1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

The Importance of World Building to a Cohesive Story

Discussion in 'World Building' started by WickGreenwood, Apr 4, 2020.

  1. WickGreenwood

    WickGreenwood Dreamer

    I'm writing a large story that takes place during the "Dark Ages" of an entirely made up world. As I've been writing, I've tried to throw in little bits of info about this world as naturally as possible. It helps that the main character has lived his entire life in basic isolation and is discovering things about the world as he goes.

    The problem: My OCD is yelling at me to develop the history of this world before telling a story within it so that I know what I'm doing and where the characters should be and where they should go. I also want a good solid comprehensive list of the races/species that exist in this world.

    Is this kind of thing a problem for anyone else? And if so, what do you do about it?
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    You could try a compromise. Give yourself an hour or day or week--probably a month would be too long. In that span you will build out the world. However far you get, that's how far you get. Then start writing. When that voice starts in on you, tell it to sit down and be quiet because you've already done worldbuilding and now it's just asking for seconds and being an annoyance.
  3. WickGreenwood

    WickGreenwood Dreamer

    That seems fair.
  4. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

    While most modern advice says to do your worldbuilding ahead of time, worldbuilding on-the-fly is a perfectly valid approach. This approach is probably better for more character focused stories where the setting mostly just a backdrop. A well known example is Harry Potter. Rowling basically wrote the entire series with no clear plan and her worldbuilding is notoriously spotty as a result, but it works anyways because the minutia of how everything works usually just isn't very important.
  5. WickGreenwood

    WickGreenwood Dreamer

    That makes sense. One of the most impressive things I've found about the Song of Ice and Fire series is the rich history that is established. Also the concepts of the various religions of that world, since religion/spirituality is such a pervasive part of culture.
  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    I started with a badly flawed chronology and notes about the principle nation of my world, plus a incomplete and even more flawed list of various saints and gods. I wrote a pile of short stories that put some meat on these bones. Writing the actual novels has fleshed out the framework.

    That said, rule of thumb, no matter how much advance worldbuilding you do, it's never enough when you get into the actual writing.
    TheKillerBs likes this.
  7. Well, here's one personal take Wick. I am currently in the midst of writing two books. One, I had been world building (mapmaking, races, foods, clothing, folklore etc) off and on for about six year before I started writing it (it was never meant to be a book but, as we all know. . . ) and the other novel has come out of a few short stories I basically wrote with zero worldbuilding planned out before the first words of the first story were down on paper. Outside of a basic societal structure and key notes about plot points and characters, it's been build as I go every step of the way.

    Here's the thing. I have trouble writing and progressing at times on the first story far more often than the second. I think this is because my own version of world builders OCD won't let me move forward when I have a niggling little voice wondering if I got something right or was consistent or if I need to go back and work on some new idea and make sure it fits before moving on again.

    With the second book, that never seems to happen! I find it feels easier to write my way forward without those concerns there. I'm sure, in editing, I'll have a lot to work out and clean up, even tech to explain. Still, for the purpose of writing, I am, for now, in the less-is-more ahead of time camp. I DO work through certain issues in the world as they come up and the map, races, etc all are developing with the story as I go along. But I'm letting the story drive that creation and it, to this point, has been far easier for me.

    Before this I was a devout world builder and I love to do it for side projects but I won't ever do that to a story of mine again. That said, I know many who work one way or the other and can't do it the other way. So you'll have to think about what will work best for you.

    And GRRM is a good example though he talks often about the extensive time and research that's required to make sure each detail is right for his ongoing books because of that extensive history that now exists. It's impressive, fun to dive into as a reader, but not for everyone as a writer. :)
  8. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    My story begins as follows:

    It could've been straight out of a tourist poster: the setting tropical sun against the palm trees in the foreground. But this wasn't a poster. And Hawaiki wasn't the idyllic paradise full of beautiful native girls and handsome muscular men hanging around lazily on the beaches, waiting to serve the tourists.

    Laina flicked the cigarette butt into the gutter then crossed the almost deserted road to the tram stop. As she did so she prayed under her breath, ‘Oh, blessed Laka, keep me safe from whatever the night shall throw at me. So be it.’

    She tucked her enchanted switchblade under her oversized leather belt.

    You don't need to go into lavish detail about the world the story is set in to create a detailed world in the mind of the reader.

    Many writers think that world building needs to go into lots of detail because that was what writers like Tolkien did.

    It''s easy to forget why so many writers back in Tolkien''s time used such lavish details. When you read fiction from about the mid-19th century to the early to mid-20th Century it''s remarkable how much detail went into them including lavish descriptions of food, clothing, customs and even the weather. As few people had the time or means to travel, let alone see these things in the movies when movies began to appear, they loved those details that Stoker, Tolkien etc provided.

