October 24, 2017, 10:38:30 AM

Author Topic: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms  (Read 332 times)

Online Yora

Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms
« on: September 10, 2017, 12:26:13 PM »
Just a thought I had while hammering out the relevant established facts about the world for my current idea.
I think the best reason to have some worldbuilding nailed down in advance is as an aid to achieve consistency through the actual stories with what can happen and can't happen. But aside from a very simple magic system and the nature of spirits, there isn't really much in the way of special mechanisms regarding technology, rules of politics, economy, or warfare.
But what I actually have a lot more of are choices that I made for things that I don't want to ever appear or happen. For example, city states never last for more than three or four centuries and nobody ever manages to establish empires. There are no physical or divine laws that enforce this and in theory they could happen in the future. But they never have so far and I will never write about it happening. There also is no large scale clearing of forests or building of roads.
It's similar to most fantasy worlds having the implicit law that nobody builds guns, even though the metalworking needed is seen everywhere and the ingredients for powder are easily available.

It seems to me that such (usually implicit) rules don't help with establishing consistency of plot, but rather consistency of tone.
Have you done anything similar when decifing how the worlds for your stories are working, or rather behaving?
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Offline Skip

Re: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms
« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2017, 04:09:39 PM »
Yes! I'm a big believer in doing just as you say: set some general rules or boundaries. My own world, Altearth, is an alternate Earth timeline. I made some choices. The Roman Empire never fell. All my stories would be set within Europe (I'm a medieval historian). Magic is real, but the people in the stories have imperfect understandings of how it works. One big choice I made was that while Constantine converted to Christianity, he never promoted it, and the religion never became widespread but retreated to become just another minor Middle East religion. I wanted to keep polytheism as the general religious context across the two millennia of my stories.

This has worked pretty well. The analogy I keep returning to is the explanation of time travel made in Doctor Who. Much of time (in this case, the timeline of my world) is malleable, but there are also fixed points (and concepts) that cannot change. The more I work in Altearth, the more of those fixed points I establish. But each new one may not violate any of the previous ones.
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms
« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2017, 05:01:53 PM »
I do, sort of. I generally make these kinds of rules in the context of a character's behavior and the choices they've made in the past, where the "how the world is and the tone it sets" is more a consequence of the character rule, rather than a world rule. These choices will likely never make it onto the page, but they're important for how the world ended up the way it is.

I do this because many of the major players in my books are very long-lived, and their motivations tend to be for making the world into their own little paradise, and therefore have long-reaching consequences for stuff way down the line.

For example, in one book, I have a character who chose to settle in a place that used to be a major empire, and a huge crossroads between cultures. It's a place that's more multicultural than anywhere else really at the timeline of the books. He chose this place because it was where a spirit lived that's offered him goodies if he does what the spirit wants, but when he arrives, he sets himself up as a god.

Later in the timeline, he leaves this part of the world to pursue the spirit's goals, which leads him to settle in the arctics, which are far more isolated than where he came from, and happen to be where the book itself actually takes place. The people that worship him, distraught that he's abandoned him, set out on pilgrimage to find him, eventually settling in the arctics (where the god they were searching for, has coincidentally long since died). The end result of the character rule was two fairly disparate cultures having integrated into their own funky kind of power structure by the time the book actually starts.


Like I said, not quite the same, but not quite different either. Really it's sort of the converse of the latter category you noted, building for mechanisms, in that the mechanism sort built the world. Meaning, I didn't really world build specifically to support the plot and character, but the plot and character sort of fed into the worldbuilding.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2017, 05:14:54 PM by Justan Henner »

Offline Yohana

Re: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms
« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2017, 10:21:26 AM »
This information is very helpful to me.

Offline Roelor

Re: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms
« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2017, 10:41:28 AM »
I always build worlds with the necessary boundaries in mind. But I will not elaborate on it. Two reasons:

1. I don't want to restrict myself in my creativity too much, so not having everything spelled out and in chains means I can change where needed and allow myself some more room to maneuver in.2
2. Worldbuilding is time consuming and often is more of a problem in starting to write and hampering my progress more than anything else. I can spend days, maybe weeks on building a world, where 90% of the things I decided and came up with are NOT RELEVANT to my story. It's simply a waste of time. If my world needs more information, elaboration or exploration, that will happen when my story shows the necessity.

Offline Skip

Re: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2017, 05:06:29 PM »
Is it really a waste of time? To me it's a little like a painter making sketches. Most of the sketches never wind up in a painting, never even get offered for sale. The painter sketches in part because he must, because he's an artist, and in part because it is a way for his brain (and his hand) to approach the subject matter, a thing that must be done even if the artist eventually decides to paint something else altogether.

Ours is a creative endeavor. We ain't building shopping malls here. I don't believe any writing is wasted effort. Just because it doesn't appear in the final draft does not mean it was useless or unimportant.

Offline Roelor

Re: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2017, 01:38:42 PM »
Well.. Wasted perhaps is a big word.. But the time I spend thinking about rules, mechanisms and other parts of my world, could be spend writing and developing my skill. I'm still a starting and I think my focus should be on the development of the craft, but that's for everyone different. But in most cases, building a world will not help you learn how to tell a story