a precursor to world building month

Once upon a time, when I was trying to avoid defining a plot, a beginning, or an end to the vague story-idea I had in my mind (a few years ago– internet role play, of all things, taught me how to move a story along, but that’s another issue entirely), I used to build static characters that only had situations, not actions, and worlds with details but not events. I made maps. I drew terrain, and defined linguistic patterns so that I could have realistic naming conventions for the cities.

Saint Know-All brought up the point that world-building can be completely distracting from the writing process, and I thought that I’d address that. World building is done to enrich your story. It requires action, and relevance to the project. It needs to contribute. After all, there’s not much point detailing characters that won’t be mentioned in the story. And world-building is important in genres other than fantasy and sci-fi.

Building a planet, galaxy, alien races, and government are all world-building. But so is defining the layout of a character’s house, the kind of furniture in the front room, the name of the street that said character lives on, the gossip that is spread around, and the statue that was defaced in the local park. No one can completely define the place they’re writing… and when you start mapping out blades of grass, you’ve probably gone too far. So first, before we begin our world building project, we’ll need to define its scope.

Simply put, where does the story go, what topics does it consider or touch on, and what are we going to see most often? Detail that.

For instance, if your character is a member of the local nobility, you should have a very, very good idea of how their system works, what the local issues are, and what duties fall to whom in the government. Even if a king isn’t introduced, you should know what kind of man he is and what he will and will not involve himself with. What people eat halfway across the world from said character will not be considered important, unless the character has a penchant for foreign delicacies.

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One thought on “a precursor to world building month

  1. As far as world building being a distraction from the writing process, I’d have to agree if it is not done with purpose. As you said (and I agree) there is no reason to world-build elements that will never show up in the story. Only a basic personal understanding of things is needed by the writer for things outside the scope of events.

    It could also be said that extracurricular writing and “promotion” can be a huge distraction from the actual writing. Things such as writing communities, Blogging, and self-promotion efforts can often do more harm than good.

    I’ve seen people get about halfway through a novel, and then get so caught up in promoting it that it never gets finished.

    So, when it comes down to it, the saying is true: Writers Write. However, it depends on what the Writer is writing. If we are serious about our craft, we need to direct our writing time to where it matters most.

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