Worldbuilding seems to be either every writer’s bane or boon. Its importance is often underestimated and incorporation of it into a story is sometimes completely abandoned. Yet worldbuilding needs just as much development as your plot and characters do––your story and the people in your story constantly engage with the setting.
A unique and well crafted universe takes your story to a whole new level of complexity and diversity and realism to not just your story’s setting, but also to your characters and your plot. Worldbuilding is so important because it’s the creation of an environment where things happen in your story. It’s the environment where your characters live and interact. And it’s the first thing that your readers will see. A story with a dry, abstract world lacking in detail that’s just kind of there for characters to walk on is hardly worth the read. Worldbuilding is also way more important for writers of speculative fiction because speculative fiction is all about places and people and things that don’t exist in real life, which is why they need to create a unique and convincing world. Readers use their imagination, and for readers to experience the full impact of a story, they need a realistic picture for them to build on. A well rounded, convincing setting is just what they need to get started.
For you, as the writer, worldbuilding is important to your creative process. Having great characters and an interesting, intriguing plot may seem like that’s all you need, but you’re just stifling your imagination’s potential. Creating a world complete with histories and cultures and creatures and landmarks can put your entire story, plot and characters and all, into perspective. The more you spend time developing your world, the more time you spend learning about your story and your characters.
Plus, if your book ever is successful enough to get a movie adaption, you don’t want to kick yourself when the filmmakers have to go off of their own imagination to create the sets.
Now remember that, of course, not everything you develop about your world should show up in your story. Your story features a set of characters and is told as a narrative following sequences of events involving obstacles and problems, the conflict, climax, and resolution. Your story should focus on your characters, what happens to them, and how they react, etc. The world you create is for that story; the universe you develop should support the plot and give a firm foundation for everything that happens. It’s important to immerse your readers, and not to drown them, in the worldbuilding details and descriptions. Relay information that is needed in the plot and for the development of your characters. Worldbuilding can be a lot of fun. Make a storyline and tape it to your walls. Draw a map. Create languages––several of them if you’d like. Go Tolkien on your world. Just don’t go Tolkien while writing your stories. If you want to go overboard, you most certainly should––but cut out what’s unnecessary in the second draft. Make everything you include about your world in your story count, just as you make everything else count in order to develop your characters and further your plot. I know there are different methods for worldbuilding, and every writer has their own way of developing, outlining, drafting, and editing, but these are just general applications for anyone.
While worldbuilding can be fun as it involves originality and creativity, I realize that it is a challenge for many of us writers to devote our time and energy to creating a well-thought out, complex, and realistic fantasy or sci-fi world. It’s time spent on your story without working directly with the storyline and characters. It takes lots of thought, and, most of the time, lots of research, particularly for science fiction. There are so many aspects important to a well-developed world, and I’ll bring up some suggested worldbuilding elements to consider while developing in the next post, Part 2!