Monday, March 4, 2013


As a writer of fantasy and science fiction, worldbuilding is a necessary part of the writing process.  It's not enough to come up with some characters and a plot.  You have to craft an entire world around them.  In secondary world fantasy, this can be a long, time consuming process.  The same goes for galaxy-spanning space operas.  There's a little less in urban fantasy and near-future science fiction.

Some of my favorite books are the ones with the most interesting worlds.  Take Brandon Sanderson, for example.  At times, his books can drag a bit, but he's still one of my favorite authors because his worlds are fascinating.  His magic systems are creative and unique.  The setting comes alive as a character.  I look at these aspects of Sanderson's writing and wish I could do the same.

However, I struggle with worldbuilding.  I often find it boring.  When a story pops into my head, I just want to start writing it.  I'm too impatient to sit down and worry about the details of the world.  At the same time, though, I know those little details will really bring the world, and the story, to life.  These are the feelings that make me doubt my choice of genres.  Fantasy and science fiction are my favorite genres to read, and I love writing them, but worldbuilding can really prove a stumbling block.

To all the other speculative fiction authors out there, how do you worldbuild?  Do you write a detailed description of your world beforehand?  Or do you build elements of the world as they become relevant to the story? 

I lean toward the latter, but I often find I don't have enough set in place to get any feeling for the world myself.  In my Armoth Cycle, I didn't do much worldbuilding, and it was obvious the first time around.  By the time I finished the series, I had gotten a feel for the world, and I've applied that feel to my current rewrite of the series.

Does anyone else wish there were a quicker way to worldbuild?


  1. I know exactly what you mean! I so admire authors who create intricate worlds, but I tend to come up with the bare minimum before I start writing (because I'm extremely impatient and hate planning). It's kind of biting me in the *** now that I'm working on editing, because I've been doing a lot of extra world building AFTER the fact, meaning I have to edit it in. The truth is, though, that I think that's just part of my process - when I try to sit down and plan these things out beforehand, I'm always short on inspired ideas. My best ideas usually come to me when I'm in the middle of writing, which sucks, but you have to do what works. xD

    On the other hand, I tend to write in more realistic settings with just a few fantastical elements, and I kinda like it that way (that is until I read a new book with a completely different and intricate world and suddenly find my own story boring by comparison). Every time I've tried to write in a completely fantastical world with all its own creatures and races and magic system, etc. I've become caught up in those aspects and lost track of the real story and characters. Maybe it will come with practice.

  2. I think you're right on that the world-building has to come secondary to the story, and that's okay. I wouldn't care a whit about Middle Earth if there wasn't an awesome story that happened there. In the past, an omniscient narrator has given the ability to build the world beyond the POV character's perspective, but that has fallen out of style and the current preference is a very limited POV, which also limits the reader's knowledge of the world to the narrator's knowledge of it.

    As you noted, pure world-building can drag, and while it may have worked in the past, it won't fly in today's glut of manuscripts crossing agents' and publishers' desks. So, write a good story first and foremost. Then only include elements of the world that are relevant to the story. It's okay for you as the author to be aware of the larger world, but that doesn't mean all the details have to make it into the actual narrative.

  3. Ahhh!

    I have to admit, I catch world-builder's disease way too often. I'm currently editing the first (not so) short story I've ever completed, one in which I did the bare minimum of world-building, and as I edit, I find myself trying to add more details that don't just feel congruent.

    Show me your ways!

  4. I have the opposite problem, building the worlds is easier and more easier than writing the story and being satisfied with it. The world in my scifi serial is so real to me at times I'm stunned by it. And I have more than one galaxy I've populated. I have several government systems worked out, various groups (from the legal to illegal), timelines and history events, races, cultures, societies, technolgy and currently working on creating various fictional languages. It makes me sad and frustrated that I can't write a story that takes place here which is satisfying to me. I'm a sucker when it comes to details and like to know things that mostly don't end up in a story or has little use. It just makes it more real to me.