All writers have a different way of doing things, and now that I am a published author, I love to hear how others do them to compare notes. Today, author Jay Posey stops by to give us his take on building new worlds (whether post-apocalyptic Earth, different planets, or in another realm of existence entirely) and what should go into the process.
If you are not familiar with Jay’s work, you should be; his Legends of the Dustwalker series is excellent, and the second book, titled MORNINGSIDE FALL, was just released a couple of weeks ago (I will have a review of it soon!).
Check out Jay’s musings below, and be sure to stop by his website afterwards (click here to be redirected to it).
On Worldbuilding and Boring Guest Post Titles
Actually, this post isn’t so much about boring titles, even though it sports one. But it is about worldbuilding, so maybe it’s not a total loss.
Whether you’re working on a novel, a TV series, a graphic novel, a video game, or any number of other creative writery-type endeavors, knowing how to create a credible and compelling fictional world (or universe!) is a critical skill to develop. But the term “worldbuilding” gets thrown around a lot and it’s not always clear what people mean by it. For me, there are two big components contained within that term, and they’re equally important and valuable.
Part of the worldbuilding task is the process that a creator goes through to construct their imaginary world. That bit, depending on the needs of the project, might require a great deal of work, detailing out history, geography, political structures, languages, economy, or any other number of subjects. It’s far more than just providing a setting or a sense of place and time. Done well, this portion of worldbuilding lays a foundation for a consistent texture throughout the work that informs every detail.
But worldbuilding also contains the revelation of that created world to its audience. With novels, the way your readers experience and interact with this new world you’ve built for them relies heavily on your skill in introducing it to them. Readers need to be able to create consistent mental images, and they need to understand the significance of the events that unfold and, at a fundamental level, what’s possible within the world. If your epic fantasy world is all knights and sorcerers and dragons up until the last hundred pages when the space marines invade, that’s probably going to throw your audience for a loop … unless you’ve done enough proper worldbuilding leading up to that moment.
The big trick is in figuring out how to balance the two.
As impressive and amazing as you find the sixty-five verb tenses in your constructed language or the fourteen proper ways to hold a fork (and the one way that guarantees immediate execution!), most of that information probably doesn’t need to be known by your audience prior to beginning your story. It can be super tempting to build elaborate worlds with new cultures and cool technology and invented languages. But none of it is particularly interesting to the wider audience until they get to know the people involved. The history of the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire wasn’t all that compelling until we saw what it meant for a young moisture farmer named Luke Skywalker. That information should be layered in organically throughout the story, rather than whispered at the audience as an aside.
On the other hand, if you share too little, your audience might feel lost at sea and not be able to follow why or how things are happening, or why any of it matters. A lack of worldbuilding can end up making readers feel like they’re experiencing someone else’s fever dream and can prevent them from immersing themselves in the world.
There are many schools of thought on how much worldbuilding you should do, but I tend to ascribe to the one that says “enough to tell the story you want to tell”. Which probably isn’t a particularly useful thought for a school to have, even if it’s true.
For me, whether you’re creating a detailed World Bible before you start writing your story, or you’re making it up as you go along, your goal is to develop effortless familiarity with your world so that you can ensure a credible, consistent experience. Some people find it helpful to have a resource guide they can refer back to during the writing process. Others prefer to make it all up on the fly, and then go back and squash the inconsistencies as they arise.
Whatever an individual’s process, I think it’s helpful to always be mindful of the audience’s needs. You’re probably not writing a text book. (Unless you are, of course.) If you’re writing something intended to entertain your audience, then the ultimate goal is to provide a compelling experience, providing enough information to keep them engaged without turning things into a history lesson or treatise on meterology.
For novelists, it’s one of the key reasons to have multiple readers of your work, so they can tell you when things are too confusing or when you’ve gone into lecture mode. At the end of the day, being able to discern when to include world information and when to hold back is a skill writers have to develop and constantly maintain.