When I started writing this, I intended to make it nice and simple… but I quickly realized that I had ideas piling up, and I couldn’t explain them all in singe sentences. So instead of being “quick ‘n easy”, these pointers will be “almost quick ‘n easy”. Part 1 will lay down some groundwork, while Part 2 (which will hopefully be published on Friday) will focus on map-making and landscape. Without further ado, here’s some quick-start ideas for your worldbuilding.
1. Do Your Research
Okay, so let’s not start out easy. Let’s start out hard.
Research is something that a lot of people shy away from. It’s daunting, it’s work-intensive, and it’s downright annoying sometimes – especially when you have to wade through streams of undiluted information which you then have to filter and mold to fit your own world. You don’t like it. I get it.
But research is incredibly important when it comes to worldbuilding, and here’s five reasons why you should bother with it:
- Authenticity: Want to know if if that eureka moment you had was purely self-inspired or if it accidentally copies someone else’s work? Do your research.
- Don’t-Know-How-To: Stuck on some technical detail that’s completely outside your realm of knowledge/experience? Look it up. Knowledge is just a google search away.
- Idea Gathering: Want to find out what others are doing and how it could help further your own work? Go forth and research.
- Exposure: Want to connect with others who dabble in the worldbuilding arts? Want to connect with like-minded writers? Read their stuff, comment on it, and get to know them. In short: social research.
- Marketing: Ever plan on putting your work out there as books/articles/stories/art/poetry/graphic designs? Find out what your market is and how to best get your work published and/or noticed.
The good news is that I myself quite enjoy research and endeavor to do some of it for you. You can check out The Reading List for some especially helpful sites and/or keep your eyes peeled for future worldbuilding posts.
2. Don’t Get Lost In The Details
It’s so incredibly easy to get stuck in a mind-numbing bog of minute details. It’s a temptation almost – a temptation to have it all figured out, to know every little bit, to be perfectly perfect.
Well, guess what: you’re not perfectly perfect. Neither am I. Deal with it.
While having things figured out is great, getting lost in the little things is not. If you find yourself descending into a downwards spiral of nit-picky-ness, try to step back and look at the big picture again. Go for a walk to clear your head, take some time off from your project, or call a friend to discuss some of the things you’ve been agonizing about. However you do it, it’s important to take a step back sometimes. Let your work be imperfect, but perfectly human. And if you’re still stuck, refer to tip #3….
3. Make Stuff Up
I love this one. If you ever don’t know where you’re going (and are unable to find relevant research and/or are stuck in the detail bog from tip #2), just make stuff up. Within reason, of course.
The beautiful thing about worldbuilding is that it’s all up to you. When it comes down to it and something doesn’t make sense, simply invent a solution. Whether you need an improbable landscape formation, a new race, a reason for war, an explanation for an event, or a logical detail – it’s okay to invent your own.
Even if you have to (occasionally) delve into the realm of cliches, the final decision is always up to you. Not everyone may like it, of course, so you do have to pay attention to what you want your audience to think. Be creative. Be free. Be fun. And have fun too, if possible.
4. Follow The Rules
You may not have noticed yet, but like everything else, worldbuilding has rules.
What are these rules? Well there’s the basics, of course – rules like “don’t plagiarize” and “don’t use cliches“. Then there are other almost-rules, which range from broad to specific.
- Use basic logic to determine sequence of events/landscape/history
- Don’t have an over-powered magic system (more on this one in a future post)
- Don’t oversimplify
- Add your own flavour
- Eliminate inconsistencies
In general, these “rules” are thoughts passed down from people who know what they’re doing, and this means that you should follow them. if you find yourself breaking the rules all the time (or rule number one even once), then you probably need to sit back and reconsider some things. Do you have a good reason for breaking the rules? Or are you simply sacrificing quality for speed, quantity, or less effort?
5. Do Whatever You Want
In a culture that celebrates the anti-hero rebel and loves to push the slogan “rules were meant to be broken,” we’ve come to expect that we can do whatever we want and get away with it too.
Okay, yes. But also no.
Breaking rules is good, but you have to break them for a reason, and I would argue that you have to understand them before you can reason enough to break them. The rules I mentioned in #4, and others like them, are good rules made with purpose, and as such should be broken sparingly.
While I can think of exceptions to every rule (except the one about plagiarizing), I would humbly ask you to think long and hard before venturing too far from the beaten path. And by “the beaten path”, I don’t mean our world of cliches – indeed, the rules I mentioned are all about not being cliche, and about being unique in an organized fashion.
So. That being said, if you see an opportunity, take it. Break those rules and showcase your own uniqueness and creativity by being different. I applaud your endeavors.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding
Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic
TV Tropes – Inverse Law of Complexity to Power (I also used other TV Tropes pages)
The Cardinal Rules of Worldbuilding
Disclaimer: As I’ve mentioned in my previous worldbuilding post, I don’t claim to be an expert on this or any other subject. That being said, however, the information found here is gleaned primarily from my own experiences – three years’ worth of trial and error – as well as the sources referenced above (for more helpful links, visit The Reading List. If you want to have a look at my work, you can find some of it here). I write in the hopes that you’ll be free to not makes the mistakes I made, but to make wonderful mistakes of your own, which you will hopefully go share with others. Keep creatin’.