Why World Build?
Keeping It Real
There is no wrong way to build a world, but there are factors of believability. A world should always be built to be believable, unless of course you are talking in terms of Terry Pratchett, then by all means go wild. But for the more serious writers of fantasy and sci-fi, they will want to incorporate realistic elements into their world.
On more than one occasion, I have been confronted about the need for worldbuilding and whether or not one can just construct a world as they write. My answer is, yes. It is possible for one to write a coherent novel while worldbuilding at the same time, but I don’t advise it and for a number of reasons:
1. Plot holes. You are going to want to avoid making geological, governmental, magical, historical, and even moral mistakes. These mistakes can manifest in numerous ways such as City X appearing in the east when it was in the North. Or, X law forbids women from marrying men below their social status; so then why did the prince marry the Lord’s daughter in the next chapter and not get in trouble for it? And so on.
2. Editing nightmare. When you are coming back around to edit the novel, you may find it hard to keep track of exactly who, what, when, where, or why something is the way it is. This is a similar problem to the first, but now the problems are reaching deeper into your story. As you edit one part of the novel, another may become inaccurate, and even as you correct these issues, corrections made earlier in the editing process may debunk your current corrections, or older corrections may need further correcting with newer corrections towards the end. If you have a reference to your world, no matter how minor, anything needing either adding or subtracting is just a modification to the reference, not the novel, at least not on the level the novel would need if the reference did not exist.
3. Difficulty with conflict. It can be difficult to create believable and accurate conflicts caused by the environment, whether by people, the land, magic, or otherwise, that won’t feel forced or artificial if the world is built on the go. As the world is written with the story, you may come to points where you have sudden inspiration or just realize that you are lacking in conflict with the current scene or chapter and wish to turn up events by throwing in a random geographic barrier or a fact about a people, but it may lack an honest feel to its existence, and the last thing you want the reader to know is they are reading.
4. Consistency with pace. Story pace can suffer in terms of travel. How fast are you moving your characters along through the world? Does it feel like they travel for one day and are suddenly in the next city over? This can just be a structural error on the writer’s part, but could this have been avoided if you had a map. Maybe if you had a map you could not only have avoided pacing issues, but maybe introduce more conflict to the journey when characters move through a dangerous part of the land?
5. Writer’s interest. A writer can become bored with what they are writing. The story may be interesting, but the world may be dull and thus result in a dull interaction of characters and environments. A writer may feel at a loss about where to go and what to do if the world feels flat and the story alone isn’t enough to keep writing the novel.
These problems have all happened to me. I have had the nightmare of editing the entire premise of the story because it demanded new and different elements to support it. I have also had difficulty in keeping interest and a good pace for the novel, but once I sat down and actually put more into the world, many of my problems were solved and my story become more lifelike.
The Final Frontier
There is one more reason to worldbuild before letting your characters run wild in your story idea, and it is just as important, if not, more important, the characters.
Worldbuilding and character development go hand in hand. An idea that sometimes eludes a writer is the impact the world has on a character. How often is it that we read about a character that is completely unlike everyone in the town they live in? They think differently and believe in different things. They are even more open-minded than anyone else. It isn’t wrong to create a character, especially your protagonist, to be different from all the other people in the town or city or wherever else they live or grew up, but it is cliché to design a character that is completely lacking in any characteristic that they came from this place. I will give you a couple of real life examples.
If you know your American history, you know that Abraham Lincoln had his hand in freeing the slaves. This idea of his, this moral, separates him from all the rest, but is it too drastic? Well, let us look into the time period and what it was like:
– The North had no slaves and the South did.
– The United States had laws implemented to keep slaves from running away into the North from the South.
– The South had an industry reliant on slavery.
– Black people did not have equal rights.
These are only a few factors running around at this time and all played a part in how people functioned. Abraham Lincoln believed that every man and woman should be free to live their lives, but he did not believe that black people had the equal rights that white men had. This is exactly what makes him a part of his community, his time, yet he is still apart from it. And better yet, for the historical impact on our world, we have many African Americans today who argue against Lincoln and his moral view on them. Their ideas are shaped by history.
Your character is developed similarly. They may think differently, if they do at all, from everyone else, but that doesn’t mean they have an exclusive set of morals from everyone else.
You may then ask: What about characters abused and ridiculed by their home, town, people, etc?
A friend of mine had very bad experiences with her family and community due to her own personal ideas. This friend was raised in a very catholic family and it was the religion that brought on the conflict. Years of feuding with her family and the community at large lead her to abandon her faith and become an agnostic. She is different, but there will always be remnants of her environment in her. She told me that she wants to have her children baptized. I asked her, “Why? You don’t believe in that religion anymore.” She said she didn’t like the idea of her children not being baptized, that it went against her morals.
Morals and beliefs make up a huge part of the world. Your characters may be different, but there will always be a piece of “home” in them. This goes for all the factors of your world, the government, history, magic, the whole shebang. What it comes down to is how you are going to build your world and how believable your character will be in that world.
When they get to the next town over, will they want to leave on the basis that the people are immoral? Or will they want to stay? Will they be afraid of the people or the place? Does the character’s home consider the next town over cursed? And if so, are they afraid despite their disbelief? Or will an old war make it hard for them to accept help from someone in another city?
Places, people, histories, magics, anything, these all enter when you are building your world. I could keep going, but I think I will save some of that for the next time.
I encourage you to create your world, no matter how little you write. Make something up; you might be surprised by what is in your world.