Let’s talk about world building.

Before I start today, I just want to let you know that I’ve been invited to join the bloggers of Untethered Realms. I know most of them, and know that they’re seriously talented, so I do hope you’ll go check out what they’re doing…

But for today, I want to write about plot.

Until last night, I thought I was a character driven writer. But then I sat through a fantasy world building hangout, and spent the whole time repeating the same mantra in my head. (I couldn’t turn it off.)

How would it be relevant to the plot? 

The thing is, I know that nothing technically has to be relevant. Some people make a lot of money off books with slow plots. I can’t slam them.

Personally, I like my plots thick and fast. Rich with detail, yes, but not so as to yank me out of the growing story in order to describe the finer details of a given culture or political system or whatever.

To me, writing a fantasy world is pretty similar to characterization. If I write a character, I usually know millions of little details about him or her, without them ever making it into my book. Yes, it’s super important that I need to know them. The reader, however, only needs to know enough for them not to wonder what the heck is going on.

It’s precisely the same with the world-building. For the Doorways series, I know enough about the world’s history to write a whole other series just about that. Heck, I know enough history from a single one of the world’s country to write a series. And there are four. The thing is, if I put all of that into the books, I’d swamp the reader with information which (while it could be argued that the history is relevant) isn’t strictly necessary to put them through the plot.

I actually take it further. I don’t explain the history. I don’t explain the political systems. I don’t spend pages and pages of description. What I do is to explain what’s needed right now and trust the reader to put together the full picture themselves. Yes, some people might grow impatient, because it might take a few books to build a complete picture. But the pay-off is that my plot moves along at a faster pace.

Which I like.

But like I said, my way isn’t the only way. Any writer working on a spec fic novel eventually needs to decide on an approach to the world they’ll develop.

1) Do you want to showcase your world as a character in itself? 
2) Do you want your plot to move slower? (If so, exploring the world is a good way to do it without boring people. Just keep in mind that it’s a fine line to toe.)
3) Which factors of the world determines your plot and characterization? If you have some macro issues coming down on your characters (say a world where tributes are sent every year to kill each other for punishment of an old rebellion), you’ll need to spend some time explaining. Do try to keep the explanations relevant to the moment, though.

There are probably other questions that’ll come from answering these questions, but those are the big ones. If you know those, you can probably figure out how you want to represent your world in your novel.

So, spec fic writers, how do you usually prefer to represent your worlds?

And readers, how do you prefer your fantasies? Slower and rich in detail, or directly to the point with some fantasy thrown in?

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35 thoughts on “Let’s talk about world building.

  1. Welcome to Untethered Realms! We're glad to have you, Misha!

    I lean more toward a faster pace in my plots with a sprinkling of details (and sometimes a bit more if it's important to the plot).

  2. Congratulations on becoming a member of Untethered Realms!
    I don't like a ton of history or detail, because I'm smart enough to figure out most of it. Or I can use my imagination. In my own writing, I'm very light on the details.

  3. I love the worldbuilding aspect of writing and have to rein in the temptation to dump it on the reader. For my own writing, I always know far more detail than I include in the story and I try to make the world a natural part of the scenery through the characters' eyes.

    For reading, I don't mind which way it goes as long as it stays entertaining.

  4. I'm very much a character person, even so, the characters have to have a purpose. There has to be some reason (aka plot) for them to be there or be doing what they're doing. I do believe setting is a character, and, like any character, it can't take over the novel to the exclusion of all else.

  5. I love books where the world is a character. I don't write fantasy, but I develop my setting enough (I hope) that it is just as important to the story as are the characters. As a matter of fact, I generally abhor stories that take too much time describing the world and its traits in big chunks when the plot should be moving along and the characters should be developing. Revealing aspects of the world when pertinent to the story in the moment is the best way to develop the world, in my opinion. It keeps the story moving at a swifter pace, and it adds intrigue and mystery, so readers keep reading to find out more about it—and, more importantly, what the characters are going to do.

    Also, your title says “word” instead of “world”…

  6. I like quick plots, too. I also like being given leeway to use my imagination, assisted by the author of course. So while I like world building, I want just enough of it to get me going, and then back to plot.

    Excellent post, and excellent points. I'll be tweeting this one!!

  7. When I read speculative fiction, I don't want a lot of details. I don't want pages and pages of exposition like Tolkien. I've always thought Anne McCaffrey did well to balance it all.

  8. It depends on the book. What I don't want is overabundance of detail. A book I tried to read once was so full of details it killed the story and was left unfinished. Thanks for sharing and world building differs from person to person. One important thing though is to keep the reader clued in.

  9. I wonder. Take the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The book had much in it that wasn't necessary for the plot. The inclusion of the meeting with Tom Bombadil (I think that was his name, in the fellowship) the one guy they met that was extremely powerful, the meeting was completely unnecessary to the overall plot, but it did enhance the mystical qualities of the world. There are other details like it in other books. I suppose stuff like that is more number one.. yet the Lord of the Rings didn't rally make that a goal until the prolonged dénouement- the last 2/3 or so of book three. As a wannabe writer, I have thought bout world building quite a bit. I did develop a rather detailed world for my NWMP series of stories….

    At the end of the day, I think details, even incidental ones can be pointed out, even if they're not wholly explained. The reader can do the rest.

  10. I've written both, but after reading Dean Koontz, I'm sold on the thriller angle. Keep the reader flipping pages. There's always enough room to pull the needed details of the world, but you have to be smart about it–here a little, there a little. What I'm scared about is writing book two and trying to reintroduce ALL the amazing world building it took the entirety of book 1 to reveal, and then add some on top. How is that going to work? 😉

  11. I think world building is lots of fun, but I use it more as a backdrop to the plot which I try to move along as quickly as possible. Generally, certain aspects of the world should be relevant to the plot, or important to the overall story, but the details should be shared i bits and pieces so it doesn't bog down the pace.

  12. World building can be so fun. My favorite types of books to read, have fast paces, but richly built worlds, like Brandon Sanderson books. I try to write in a similar way, but I'm still learning.

  13. I understand what you mean. I have a very complex world as well, but I only use the details I need to explain why someone thinks the way they do. Or why something's happening… That sort of thing.

  14. I'm also thinking about that. My series is basically one huge story told over multiple books. And I can't spend pages on pages explaining everything twice, so I just hope that people who read book 2 will understand enough to know what's going on, and will want to read book 1 to understand more.

  15. I usually skim through intricate world building in books, so I avoid the same in mine.
    Like you said, I give just the much that is necessary at that point, and trust the reader to understand.

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