisa Winther’s”, “Building Worlds”, and “Developing systems and imagining brand new worlds!”

Worldbuilding as a skill

Worldbuilding is a lot of fun, but it’s also a skill we as writers need to learn and develop. It takes practice to hone and find different ways to implement the lore into our works without always relying on infodumps. Understanding how to worldbuild can go from simply copying from the real world, to mimicking it, to understanding systems and using those to create out own systems and worlds. 

Setting can be seen as a character in its own as we develop it, and as we brainstorm our plots and stories, like with side characters, we can make it so it aligns with your themes. Your worldbuilding can enhance all other aspects of your writing if you just know how to. 

In part, yes, there’s the matter of taste and style, which shouldn’t be forgotten, but we also need to know what we’re doing. A big part of that is research, insight into how things and systems work, and understanding. We can build worlds as best we can but when we don’t understand how environment can influence a culture or how history isn’t just a cute bit of backstory to slap onto a book, but actually informs your world and how it develops, we can miss a lot. It can be good. But why not go for great?

How much on-page worldbuilding is too little/much?

So one thing that comes up a lot when we’re talking about worldbuilding is how it’s like an iceberg. Only a bit is visible above the surface, the rest remains out of sight. That which isn’t immediately visible is still important though. It’s got weight to the story and keeps many other things afloat. It gifts depth and just makes the whole thing work that much better. 

Keep that in mind while you’re working your worldbuilding into your WIP. Not everything needs to be dumped onto page. Some can me hinted to. Some can be shown. Some only needs a few well put lines. Some just needs to be there for you to work out the things that do make it onto the page. Or maybe you’re like me and just worldbuild more than you need. Find out what actually needs to be present for your story to work. You don’t want to clutter it with needless details.

On the other side there’s the risk of not explaining enough and leaving your reader confused. I’m learning how to find the right balance in this myself without breaking the immersion too much. It’s actually a pity when you work so hard to make this world like its a real and living thing and then don’t allow your reader to visit it because poor exposition. 

What to focus on while worldbuilding

What’s to be included or not is up to you though. Maybe you like to be thorough and detailed. Maybe you like to keep it clear and to the point. That’s where style comes in. Find out what you like and what works for you. And of course, keep your own strengths and weaknesses in mind. Some people are linguistics. They can make their own conlangs and work their knowledge in how it maybe influences a magic that’s based on language, pronunciation, etc. I’m way out of my depth with that though, so I chose to mention people talking in different languages and dialects instead of writing out whole new languages. 

There’s multiple ways to implement your worldbuilding. You can be immersive, but you can also have a reader insert as a main character who’s new to the world and just explain things. I don’t have that many words yet on how exactly best to do it, or tips at least, but I might in the future. 

What about you? Tell us a bit about your worldbuilding! How do you work your worldbuilding into your fiction?

Tip: Looking for a fun hashtag game to play and talk about worldbuilding? Check out #WIPWorldBuilders by @skthproductions and @pepperdaphoenix 

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