    Today, it''s just annoying. In 2020 you would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't read, watched or played something with a fantasy setting. Thus, you don't need to use the same level of detail that writers like Tolkien used in order to create a vivid image of your world in their minds.
  9. WickGreenwood

    WickGreenwood Dreamer


    It's not that I want to describe the world in excessive detail in the story. It's that I want a solid idea myself of what the world is physically and culturally and historically so that I can A) adhere to realistic happenings within this universe and B) so I can keep track of what's going on everywhere and what happened before, to inform what can happen next and have guidelines to follow.
    Miles Lacey likes this.
  10. jacksimmons

    jacksimmons Dreamer

    If it makes you feel any better, GRRM has said a lot in interviews that when he started ASOIAF he had absolutely none of the worldbuilding completed. He started with the scene of the Starks finding the direwolf pups and just expanded from there. All he knew was that it was a fantasy medieval setting. Personally, I think it's better to write this way; start with characters and scene and mood, and work backwards with the worldbuilding.
  11. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I am a pantser myself, doing very little planning when I write, and it seems to work for me. I do try to keep in mind what I want to accomplish for a short story/ chapter whatever, and the writing tends to follow that narrative.
  12. Faye

    Faye Acolyte

    Are you familar with Microscope? It's an excellent tool for world building. Here is a post on it from another Mythic Scribes user. "Microscope" as a Worldbuilding Tool It's normally meant to be played with other humans but I have been doing it solo as a means of creating a general timeline for my world prior to writting in depth. I find it very fun and helpful! Particularly in that the "events" lend themselves naturally to themes and characters of importance.
  13. cak85

    cak85 Dreamer

    I totally hear you
    I've been kind of in the world building phase of my current WiP for the last 3 weeks and realize its probably time to start writing.

    I would recommend checking out the Writing Excuses podcast, they have a whole season dedicated to world-building. One of my major takeaways was the 'iceberg' approach (and I hope I am explaining this correctly). Meaning that as writers, we often only need to show the 10% of the tip of the iceberg and then our readers will assume that the 90% is all there. So I really take that to mean to write as little or as much as you need to actually begin writing.
  14. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    A narrative needs three basic pillars, especially if it's a book and more especially if it's a book I'm expected to actually read through to the end. You need a good tale. I don't care if it's sword-n-sorcery or murder mystery, you need to tell the tale! You need good characters. The more I come to know them as people, the better: I don't have to like them, but they should be four dimensional. You need a good world, and not just a stage facade setting. You'll get all kinds of advice on when to do it and how long to do it, but whichever road you take, make a good world!

    I know a lot of writing advice boils down to nailing the plot & developing the characters and, pssh, just forget about the setting. Yes, you can worldbuild on the fly, and yes you can limit yourself to a week or a month. I would just say that as Reader, if you fail to deliver on any one of those three foundations, I'm gonna close your book. Why should I invest in 500 to 2000 pages of Medieval England copypasta? If I want that, I'll read Froissart. I want to be immersed in the fictional world of your characters. I want to see what they see, hear what they hear, be perplexed by what they don't know and in general experience what they experience. Give me the three pillars and you'll have a Reader for life!
    cak85 likes this.
  15. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Troubadour

    For me, I find that doing worldbuilding first is a good way to figure out themes and concepts that I want to explore in my story. For example, my current project is a flintlock fantasy where 1) the gods are in a sort of Cold War and 2) the Arcane Magic is leading to a magical and technological Industrial Revolution. So, as I'm worldbuilding, I'm thinking about the kinds of stories I can tell with my setting that involve those two main concepts. As I come up with a concept for the setting, I consider ways I can use it to present my characters with various challenges or advantages. My point is that if you keep narrative and characterization in the back of your mind as you're worldbuilding, you're able to develop your characters and plot while also developing your setting.
  16. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

    I'd say that you need to have a general grasp of the world before you start writing and then you can add things in. But also keeping things open allows you to do some modifications to the world when new ideas and possibities comes around.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  17. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

    I would say that, as a rule of thumb: it is irrelevant for a single story, but extremely important for a series of stories. If you do not do worldbuilding before writing a series, you can easily end up either inconsistent or even lost. Especially if it is a series of standalone stories set into single setting. But when you just want to write one story in certain world? Then it is probably a waste of time.
    Patrick-Leigh likes this.
  18. Eclipse Sovereign

    Eclipse Sovereign Dreamer

    I always lay down the ‘rules’ before I write. Once that’s done, I can actually get something going. The real world building comes after I’ve began writing, but is interwoven into the narrative.

Share This Page