1. Earthshine
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    Earthshine Member

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    How long do you spend world building?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Earthshine, Jun 28, 2015.

    Hey guys,

    For all you fantasy and sci-fi writers out there - how long do you spend world building before you start writing? I'm currently starting a new project, which of course means loads of world building. I'm the kind of writer that needs to do at least SOME world building before I start writing, or my world comes out flat and dull. And while I love it, I'm starting to feel overwhelmed. There's just so much to think about!

    So how long do you guys think is necessary to spend on world building? What elements of world building do you think are essential to complete before you start writing? Do you have any tips to make the world building process less daunting?

    Thanks guys.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm adding my world building in as I get better at imagining and writing it. The story was there, and now the world building is coming along to go with the story.
     
  3. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I'm very much a planner and really love it. No amount of worldbuilding is too much for me :D One of my projects has been in development for about ... five years, the last three more intensely, and another for about two. Was it necessary to spend that much time on them? Good god no. But I like working out minutiae and thinking about oddball things that only figure into the plot tangentially - mostly with my scifi 'verse because, yknow, actual whole universe to work out. No one but me cares about the language of these extinct aliens, or how these other aliens evolved on their planet well before first contact, or what the healthcare situation is like in the universe at large. But I care. So I will absolutely spend five more years on it if I feel like I need to.

    The other one though, I think I could've started on it after about nine/ten months of worldbuilding. A lot of stuff would either have no been as good or had to be reworked once I came up with different plot wrinkles, but it could've been done. Keep in mind that this was a series of what's intended to be twelve books, though.

    For just a novel? For my post-apoc project I did no worldbuilding at all, just dove right in and figured it out as I went. And it worked out pretty well - some editing focused on incorporating new ideas into older scenes, but it wasn't too bad.

    So ... no right answer, really. Spend as much time as you think you need to. If you miss things initially, it's no big deal, you can work new stuff into your later drafts. There really is a ton to think about - I might well spend that decade on my sf thing and then realize I missed something really obvious and important. There's always our sweet lady editing. She's got our backs.

    As for important elements, I think that's very dependent on your story. What do you need to know about your world in order to effectively convey what makes your story impactful? Because if it's a medieval story and we need to understand the political climate of the world to get why the crowning of new queen is a big deal, it won't make such sense to skimp on that front. If it's a scifi story about the rise of the machines and you don't tell us anything about how said machines have been received before they went all Terminator, it's gonna fall a little flat. Start with big things, the obviously important things, and work down from there. Not just royalty and killer robots, but stableboys and moisture farmers, basic yet integral parts of the world's society/ies, things in its history that have influenced it.

    Breaking things down makes them a lot more manageable in general and it applies to worldbuilding, too: "Okay, today I'm gonna work out what X is like. Tomorrow, Y." Always ask why something is the way it is. Could it be simpler? Would it be more fun if it was more complicated? If it is complicated, has anyone tried to make it simpler? Why did it fail? Questions always lead to more questions. I like to write'em all down, separate them into similarly-themed trains of thought, and go through answering all of them in as much detail as I can.

    Maybe give this a read for starters: http://io9.com/7-deadly-sins-of-worldbuilding-998817537
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    For whatever can't-put-my-finger-on-it reason, I loved this one:
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That is one hell of a great article. Every person writing fantasy or sci-fi should read it.

    My own pet peeve. How many sci-fi TV shows, movies and books deal with humans visiting 'a planet' and finding that the entire 'planet' is run on a single political system, and has only a couple of species that live there? Holy mud.
     
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  6. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Great article, @izzybot, and it looks like there may be a bunch more on that site, so thanks for the link :agreed:

    Sometimes the comments / discussion are as useful as the article.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2015
  7. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Very good link.
    It pretty much sums up many of my thoughts on world building eloquently, though I do have a few caveats with a few points.
     
  8. Miss Lonelyhearts
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    Miss Lonelyhearts Member

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    I usually have one page at the start to describe what has happened to bring my world about, be it a nuke, a change of government, new tech etc...but this is only a glimpse. The guts of my world is revealed through out the up and coming pages.
     
  9. sashawrites
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    sashawrites Member

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    To put it simply: I don't.

    I just write and the world comes with the characters as I go along and get the story written. I don't really make many notes and with my new project I've tried the whole planning thing and it hasn't really worked. So I decided to write the first chapter and then perhaps plan the world (and the characters) from there.

    I don't really find planning helps me but we are all different!
     
  10. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    6 days...
     
  11. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Well ... I've never actually played Minecraft, so I'm not sure.

    Just kidding. ;)

    I always spend a lot of time building worlds, but I base the world on the plot specifically, so I don't end up in a scene realising I don't have any detailed structure built for it. The more time I spend writing the more I realise how important the planning process is to achieving an interesting and coherent story.
     
  12. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    Before I start writing? Not very long at all. When I'm creating a concept, I create it by starting to write the story. Characters are usually very basic, type characters and setting is a basic stereotype. But once I get an idea on the conflict and the characters, the setting can take me months to plan out. I have this thing where the setting has to be as well developed as my characters. It has a history and it has a culture and a "feel" to it.

    But the biggest challenge and the most important thing, it has to be something that the characters could logically exist in and the conflict could believably happen in. It doesn't make sense that you have a kid who is an academic genius, but lives in a remote village he was born in and never left that only sees a few visitors a year and has no books or communication and no one else in the village is a academic genius. How did he get to be an academic genius? If he has to be an academic genius, you need to change your setting or come up with a really, really good explanation. Personally, I find it easier to just make a simple fix on the setting.

