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.

Doing Research for Fantasy Worldbuilding

Don’t be deceived. Every sort of novel needs worldbuilding. Even in a contemporary novel you have to decide what parts of the contemporary world will be included— and what the interpretation of these parts will be. But it is the writer of fantasy and science fiction that has to do really hardcore worldbuilding— creating a fictional world from the ground up.

Worldbuilding requires research. You can’t get a book that tells you about life on planet Nescianto, because you’ve only just made that planet up. But you can get books that will help you build up that world, by showing you how things have been done in the real world.

The best books to consult are what are sometimes called ‘social histories.’ These books often have the phrase ‘everyday life’ in the title. In my own collection, I have books called: ‘Everyday Life in Ancient Rome,’ ‘China’s Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty,’ and ‘Everyday Life in the Viking Age.’ Look in your local library for such books, and don’t forget to check the children’s section. And it is well to buy a book or two of this nature for your personal writing library.

Which books to consult? If your fantasy world is related to a specific real-world culture, such as medieval England, ancient Egypt or the Viking world, it’s good to study the culture in question closely. Your readers will include people who are keen on that culture— unless you make dumb mistakes because of lack of knowledge. But since you are writing fiction and not a historical essay, it’s also good to read up on a very different culture or two. You may want to have a purist Viking culture in your world— but it helps to think about how other cultures would have done things differently, and you can always use the contrasting culture if you have to create cultures for elves or orcs.

One thing to beware while doing your reading is author opinion. I have a book on everyday life in the American West, and the authoress presumes that all of the women in the West— from whores to respectable women— longed for effective contraceptives as much as if they had been brought up with our modern birth-control mentality. This isn’t true, and when the first church body allowed for the use of ‘birth control’ in some circumstances in 1930, it was very controversial and many people didn’t accept it. There are people today who still don’t accept it! So don’t take author opinions as Gospel truth.

How do you turn the mass of facts in a social history book into the worldbuilding material you need for your world? It helps to go from topic to topic. Rebekah Loper has a workbook out on worldbuilding, ‘The A-Zs of Worldbuilding.’ Use it to get some ideas of what worldbuilding topics you may need to consider. Rebekah Loper’s blog: https://rebekahloper.com/

The important thing about doing research in this way is that it will help prevent you from creating a #MeToo fantasy world that’s just like everybody else’s fantasy world. It will help you create something with its own character that may attract loyal readers.

Could Alien Invaders Exterminate Rural Humans without Ruining Earth?

I was bored yesterday, and so I watched Independence Day. Again. And at one point a character said that within 36 hours the aliens would destroy every major city. Which meant the human race would be exterminated.

Hello! What about the rural people? For the rural people getting rid of the cities would be an improvement. We give them the farm goods that keep them alive, and they give us drug dealers, taxes and laws that limit our ability to make a living. In other words, they give us liberals.

Well, I guess the aliens could use their visually cool explosions to kill the rural people like they killed the city folk. But rural folk are more spread out. They would have to explode us house by house, and each explosion would damage more of the Earth.

The aliens want the Earth for something. That’s a big, expensive space fleet they have. Why expend it— risk it— if they didn’t care whether they conquered Earth or not?

The aliens are somewhat like humans, so they need food to live. Where will they get it if they blow up all the farms? They would be better off enslaving all the farmers and taking their produce, or else driving the farmers off their farms and replacing them with alien farmers.

Each alien explosion drives up more stuff into the atmosphere. Their explosions aren’t nuclear, but they could cause a nuclear winter all the same— after all, a massive volcanic explosion once caused a ‘year without a summer,’ and may have caused US westward migration and affected the history of the Mormon church.

Would the aliens really want a world that is all ashes and suffering unseasonable coldness? Which would be made worse if solar cycle theory of Global Warming is true— the theory says we are at the end of a warm cycle and the start of a cool cycle. See ‘Dark Winter’ by John L. Casey. 

I would say that enslavement is a far more likely fate for rural humans than extermination, when the aliens arrive. After all, the aliens have a motivation. They are not just conquering Earth for the hell of it. They want to use the Earth, not ruin it, and why wouldn’t they use the surviving humans if they had to avoid killing them to keep the planet useful? Human beings are concentrated in cities. Without the city folk or military bases, the rural population would be easy to control.

