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How much world building do you do before writing?

Miles Lacey

Maester
Ok, I have this elf girl named Callista, she looks really young mostly because she is super short and always wears a leather jacket that is two sizes too big. Below that she wears just a simple pants - shirt - boots situation, and she also wears lots of jewellery. She is the head of a gang whose headquarters are in an elvish nightclub, so she lives in the apartment above it which is very spars since she hardly ever goes up there except to sleep.

What you have done here is classic world building without the info-dumping. Your character, her job, her living arrangements and her wardrobe are all reflections of the world in which she lives in. You've created a very vivid snapshot of your world and as we follow your character around and see the world as she does more of it will be revealed. That is world-building in its most simple form. If done well it can create a world that is as believable as that found in a game like Skyrim.

 
Ok cool, I guess I just sort of thought that you had to do a bunch of world building and be able to visualize EVERYTHING before it became sort of believable.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
There are many ways to go about this; you're looking not for the Right Way but for the way that works for you. You figure this out by writing actual stories all the way to completion (published, or self-published), which is why you're still casting about. One way to figure out what works is by figuring out what doesn't work. IOW, just write a story. All the way to done. Then do it again. And again. By the third time around, you'll start to have a feel for what doesn't work for you. If you are very, very lucky, you'll have hit upon what *does* work, but that's only for the fortunate few. Keep writing stories.

I tend to work well from analogies. In case you do as well, here's one that resonates with me. There's a new world and I'm standing in it, but everything is dark. The story is my flashlight. I can shine it all around, up and down, but then I never move. Better is to start moving (i.e., telling the story). Parts of the world will show up in sharp relief--like you, characters seem to stand out most clearly with me--while others are clear but distant. Many are seen but dimly, shadowed and indistinct, and most of the world remains in darkness. That's ok.

After all, think about how you move through the real world. There are cities, regions, whole continents, you barely know. There are entire systems of knowledge, histories, sciences, utterly opaque to you. And yet, there's the story of you, told perfectly clearly without all that.

All best wishes with your story telling.
 

Hallen

Scribe
It depends on your story. If it's a secondary world story, then you probably need to do more. If it's an adaptation of our world, then you can do a bit less.
In either case, you need enough to frame the story and to not cause roadblocks when writing. For example, if you are describing the layout of your city, you best know where the slum is in relation to the keep, etc. The last thing you want is to stop writing to figure out which direction your character should be walking. You also want enough detail in your descriptions to make a place real to the reader. There is nothing worse than trying to describe street life, vegetation, agriculture, food, fashion, etc, if you don't have a good idea of what those things are or why those things are the way they are.

To me, that's the most important part. You need to have enough done on your world so you can write without hangups. There's only so many times you can insert a note like <<figure out what kind of shoes this guy wears because he is from Country1>> in a story before you start losing context. Also, it helps you stay consistent in your writing so you don't have continuity issues.
 
I am currently planning my very first fantasy novel, although I've done others like crime and psychological thrillers but none of them needed as much world-building (like planning an entire planet from scratch). So I fell for the common trap of getting sucked into endless world-building and found myself planning things is details my novel would never need. Maybe it was good for me too know this stuff - but in two years I'd done nothing but world build, and world building is my LEAST favourite part of writing.

So now I do my plot and character's first and I simply world-building the things that are needed. Like weather, religion, races, land scape. I don't mind being the writer that doesn't do cool world-building because I'd rather be know for good characters and good plots. So I world - build what I need.
 
I prefer to build the world(s) first and then write my story. I guess it's because I'm a bit OCD, in that I need to do tasks in a certain order and need my stuff organized. If I try to build the world on the fly as I write the story then I tend to get lost at some point and contradict myself. x-x

I do use roleplaying as a testing ground for characters and settings or even plots. It's a good way for me to find out what works an what doesn't, plus I get direct feedback from my roleplaying partner. : 3

I organize my worlds on google docs and put certain subjects in categories like; Cosmology, Technology, Religions, Magicks, Races, etc....
 
