Saturday, January 03, 2009

World Building

While I've always known that world building is an important part of writing fiction, (I've even got a Writer's Digest book sitting on the shelf with the same name) I didn't know that it can almost be a hobby in and of itself. To me, constructing the world around the characters always came after the idea for the story. If I needed characters to do something then the world would conveniently have the thing I needed right there. If I need something to happen to them then I'd create the world to allow for that as well. Not since my old Dungeons & Dragons days did I ever sit around and create a world just for the fun of it.

So it's with interest and a bit of skepticism that I'm poking around the internets looking at various world building sites. Initially, it strikes me as the same "To Blog or Not To Blog" argument. I see a lot of potential for sparking creative energy and driving a story towards a conclusion but I also see a lot of opportunity to put the cart before the horse. And in my little world, horses don't push.


Anonymous said...

Hello - thanks for stopping by my blog.

As to worldbuilding, I initially felt that the details of a world could be fleshed out as they were needed. However, after reading several really bad fantasy novels where the 'convenience' was too apparent, I began reforming my ideas on worldbuilding. I now believe that, for me at least, it's necessary to build the world first, then populate it with my characters and have them react to their environment.

Unfortunately, when we are born into this world, we don't get the 'convenience' of suddenly stumbling upon a tavern in the middle of a forest just when we are tired and thirsty - so why should our characters?

I should also warn you that worldbuilding is an incredibly addicting hobby in, and of, itself. I have written quite a bit on the topic on my first blog, Annotation. Would love to hear your comments.

Jeff Draper said...


Your blog on the Faercourt sparked this post. Like I said, I've been seeing references to 'world building' crop up more and more and I generally ignored them because I figured "Well of course you have to finally get around to creating some kind of consistent world for your stories to be set in." The length and breadth of detail that some people pursue is enough to make my eyebrow arch up in amazement. I don't criticize, I never really criticize anything of a creative nature (except Eragon, which needs much criticism), but I do find it interesting. As in all things creative, it's the process that fascinates me because I'm always looking for ways to apply lessons from different disciplines.

I've got to check out that other blog of yours.

Anonymous said...

Turning my emphasis to worldbuilding versus writing has been a good thing for me at present. My experience with NaNoWriMo 2007 showed me that I am very good at two things in particular - creating a world and creating good, living characters. It also showed me that I am very not-so-good at two things - writing dialogue and having a well plotted story.

Also, with all that's been going on in the 'real world' I can keep my attention focused enough to work on my world but writing is a bit out of the question at the moment. I have decided to focus on building a complete world (one city at a time) for possible use as a tabletop RPG setting. This is allowing me to use my creative mind without being constantly frustrated.

I certainly agree that the breadth of detail that some undertake in worldbuilding is astounding. For my purposes, I have no need (or desire) to invent a new language or pantheon of gods.

Any yes, your assessment of Eragon is quite on the mark, in my humble opinion. Maybe he should have stuck to worldbuilding, too, no?

Jeff Draper said...

Half of that book should have stayed in Paolini's head. It would still be bad but you could read it in less time.

Brandon Barr said...

Like you Jeff, I tend to develop my characters and plot ideas first, and world shapes itself around them. However, I write sci-fi. Fantasy (and sci-fi fantasy) would definitely require more focus and attention on world building. I can definitely see how it could even be done before the characters and the plot.

Lots of it has to do with the individual writer. Some of us just work differently than others.

Jeff Draper said...

Yeah, most of this stuff does come down to individual preferences. I also have to keep in mind that not everyone who writes is seeking publication, fame and fortune, just like not everyone who tries their hand at glazed pottery is looking to open up their own art gallery.

NewGuyDave said...

I think world-building needs to be given the same amount of effort as fleshing out characters. While creative discovery will happen during the writing process, some needs to be done ahead of time.

Having a firm idea of your world adds a depth to the story that many novels lack. I put a lot of thought into history, conflicts, migration, and cultural mixing. I think this way, the characters can have prejudices, and settings differences, without being too typical.