The writer’s lesson is this: if you are going to have an external force destroy or threaten the Earth, think about the external force’s motivation. What do they want? How will they preserve the things they want about Earth while conquering it? You can’t just say that since they are aliens we can’t understand their motivations. In a real world alien invasion, humans may never know all the details of what the aliens want, unless they tell us helpful hints like how they want humans to die. But we can surmise from what they do. If they destroy mineral mines, they may not care about exploiting our mineral wealth. If they destroy our atmosphere, they aren’t planning to breathe here. If they spare certain things— farms, exotic African animals, meek-and-obedient humans— we can guess that they want these things for some purpose.

Murder over mushrooms — plants in Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding? Thinking about plants? Sometimes a plant can play an important role in a science fiction or fantasy novel. Remember the nightlock plant in The Hunger Games.

A feminist-fantasy stereotype is an herb that works exactly the way feminists wish birth control pills would work. To signal even more feminist virtue, it may be accompanied by an herbal version of the morning-after pill or RU-486— something that will do in an unborn child once its life has begun. There are of course no side effects, not even the normal depression that can come with the ending of a pregnancy in even the best circumstances.

Plants are a major food source, even for carnivores like me. And of course to get the eggs, cream and meat I need for my healthy low-carb diet, I have to feed chickens and sheep lots of good plants, such as stinging nettle. Stinging nettle may sting you when fresh, but if you cook stinging nettle plants they are like spinach. Only better tasting.

Dried stinging nettle plants are a good fodder for sheep, goats and other critters that eat grass and hay. My goats and some of my sheep are willing to eat any fresh stinging nettle I pick for them, but they ignore the stinging nettle plants growing in their pens unless I pluck it for them.

My chickens also eat fresh stinging nettle. Right now a big group of my chickens is in a non-movable pen with no access to fresh greens, so they get very excited when I bring them a fresh bunch of stinging nettle.

In my WIP Tiberius Base, plants are a major influence for the people in starships and star bases. Scientific studies show that people who have regular access to plant-rich environments are happier. And so it is customary to provide these plant rich environments.

A human-constructed forest is at the heart of all Terran-flagged starships. Ships’ crews brag about the size and intricacy of their ship’s forest. Star bases have even larger forests, and an actual space city usually has more than one.

Tiberius Base has a larger forest than any other constructed by Terrans so far. It contains a wide variety of trees and plants from both European and Asian environments. Mushrooms spores are well represented in the mix. And this leads to a problem.

Mushrooming is an amazingly popular activity among Terrans in space. The formal food-growing facilities on Terran ships and bases don’t traditionally grow mushrooms and so it is a highly sought-after food. Canned mushrooms are a staple in trading and many worlds without much interplanetary trade have a small facility in which to can mushrooms.

A forester is placed in charge of an artificial forest in a starship or base, but people hiking through the forest for recreation often come upon newly sprouted mushrooms before the forester is aware of them. People often have certain mushroom-rich areas of a forest that they look upon as their personal mushroom-hunting space. The problem arises when more than one person claims the same space.

Usually there are a few rules. Residents of a base or starship have a higher claim to a bit of the local forest than do transients or guests. Well-off people who have a garden area incorporated into their quarters must give way to the lower-income workers. But when 2 people of the same status claim the same mushroom ground, it can get difficult.

There was a famous case of murder over morel mushrooms on one of the older starbases. Since this base was owned by the Menders, an alien race, and Terrans were only using the base with permission, it was quite the scandal. It has since been established that murder over mushrooms, even morel mushrooms, is in no way considered justifiable homicide. It is also customary to grow some morel mushrooms in the cultivation rooms to render them less rare-and-hard-to-come-by.

Another way plants are important to star bases and starships is the provision of Schreber gardens. A Schreber garden is a custom which started in Germany. There are small garden plots provided to those who live in apartments or small houses with no gardening space.

In the spacegoing world, Schreber gardens are provided to anyone living on a space base who do not have a garden area as part of their living quarters. Gardening together with your Schreber garden neighbors is a popular pastime. Even in starships sometimes Schreber garden plots are provided to interested crew men, especially men who are drafted into the service.

Certain drug plants are forbidden crops on any space station or ship, as drug plants may be taboo in our world. Use of drugs for other than medical necessity is considered a sign of weakness, and drug users are likely to be identified and deprived of employment opportunities. However, the usual punishment for a convicted drug user is time spent in a locked-door rehab facility, so at least the convicted have a chance to shake their addictions.

