How do you approach worldbuilding for your stories?

Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Andy_Megumi, Feb 18, 2019.

  1. Lazaares

    Lazaares Active Member

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    Jumping on this thread - I tend to approach worldbuilding in /way too deep/ detail. I often feel like I have written scenes or lines solely to showcase certain pieces of my world that'd be otherwise invisible.

    At the same time, there's also some plotlines and whole themes that have grown out of my looking deeper into worldbuilding and especially power-structures. Precisely, the whole premise of my current project (What I call a power-pyramid of anarchy)

    How do you approach worldbuilding for your stories?
    Branching / starring. I grab an idea, expand on it, then connect it to existing pieces. EG, when I considered my world's economy, I delved into banking systems. Read up on rivalries, parallel systems, currencies, etc. I developed my system of parallel banking leagues and local currencies, along with the dual gold/silver standard in my world - which in turn led to a greater plot point where a rivalry develops between the "gold" and the "silver" factions. In the end, this rivalry devolves into an embargo and trade war which escalates into conflict - a premise I needed for a confrontation/war I already had implemented in my world, but lacked a lead-up to.

    How do you know when you have done enough worldbuilding?
    Hahaha - never.

    How do you know how much worldbuilding you need to do?
    Never enough.

    How do you stop yourselves from becoming overwhelmed with worldbuilding? How do you balance worldbuilding and actually writing the story?
    My great big vice; I am unable to. I just tend to limit myself and try to write a chapter or so for every major worldbuilding session I have.

    Any tips or resources you can share or recommend?
    Worldbuilding reddit is a wonderful source, as they have a lot of useful little links to various other sites. I also have my Bible here for you: http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/

    Jokes on you; I doubt anybody else would need napoleonic warfare details for their worldbuilding. My passion...
     
  2. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Contributor Contributor

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  3. Antaus

    Antaus Active Member

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    How do you approach worldbuilding for your stories?

    Typically I think up a rough outline of geography, kingdoms/nation states and so on. At this point I don't detail heavily, I just get the chess pieces on the board. Once I do that I begin working on my characters and plot. From there I just write the story to see where it goes, work on the plot, characters and develop the world as needed to suit the story.

    How do you know when you have done enough worldbuilding?

    What's enough? I've been world building, developing and revamping some open ended stories in my head since I was a teenager.

    How do you know how much worldbuilding you need to do?

    I always make sure that it suits the story. Sometimes I will add a bit more detail such as observations from characters about certain things. I do limit that to avoid huge info dumps and try to make it interesting commentary.

    How do you stop yourselves from becoming overwhelmed with worldbuilding?

    It's never been overwhelming to me. My worlds are always evolving even in the back of my mind. I actually find exploring the fictional cultures I come up with to learn more about them to be fun and relaxing.

    How do you balance worldbuilding and actually writing the story?

    Just that, by writing the story and seeing what needs built to keep things moving along.
     
  4. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Member

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    How do you approach worldbuilding for your stories?
    ...Approach? It just kinda happens. It's sort of like a logic chain. If I want to add a certain character or situation, what is the result of that person or situation? Like, if there is a cave that everyone in a city must go on a quest on at some point in their lives, how does that affect their culture? What are the rules of the quest? Are people honored for the quest, or are they deliberately ignored? Stuff like that. It's basically a series of answering natural questions that are the result of your inspiration.

    How do you know when you have done enough worldbuilding?

    Uh...I don't. Or well, it's when I can finish the story and feel satisfied that it's interesting enough for the reader and isn't generic. I like to leave the reader with the feeling that even if I don't explain something, they could ask me about it and I would have an answer for them or could easily make it up.

    How do you know how much worldbuilding you need to do?
    Intuition. Basically the longer a story goes, the more worldbuilding I need to do so that I can have things for the reader to discover as the plot continues.

    How do you stop yourselves from becoming overwhelmed with worldbuilding?

    Worldbuilding is my favorite thing. Absolute favorite. There's no really getting overwhelmed with it. As long as the story is getting written, it's all good.

    How do you balance worldbuilding and actually writing the story?
    Well, it's generally about what your inspiration is. If you love the idea enough, you'll write the story and not have a problem with backstory. If you keep writing backstory details, it's probably a sign either you're writing a story in the wrong time period (ie start with your worldbuilding), or your story just isn't right for you at this point and you need to move on. Also, there's the idea of being excited for your reader to read stuff. They won't be interested in what amounts to a history of a fictitious world -- not unless they love your story so much they want to read anything they get their hands on.

    Any tips or resources you can share or recommend?
    You're gonna hate this, but I say read everything. Particularly nonfiction. I've discovered that the best way to learn something is actually "sideways" -- you read a book on one topic, and the author happens to mention a second topic that is relevant and unique. Thing is, people who write directly about a subject are going to present general information about that topic. People who mention a second topic as a support to another mention it because of its real-world consequences on their main topic. Thus, the secondary information is often very poignant.

    The consequence of this is that there's so much nonfiction you should read. Reading real stuff will make your stuff more deep, help you avoid cheap emotionalism, and give you ideas for how to solve the logical questions that arise from your inspiration.

