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The Joy of Worldbuilding

May 2nd, 2013 by Dexter Findley

What is worldbuilding, I hear you ask? It's a critical part of the the creative writing process for people who want to write convincing Sci Fi or Fantasy work. Think of any story in these genres: from Harry Potter, Star Wars, Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, and then think about the settings in which these stories take place. They are fully-functional worlds in which an almost infinite number of narratives can take place, each with their own environments, histories, myths and beliefs. In some cases, like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, the world has superseded the characters and plot it contained and gone on to become a tour de force in its own right.

Worldbuilding is the imagineering of these worlds. The ultra-blue-sky thinking of unrestrained imagination. Bringing worlds to life is an incredibly fun process, requires no tools apart from your brain (and maybe a pen to write/draw your ideas down), and brings with it an immense sense of fulfilment. It enables you, when you start typing your story out for real, to have a full understanding of the world in which your characters play out their part. It enables you to add little details, tiny flourishes which will bring your writing to life for the reader.

Some people like to start with making the World Map, a very Tolkien-esque direction. Not only does this enable you to visualise your world, it means you will have a good grasp of the geography of key areas which will make your prose that much more colourful and visual. This usually involves creating fantasy creatures and settings, should your story be of that bent. Rigid realism, or giant mushrooms? Your choice.

Society usually comes next. The broad social dynamics that define your world. Countries, clans, tribes and empires appear, have their own territories, their own social strata, capitals and borders. Defining their relationship with one another is the most important bit: no human group is a static entity in isolation. It will be these tensions against which your story is cast. Take Harry Potter, with the troublingly neutral Ministry of Magic having an uneasy relationship with Hogwarts, due to certain elements' allegiance with the Death Eaters. Or in Lord of the Rings, with the ancient alliance between Elves and Men being strained in recent years due to human xenophobia and elven aloofness. Or Star Wars, with the ages-old rivalry between Jedi and Sith.

Then you have the important non-protagonist characters, the Caesars, Lincolns, Guevaras and Lennons of your world; people whose agency helped define it. Han Solo, Aragorn, Ned Stark, Dumbledore. Or perhaps you'll concentrate on the small-town personalities, as per Jane Austen or Dickens: a group of colourful folk who flesh out the drama for your protagonists: the Fagins and Sir Walter Elliots of your world.

Then the protagonist, that hardest of characters to write. They have to be a window for you audience: and thus be relate-able and compelling, but still a personality in their own right.

Whatever type of world you choose to make, the sky's not the limit: your imagination is!

Categories: creative writing