Are You Doing Too Much World-Building?

World-building is a topic of great interest to the science fiction and fantasy author. Rebekah Loper’s book, The A-Zs of Worldbuilding, is a workbook on the many things you might consider during your worldbuilding process. There are also other world-building books out there.

But there is such a thing as too much world-building. It can delay you, sometimes for years, in getting your novel or short story written. It can even substitute for actually writing your WIP! And stories can get bogged down by too much world-building, as in my current WIP where I have to keep stopping myself from explaining about the Important Continent, the Five Elements (geographical divisions of the IC) and the misdeeds of evil King Henricus when these are not part of the current story.

Many rich fantasy and science fiction worlds are not the result of sitting down and doing world-building in advance. They grew over time, as the authors wrote stories set in the world. The world of Darkover by ‘She Who Must Not Be Named’ started off as a single novel trying to reclaim some of the author’s juvenilia, and the success of that story cause ‘SWMNBN’s publisher to ask for another Darkover story, and then another. The ‘Free Amazons’ in early Darkover became the ‘Renunciates’ of later Darkover stories.

So when you are world-building for your next WIP, don’t get bogged down in creating the ancient and medieval history of your world and lists of ancient kings. What do you actually need to get that WIP done? Don’t write a 20-page account of your world’s Weavers’ Guild if no one in your story is a weaver! That just wastes your time.

What do you nned to tell your story? If your main character lives in a small town and stays there, you don’t need to flesh out the kingdom next door, or even the capital city of your character’s kingdom. You just need names for the kingdom and the capital city. If there is ‘magic’ in your world, but none of your characters actually can do magic, you don’t need to work out the details of ‘magical’ lore for your world. If there are spaceships or dragons or portals to other places in your story, you will need to work out the details of that.

You need to create just the right amount of world-building for the story before you start the first draft, or maybe you will create things as you need them. You must remember that the WIP you are obsessing about right now may not be your whole writing career. For your next book, you might have an entirely different world. So don’t get too bogged down in this one.

Exercise: If you have a copy of Rebekah Loper’s book, read it or skim-read it with a notebook at hand. Write down the topics that you will need the most in world-building for your next WIP. After you finish, try to narrow down your list to 3 topics. And then decide what aspects of those three topics are the most needed for your story. Work on those. (How do you work on those? Some writers will write little essays on their world-building topics, others will write these things into their scenes. Do whatever works for the kind of writer you are turning out to be.)

I have received a complaint from the country of Pakistan that my blog post ‘Was Mohammed a False Prophet?’ is blasphemy and ‘hate speech.’ I personally don’t think that asking questions about either Christianity or Islam is ‘hateful’ and that a believer’s faith can actually be strengthened by thinking about these things and seeking answers. I do not intend to take that post or my entire blog down as a result of this complaint. I hope WordPress will respect that.

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