Some plants may be mild spices for one species and deadly drugs for another. This creates conflict when the spice is a beloved one and the users of it don’t want to give it up to help aliens remain drug-free. Sesame seeds are a plant item of this class, but roasting the seeds denatures the drug effect.

WW: A Sci-Fi military must know that it’s the military

Our Worldbuilding Wednesday topic is: Military. More information on the Worldbuilding Wednesday blog hop below.

The one thing your fictional Sci-fi military must do is know that it is the military. None of this crap they put out in the recent Star Trek movies ‘I thought we were explorers.’ What did you think the Enterprise’s phasers and photon torpedoes were there for? What about those military ranks? And the fact that disobeying an order can result in a courtmartial, not just getting fired as in the civilian world?

Star Trek is stupid on these points because it’s a brilliant idea ruled over by whiny Leftists. You can’t expect better from them. That’s why I didn’t bother to watch more than a few minutes of ‘Star Trek Discovery.’ I knew it would suck and it did. So I spend my time seeing if Ice-T could solve the murders of Tupac and Biggie. (I think he needed help from Mariska Hargitay.)

A military uses force for the common good of society. Yes, they kill people. And that’s sad. But when you have an enemy army pouring over your nation’s borders, you need to kill some people to stop it. Probably most of the people you kill will be nice people who are only doing what their government tells them to. But if you don’t want your nation ruled by a Stalin or a Hitler, you will need to get your hands dirty.

A police force also uses force for the common good. Sometimes good police officers shoot and kill a dangerous looking person that turns out to be young, or unarmed. But the problem is that you can’t always tell if that dangerous or defiant guy is young or reaching for a stick of gum instead of a gun. What would happen if officers failed to stop a dangerous-looking guy who went on to kill 10 school kids?

In my WIP Tiberius Base, there is a Fleet which was once answered to the Terran Council. Only the Terran Council disbanded years ago. The Fleet goes on, protecting Terran worlds and doing a little trading on the side to fund themselves. Because they now no longer receive funding from the taxpayers as they once did.

The space city Tiberius Base is owned by Fortunate Dragon Company, which is a part of the Interplanetary People’s Republic. The IPR has a political/economic policy called Alliterism, which has a bad reputation on many worlds. So Fortunate Dragon hires the Fleet to provide people to operate the Base’s weapons, and some to function as a local police force. This requires them to create laws that are a sort of hybrid of what the IPR wants and what the Fleet will stand for.


This has been a post in the Worldbuilding Wednesday blog hop, sponsored by Rebekah Loper. Visit her blog at: https://rebekahloper.com/

Valdemar: Fantasy Fic with Big Govt Programs

I’ve been reading Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series for years, but some things about the series rub me the wrong way. Valdemar is a fantasy series set in a medievalish kingdom with magic horses called Companions. As a medievalish society it should be…. not progressive, socialist, or other modern things. And yet, it is.

In the novel Take A Thief, which tells the early history of the character Skif, it is told that the Crown has decreed that the school kids in the capital Haven get a free meal at government expense. It isn’t mentioned that the free meal is limited to the poor by any test of means. But it is mentioned that children who get through the mandated elementary education have to leave school and thus miss the free meal.

Another question is the education itself. In various Valdemar books it claims that Valdemar mandates elementary education for children though it seems that since the education is carried out by the various religions that perhaps Valdemar is requiring the religions to fund the schools rather than spending its own taxpayer funds on it.

The question arises: how does a medievalish fantasy world even come up with the idea of such big government programs? In the real world they didn’t come along until later. In part because medieval central governments were weak and the local lords had more power over the everyday life of their people.

The free meal program might have been a part of the normal charity programs of a medieval society, but only if it was confined to the poor. They hadn’t invented the concept of handouts for all classes of people yet. Even in our country the idea of a free summertime school lunch for all income levels (yes, that is a government program) is controversial.

And then there is the idea of education for all. In the medieval societies, most occupations didn’t require education or literacy. It seems a silly burden to impose on children who will grow up to be farmhands or carpenter’s assistants or street sweepers. Now, if Valdemar had a state religion, there might be a call for universal religious training, which might, like the first Sunday Schools, include reading and arithmetic training. But Valdemar decrees ‘No One True Way’ and that seems to mean that its religious picture is one of dozens of varieties of polytheistic paganism.