I prefer to build the world(s) first and then write my story.

I organize my worlds on google docs and put certain subjects in categories like; Cosmology, Technology, Religions, Magicks, Races, etc....

Me too! I don't use google docs though (I usually use a folder and/or sketchbook). I like to give my world a history before I even start working on the present setting. For example, I'm working on a 12th century empire called Movin, who left the great west their horses. This all takes place around 700 years before my story begins. Before this, 3000 years before the story, the first cities are built out of ditches in the sand. In fact, I often enjoy setting more than my characters. That's something I (might) have to change, probably.
 
Thank you for sharing your experience. After all, I'm just thinking about writing my book. I already have some work, but it’s still a lot of work!
 
I think it depends on what pieces are important and impact the story as a whole. For example, geographics and government impact the story but writing out the history of a particular kingdom may not be important to the plot or story. If that’s the case, then you wouldn’t necessarily have to world build there. Does any of what I just said make sense to you guys?
 

Insolent Lad

Maester
Yesterday, I had to sit down and work out a six thousand year timeline for lactose intolerance and the use of dairy products in my primary fantasy world. Important to the stories? I'm not sure but it makes the world richer and it ties into other genetics, so I felt it was useful.

And I feel comfortable allowing yogurt to show up in meals in certain time and places now. :)
 
Yesterday, I had to sit down and work out a six thousand year timeline for lactose intolerance and the use of dairy products in my primary fantasy world. Important to the stories? I'm not sure but it makes the world richer and it ties into other genetics, so I felt it was useful.

And I feel comfortable allowing yogurt to show up in meals in certain time and places now. :)
The extra world building does make things richer. But I was talking about more of the necessary work that’s needed to write. You can always add more than needed and continue to build as you write the story.
Btw, that’s quits the task you took on there...
 

Saigonnus

Auror
In my case, I love world-building for the sake of world-building, though I have finished a few short stories in the various worlds I have created. When I am doing specific work for a project, I just do the close-in stuff (what the character sees looking around), and expand that as I need to. In cities for example, I will create landmarks. The Spire of Dyspar... or Mehlvor's Park, or the Street of Candles... or the Harbor District... etc, and keep track of where things are in relation to those landmarks.

I also figure out the broad-stroke stuff like trade/economy, architecture, wardrobe (which usually depends on climate), religions and system of government.
 

D. Gray Warrior

Troubadour
I do enough to help me get a general idea of what the setting is like. I prefer to start with a theme or concept: Medieval Europe, Bronze Age, Steampunk, Wuxia, etc. to use as a starting point.

I try to figure out what the main factions will be and what they are fighting over, and work on the magic system.

Magic is a major part of many fantasy works, thus it is usually one of the first things I work on. I might not lay down every rule and restriction, or exactly how it can be used, but I work out enough to get a general idea of what it does and how it works.

After that, I usually start writing, but still write down any worldbuilding ideas I get while writing.

I used to have a rich and fleshed out world, but scrapped it since it lost its mystique, and the worldbuilding was just really an excuse to keep myself from actually beginning to write the story.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
I think it depends on what pieces are important and impact the story as a whole. For example, geographics and government impact the story but writing out the history of a particular kingdom may not be important to the plot or story. If that’s the case, then you wouldn’t necessarily have to world build there. Does any of what I just said make sense to you guys?

It's hard to know what, exactly, is important/impactful to your story before you start actually writing. I built out a LOT of stuff before I wrote my manuscript and there was still things I realized I needed. This includes colors for city guards, names of various things on the map, finer details of religious stuff, and, most importantly, what different groups believe about a certain event. Like I know why the kaiju showed up and caused problems, but that doesn't mean anyone else knows that. You can't think of everything before writing, and if you do, you'll never get to writing, you'll just world build forever.

You have to look at your plot/characters/themes you put together in the planning stages and make some deductions as to what you'll need before you start. It's okay to make stuff up as you go along! Editing will make it all feel consistent.
 
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