The perks of being a world-builder4 min read
World building is my favourite part of creating stories. Confession: Sometimes I enjoy it more than the writing. It’s the part (given the sci-fi and fantasy genres I write in) where I can be unrestrainedly creative. I can sit back and idly speculate on how a culture that worshipped a god of jelly beans would pan out. How would their banking system work? Jelly beans. Duh. What would be their main method of transport? Jelly bean blimp. What would their weapons look like? Jelly bean canons.
I’ll start by saying you don’t have to world build. You can write your story and deal with intersecting elements of your planet or society as and when you need to. Too much world building can have genuine pitfalls. If you enjoy it, it’s a big distraction that may keep you from getting on with the actual writing. It could also lead to the same bad habits as too much research; you end up showing all the information you’ve accumulated so that readers know you have “done your homework”, even if it’s to the detriment of the plot.
But world building also has amazing perks.
Despite what I’ve said about how distracting it can be, world building can help focus your attention and hone down to the most important elements in the story:
Why is all hell breaking loose now? And why are your characters bothering to care about it?
Maybe their motive for action seems personal, for love or for revenge. But somewhere underneath that personal motive it will come back to something about the way your macrocosm is configured.
Why can’t they be with the person they love? Papa doesn’t like them? Well, why not? Could it be a different political leaning? A social hierarchy? A religious difference?
What about that revenge motive? Her brother was murdered, you say… Who by and why? Somewhere down the line it’s likely to be related to money or power, or both.
So why are we suddenly up that infamous creek without a paddle?
There must have been a catalyst. Something has shifted in your world, or in how your characters think about the world, that means now the time for action. Spending time world building can help you figure out what that catalyst was.
But what factors should you think about when world building?
Of course that’s going to depend on the sort of story you’re writing. Some of the basic elements are geography, infrastructure, political and economic climates and systems, as well as world religions and even the basics of where the food comes from and where the waste ends up. All of these could have an impact on your characters and your events, so put a little time aside before you start writing to think about this.
Warning: just don’t put so much time aside that each city in your world has its own hand-drawn Tube map and full import/export rates list. You do need to do *some* writing along the way!
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