    If you don't get that relationship between the characters and setting right, then you can make the most vibrant and well developed setting on the planet, but it's all just a waste of time. You're creating a setting for the fun of it, but not using it to its full potential.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015
  13. Eliza Rain
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    Eliza Rain Member

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    World building... Probably my biggest enemy. Because with my fantasy world I create every races religion, culture, brief history, the whole shebang. I also created all of the afterlife that is intricate enough for a lecture. I spend so much time world building because I simply know my characters. I know what they'll do, its the world that's more the u know variable to me, so I try and be extensive as possible so I'M not surprised by the environment along with the characters who are also reacting off it.
     
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  14. plothog
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    Do you need a day off afterwards?
     
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  15. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing I noticed is regardless of how long I think. Once you start writing your thoughts will change.

    My work has been in the work for over 7 years. I spent over a full year of just world building. Yet today, or tomorrow I will look at a key aspect and think to myself. "On reflection, if I change X to Y it probably makes a lot more sense. Now I must think if Y has other ripples I need to change or look at."


    I think if you can remember that. That things you create later will change things you create now. I think you will be fine. Personally I think world building should be done as long as it is fun. If you think you have enough to write? Then write. If it is still fun to world build or writing is frustrating because of world building concepts you lack. Keep world building.

    Everyone works different. I think the only true difference is if you think more first, then you have to rewrite less. Key work being less. You will be doing rewrites either way but if you start out writing a lot of problems you might have with the material may require complete rewrites. While a strong world usually only needs minor edits.

    Does that make sense?
     
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  16. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    For novel #1 I am going to spend a long time world building. It provides the foundation for the 2 following novels and I want to get it "right" up front, in a believable / plausible way. I do not know how long this is going to take, but do not mind either.
     
  17. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Lewis Carroll on world-building:


    Remember that when you world-building, you cannot possibly hope to include all the details. You just include what's necessary. Otherwise you do as it says in the passage above: you make it hopelessly impractical.

    Having said that, I do it as a pastime and I know that 99% of what I write in my Enchiridion Di Tianos (a reference book I made so that I never lose track of what I write and create) will not be in the story itself - it is there to construct a world, and serves as a foundation that my story has depth, continuity, and some sense of believability.
     
  18. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    Uhh, two years and 6 months - still counting.

    I worldbuild as I go. First I made the continent that my PoV's habit, then I create a rough template of the entire world, and delve deeper as needed, or sometimes just as procrastination. I'm far from done, of course. Layering an entire world properly is an effort not many writers do, mostly because it's not needed, but what I've found is that I find a need for stuff after I create it, often just small and simple things. Even so I think we all agree that it's the little things that makes a story (or life in general) great?
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This may seem too basic to be said, but I'll say it anyway. World-building does not make a writer.

    Anybody can spend time creating an imaginary world, populating it with characters, playing around with really great ideas. However, that doesn't make you a writer, any more than being a child psychologist makes you a writer, or being an archaeologist makes you a writer. These are all topics you might choose to write ABOUT, but until you actually write the stuff into story form, you're not a writer.

    Be sure to develop your ability to actually write a story people will want to read, alongside your ability to create amazing worlds in your head. The two don't automatically go hand-in-hand, and one doesn't automatically lead to another. These are two different, separate skills. Make sure you're working hard on both of them.
     
  20. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Necessary? One minute. Me? About 1000 hours.

    Yeah, I'm weird. I was still in school when I started doing it, though, and went to university after that, and then wrote some poetry and stuff while starting to properly develop how I'd be writing the story. It also started as just a fun thing rather than knowing I'd want eventually want to write books in that universe. I've also changed things around and back and forth a lot, and I've really dug deep into the mythology behind it all, with scopes and time spans that are frankly ludicrous.

    Oh, and I said it'll just take a minute, and that's the case a lot of the time, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't want to spend a couple of days mulling things over so that you don't start off in a way that makes the rest of the story difficult to shoehorn into the rules of your universe. Having an idea of what's possible in your universe in terms of magic and technology and knowing roughly where the action will take place geographically and such will stop you from having to jump the shark every other chapter and introduce some new thing that seems like it should have been mentioned before, but wasn't. Or you could handle all that in the edit. You decide. Although ... I can almost guarantee you it'll be Hell on Earth to do it that way.
     
  21. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    I've spent 7 years worldbuilding on my fantasy project so far before actually writing the novels. I have been busy with my poetry and other endeavors to work on it as much as i would like.
     
  22. Jaina
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    Jaina Member

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    I have to admit, I love worldbuilding. I could spent my whole time inventing new cultures und countries and languages for my fantasy worlds and science fiction galaxies. If I write a story I need all the details about the setting, otherwise there would be inconsistence and I hate nothing more than inconsistence in novels. You feel if the writer took the time to think his world through or not. That's why I don't hesitate to go into detail, even if it takes me weeks and if I will never use all the stuff for the actual story.
     
  23. Daemon Wolf
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    Daemon Wolf Active Member

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    I took about two months working on my universe. But as I started working on my book my world became a lot larger, a group that was only supposed to be black market dealers became an army. I simply started my world building from present day on a bunch of 'What Ifs'. I tried best to just give a general overview of what I wanted my universe to be like and only got into specifics when I needed and where it suited me.

    Hope this helps
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to like stories that are so small that "world" building isn't needed. Lots of stories start someplace small and move on to a world-sized or galaxy-sized conflict. I like the ones that start in one house and might move on to the village down the road.

    That's not to say that if I were to write fantasy/science fiction I wouldn't need to think about the world, but I wouldn't need to work out and balance the WHOLE world. For example, if I want to write about a character that carves and sells small wooden dolls, I don't need to make a whole map of the economy and the percentage represented by small wooden dolls. I just need to figure out how that character sells enough dolls to make a living.
     
  25. TheApprentice
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    TheApprentice Contributing Member

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    Well my story takes place in our world, but monsters and mages are hidden. I have been making it up as I go along for a while.
     

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