Now, the reason medieval societies didn’t have the full list of big government programs is that they cost the central government more money than it could raise by taxation. Medieval people, like people today, didn’t like high taxes. Why risk a tax revolt to fund social programs when the Crown had more immediate needs like funding an army for when wars happened? Or for when subordinate provinces rebelled and needed to be reconquered— perhaps because of a revolt against high taxes?

Of course the real reason fantasy worlds like Valdemar have anacronistic Big Government programs is that there are fantasy readers and writers who are Progressives/Socialists/Leftists who love these programs so much (because they never had to live on them) that they put them in to their fantasies whether they make sense or not. And that’s OK. But I’d like a fantasy world with less government and more freedom, personally.

Worldbuilding Wednesday: When Darwinism is hidden ‘knowledge’

Wednesday again and time for Rebekah Loper’s Worldbuilding Wednesday blog hop. Visit her blog to learn more or join up.

Today’s topic is knowledge, and that’s a big thing in the world of my WIP Tiberius Base. There is even an interplanetary institution which stores knowledge from various humanoid worlds. But knowledge or perceived knowledge does not always travel well between worlds, languages and cultures.

Take the example of the theory of evolution and its associated philosophy, evolutionism or Darwinism. During the lifetime of Charles Darwin there were humanoid aliens living on Terra, most notably the Menders, who were there to steal horses. They were charmed by Terran cultures and folklore as well. When Darwin’s book was published and got talked about, the Menders thought Darwin’s story of the possible evolution of Man was a charming fable like the Frog Prince. They conflated the two stories and spread it throughout the galaxy that Terran humans thought that their kind originated by someone kissing a frog or an ape— or maybe from an ape kissing a frog.

When Terran humans developed our own science enough to travel in space, Darwinism was often used to mock them as unscientific. Since other intelligent races didn’t have their own theory of evolution and some had been observing for longer than Earth had existed, the theory was quietly excised from scientific training.

However, the life philosophy of evolutionism, where evolution functions as the Blessed Hope of Man, was kept alive by some cultures that had an old-school secularist/Darwinist philosophy. But it was not taught to young school students who might blab about it to aliens. It was something like the secret at the heart of a mystery religion— taught only to those who were properly initiated.

Now I must point out that this controversy is kept alive as an attempt to downgrade Terran humans. Humanoid races are classified into groups by the Interplanetary Humanoid Archive, and only certain groups are considered advanced enough to claim a planet for colonization at the Archive. So most humans pretend not to know about or believe in evolution or evolutionism.

The questions from today’s blog hop theme:

How much does each culture know about your fictional world?

Those involved in the story have a great deal of knowledge, with the exception of the True-Alien Diggers. They are non-humanoid aliens of a class known as Fernal Aliens. They can’t communicate with humanoid either through language or telepathy, they don’t live in our kind of environments and the best humanoid wisdom is to leave Fernal Aliens strictly alone. There is another race of True-Aliens of a type call Bynal Aliens who CAN communicate with humanoids, and they have communication with the Diggers. Or so they say. But it is really not known how much the Diggers know about humanoids and their worlds.

How is that information stored?

Both computer systems and books are used to store knowledge. Some races carve lists of their kings or presidents into stone since that will last longer. The Interplanetary Humanoid Archive tries to keep copies of it all. Information is also stored in archives on humanoid worlds, usually following methods used at the IHA.

How is that information passed on?

This varies from planet to planet and from region to region. Tiberius Base itself does not have formal schools for children because children haven’t been born or imported yet. College level courses are available over computers at the station, and more can be downloaded over the ansible system (interplanetary radio/television/internet). These courses are used by the inhabitants of the Base to upgrade their skills. The main character of the story, Ping, takes a course in the German language to communicate with new workers, and one in the Korean language to impress his Korean girlfriend’s father.

Trade Languages:

Knowledge must be passed on in languages. And learning the language of another humanoid race is much more difficult than learning a different Earth language. The solution that has been developed is to learn a Trade Language. Trade Languages originated on the planet Terra. They are languages which were simplified for international use, and they also proved useful in interplanetary communication. The primary Trade Languages are: Esperanto, Volapuk, and Universalglot. A dialect of Esperanto called Ido is also in use. (These are all real made-up languages. You can google them.) The Interplanetary Humanoid Archive very early on adopted Volupuk as their primary cataloging language. And regretted it, since the moment they got done with that project the language Esperanto was invented which was easier for most humanoids to learn.


So, this has been my random worldbuilding thoughts for this week. I hope it has been of some interest. Feel free to comment— about my worldbuilding or your own!