The Dangers Of World Building
What is world building?
For those who don’t know, “world building,” is a term used to describe the process of creating a fictional world for your story, hence the term world building, you’re literally building a world. Depending on what you write, your world building process is going to differ from other writers.
How do you world build?
You establish the rules, customs, and environment of your world. This could mean a lot of things, this could mean you establishing the culture practiced by characters, the languages spoken by the world’s inhabitants, and the creatures in the story.
For fantasy writers, this could mean creating the magic systems and kingdoms, for sci-fi writers it could mean creating future technology, for historical fiction writers it could mean researching real locations and creating an authentic setting where the story takes place.
What you ultimately choose to focus on building up in your story is up to you, you don’t have to tackle every aspect, such as the examples listed above, but you will be expected to tackle at least a few certain areas.
Do I have to world-build for my story? ( Even if I don’t write fantasy or sci-fiction?)
Yes, but to a different degree depending on a lot of criteria such as audience, genre, story length, etc. I think it’s safe to say in a nutshell, the further the world in your story is from our world, the more world building. For example, you most likely won’t have to worry about creating an entirely new culture of magic systems for a story that takes place in a world like ours, or if your story is based on a historical period in time.
If you want to learn a bit more on how to create an immersive world I’d recommend checking out this other post I typed when you have the time: https://fularrii.com/2018/02/19/the-key-to-writing-better-immersion/
Now that we’ve one over the bare bones basics of world-building, let’s dive into some common pitfalls:
1.Detailed world building before you even have a story. I’ll sum this point up by sharing a small anecdote.
Growing up I admittedly had a bit of a map obsession when I wrote my stories. Before my characters even set foot on their stories I would have mapped out the lands, terrain, locations, kingdoms, etc. And these were very detailed large scale drawings that sometimes took weeks to complete.
Problem was when I finally sat down to write I found out the map conflicted with and restrained my story. Travel distances represented on the map were either too lengthy or too short, locations had to be moved around or taken out and it didn’t help I had new ideas for locations that didn’t fit in with my map, so basically, I had wasted weeks working on something that would become cumbersome and useless. The moral of the story here is to make sure you have a sense of where your story is going to go, or even better an outline of a story, before you jump into detailing your world or environments.
2.Wasting time (and on things you won’t need). Like my map story, you can get too engrossed into building your world you forget about working on the actual story. Or even worse you work on something like the entire history or cultures of your world, and after you write your story you find you only need to use like four-percent of what you wrote. To avoid this I’d recommend these three things:
1-World build as your story goes along so you know what needs to actually fleshed out. When you finally begin to write scenes for your story you’ll discover that certain things need to be explained or created, things you wouldn’t have considered world building prior to writing.
2-World build what’s relevant, for example:
If your character is only in their home town for one or two chapters I doubt you’ll have to create an extensive layout of roads, buildings, shops, etc. Just a few select places and you’re good to go.
Or let’s say you have to create some fictional lore for a fantasy your writing. If you’re only planning to reference a war or two I don’t think you need to document every single event prior to the war, or dive into the creation of every kingdom or town if it’s never going to bring up in the story. Just focus on creating key events you want to flesh out that’ll be relevant in the plot and move on.
3-Don’t use world-building as an excuse to procrastinate. World building can be really fun but it can also make the perfect distraction for working on your actual story. You could use the excuse, “technically I am writing,” or “technically I’m working on my story,” and then five months later you’ve made no progress on the story except fifty pages of lore for something that doesn’t exist.
3.Burn Out. Writing is a lot of work, and world building tends to consist of lots of writing, brainstorming, and energy. So when you write for weeks, months, or even years, according to some cases, without technically progressing your story you can feel burned out and tired. And when this happens it becomes more tempting to quit or shelve your work because you feel you’re not doing enough storywise. Which is why I once more suggest doing some world building while you write. World building and writing that story draft should both should be given a reasonable amount of time so you can progress your story and create an immersive world.
4. It can tempt you to exposition dump. When you pour a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into crafting a large world, there’s a large chance you’re probably extremely passionate about what you wrote and you want your reader to experience and see the world just as you do. When you’re in this mindset it can become tempting to force everything you wrote about your world into your story. I’m talking paragraphs and pages full of expository lore, history, facts, traditions, etc.
The only problem is when you do this you bog down your story and potentially scare off readers. Not to sound harsh but most readers come to enjoy a story not sit through a fictional history class to learn how the first Drabbin settlements came and gained independence from the oppressive Glycorifs, then proceed to read five pages straight of history about why an ancient evil was banished or the intricate customs a fictional race undergoes. These elements should be woven organically into the plot and not cause the narrative flow to come to a screeching halt.
There are ways you can work these elements into your story to create a world your readers want to know about, but hitting them over the head with thick text about made up historical figures is only going to irritate and bore people.
To here more slimming down wordy or over detailed writing I’d recommend this post on detailing that has a few pointers on how to work with detail: https://fularrii.com/2017/09/14/over-detailing/
And there you have it, a few tips on the ever-lurking dangers of world building.
If we’re being honest here I have admittedly fallen into a few of these pitfalls in the past few years because I really do love world building and enjoy writing lore, so if there’s anyone who really knows about these pitfalls it’s me.
Anyway, thanks for reading, if you have any questions or comments on world-building feel free to comment.
Until next time!