A Worldbuilding Guide - The Long Introduction
Hy-rule the world.
Before learning about the variations in worlds, and how that affects writing them, it’s important to think about a few things. Does your project need a world? (The answer is always yes, but I’ll still elaborate in the next paragraph…) What is world building? Can jet fuel melt steel beams? How big does your world need to be? What level of detail do you want in the world? Where should you start writing? It’s only a few questions but it’s already amounting to a serious level of planning, all of this needs to be at least thought about before committing pen to paper. Well, before begin crafting your masterpiece in Starbucks. I’ll speed through most of these questions before spending some time diving into the last question.
Does your project need world building?
You want me to explain my answer a bit more? If you insist. World building is vital to the writing process as it allows you to have a unifier for everything else you do. The world provides the canvas upon which the game/movie/book/erotic fanfiction paints its story. If you don’t have a world then the characters can’t have a backstory, they can’t have grown up in a small town in Nebraska if Nebraska isn’t in your world. In fact, no world means no characters. No character means you’re lacking a main component for writing.
So, world building is important. Do it, learn about it. Maybe learn by reading the article.
What is world building?
World building is the activity where a writer will create a fictional world, or a fictionalised world, to house a story. The difference between fictional and fictionalised will be explained later. World building isn’t just writing epic paragraphs describing the flowing fields filled with fragrant flowers. Although don’t ever describe anything as I just did, it’s terrible. World building is creating a world, not describing it. Think about the culture, the architecture, the religions, the people and the history. This is the bread and butter of building a world.
How big does your world need to be?
Probably smaller than you think. Most of the work you do will not be on the scale of Game Of Thrones or have the phenomenal depth of The Similarion. It doesn’t need to be, so scale down your world. Think about what is necessary for the story you’re telling, don’t increase the size of the world without reason. Especially if you accidentally create something awesome, but then don’t expand on it. Nothing feels worse than finding something brilliant in a piece of media but then having the author taking the story in a direction that ignores everything you found interesting. This was seen in GoT when they went to Dorne for about an hour. It set up intrigue and an entire country, then did nothing with it.
What level of detail does your world need?
Honestly? As much as you can write, even if 80% of it doesn’t make it into the final project. The more detail you can have in a backlog, the easier everything gets. If you don’t have the luxury of time, look at the parts of the world the audience interacts with and begin there. The more detail you can pack into the world, the easier it gets to write. The other reason you should always give as much detail as possible is that if you’re working on a team, the more information you can give them, the better work they can do. The world isn’t just a solo project but a tool for an entire team to work from.
What kinds of worlds are there?
There are many, but we can boil down them down into three umbrella topics. The first is a world based off of reality, this can be both modern day and the past. The next is a world based off of a theme, be it the future, the apocalypse, or even love. These worlds thread there chosen theme/genre throughout. The final world is designed with a practical purpose over a creative theme or historical basis. This is seen in larger projects where elements are designed to move the story forward. These worlds are often smaller, since they don’t need all the backstory.
A world based off of reality.
These worlds are incredibly common. You can see brilliant examples in any Assassin’s Creed game, or even the Witcher franchise. Assassin’s Creed being a one stop history shop and the Witcher taking clear cues from the slavic history. These worlds are plentiful because of the clear advantages they provide. For a start, the legwork of design has been done by history, the races of people and religions can all be lifted and tweaked from real life. The next thing is that, due to how popular these worlds are, you can see what has worked in other projects. The best thing about working in this era is that there is an absolute wealth of projects you can take inspiration from. This doesn’t have to be just from games, taking clues from what worked in other media is always a good thing to do.
These worlds are used predominantly in FPS and fantasy, as both lean heavily on old ideas. This is especially seen in fantasy, which borrows from its literary counterpart which itself is inspired by old European folklore. The FPS will often use historical settings, such as World War Two, to give the game some emotional weight.
A world based on a theme
These worlds are slightly less common, the core premise is that the world exists to put across a message. They’re not meant to give the audience a large, expansive and intricate world but instead be a very deliberate backdrop for a singular story. These worlds are seen in projects that have no intention of continuing past the first story. This theme can be anything from the classic literary themes of love and tragedy or even touch upon modern political themes. The thing that needs to be thought about when building this type of world is the concept of alienation. You have to be aware that not everyone who interacts with your world will understand the theme the worlds based off. The way to work around this is to make sure there is a secondary hook into the world. As always, something simple will work, it doesn't have to be complicated. The world, and story, of Majora’s Mask is based off of the five stages of grief, but also has the fantasy elements that can hook in a different audience. The world inhabited by Gorons and the Deku create a hook that allows the deeper message of the world to sink in.
A world with a singular purpose.
The final world I’ll describe is one with a singular purpose. These worlds are similar to the worlds based off of a theme but without the depth of an additional layer. These worlds are rather like a road, designed to get the audience from point A in the story to point B. They’re a tool instead of a piece of writing, I’d strongly advise you avoid these if your planning on telling a story longer than twenty minutes.
As I sign off, I’ll repeat the statement I made earlier. World building is vital to the success of your product.
I plan on returning to this world building series soon, discussing how to populate the world with its people and a society at large. I hope this article has helped point you in the right direction!