    Also, read GK Chesterton. He's a crazy man, but his particular craziness leads to captivating worlds.
     
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  5. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    How do you approach worldbuilding for your stories?
    I write notes that do not appear in the finished story. I develop the story and think of what aspects of the setting I need to justify the events. The details of the setting are then included incidentally as the characters come across them. I sometimes have characters giving an explanation when something odd turns up that would provoke a question. I also have them telling interesting stories and humorous anecdotes to provide background details. The world isn't fully developed until the story is fully written so it's worth editing earlier sections to take account of all the relevant details of the world.
    How do you know when you have done enough worldbuilding?
    When the story makes sense in that context of the setting, and the setting makes sense in the context of the world (as the reader might understand it from the details given in the story).
    How do you know how much worldbuilding you need to do?
    Many details can be left to the reader's imagination but if details come into play later in the story, they need to be described early so the reader doesn't imagine the wrong things and then be forced to change their mental image.
    How do you stop yourselves from becoming overwhelmed with worldbuilding?
    I focus on the events of the story and only think of worldbuilding to justify those events.
    How do you balance worldbuilding and actually writing the story?
    The plot comes first or soon takes over if the setting is the impetus for writing.
     
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  6. Jan Karlsson

    Jan Karlsson Member

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    Obviously, this kind of writing/worldbuilding isn’t for everybody, but, for me, it works. My world always feels fresh and new and interesting because I’m always discovering new things. I love my world!
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Excellent. You've laid it out clearly.

    I don't worldbuild, beyond a few close fictional settings (a house, a piece of land, a family etc), because I write historically-set stories, and try to be accurate. However, the process is very similar.

    I also develop the story, and research the aspects of the setting that I need to justify the events. When the story makes sense in its historical context (down to small details) I know I've done enough research. I don't get overwhelmed with research because I love doing it, but it needs to be kept organised, as will any aspects of setting you actually just 'make up.' Details and settings and past events have got to remain consistent, or readers will notice.

    I also try to give SOME sense of what is happening in the wider world as well, but I don't go too far into that. But I try to stay aware that the characters didn't just hatch. They will have life experiences and knowledge to bring to the story, even if these experiences don't directly figure in to my plot.

    The big difference between writing accurately-base historical fiction and building your own world from scratch is that you can't change aspects of history, or bring things into the settings that didn't actually exist then, or 'there.' If you run into a problem with an imagined world, you can always change it so there isn't a problem any more. I can see why so many people are attracted to this kind of thing. It allows them to do just about anything they want with a plot or characters as long as it makes internal sense within the story itself.
     
  8. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    I wish I could say the same. I love worldbuilding and researching for original settings, partly because of the freedom I'm afforded. But researching historical people, places, and things that I believe I need to get right . . . not so much.
     
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  9. Vandor76

    Vandor76 Senior Member

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    Even if I do not read anything useful tonight on this forum, this one sentence worth the time I spend here. Thank you.
     
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  10. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    Barely.

    I am too lazy, too arrogant and too wary of World Builder's Disease to devote more than the barest minimum of creative energy to developing my setting. (Which is to say I don't consider anything not directly related to the story to be relevant. Half the time I don't even bother coming up with detailed backstories for my characters.)

    Whenever I've done enough of it to patch up any obvious continuity issues within my narrative.

    I look at my story. Whatever isn't directly necessary for the plot to function as intended is unimportant.

    With my aforementioned apathy towards this subject, that pretty much never becomes an issue. I am far more likely to run into trouble because I didn't world build enough. (I'm pretty okay with this, because at least that way I can rest assured I didn't waste my time.)

    I don't, really. As I'm sure you can tell, my creative process tends to be heavily unbalanced in favor of the storytelling itself.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2020
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  11. costik36

    costik36 Member

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    How do you approach worldbuilding for your stories?
    A: I imagine the general picture then go into more and more details about what is around the story

    How do you know when you have done enough worldbuilding?
    A: Usually when I have enough of a understanding of the world and its rules to use as a base for the story.

    How do you know how much worldbuilding you need to do?
    A: I make a plan of the chapters and of the journey, then if I can cover all of my story within that world that is sufficient.

    How do you stop yourselves from becoming overwhelmed with worldbuilding?
    A: Get all of your ideas about the world, how it should look and how it functions and put the general description of the world on paper. From there take only what you find useful as information to describe your story

    How do you balance worldbuilding and actually writing the story?
    A: I do the above process and write my general idea of the world, then I expand on the sections that I find useful, interesting and necessary for the story to develop, then I start to write the story based on those ideas. If I find some aspects missing from the worlds description, I revisit the world description and add or change what I need.

    You could try to make this general description with the expanded section and have a physical copy next to you at all times when you are writing.

    Hope this helps.
     
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  12. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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    I disagree with this a little.

    As I may or may not have mentioned, history is my "thing". I'm a mod on a history forum, and alternative history is one of the most popular topics on the site. I constantly have to keep beating down people who just want to flood the site with "well, what if Hitler had been accepted into an art academy" type questions. :D

    But more to the point, you can be totally fantastical yet historically accurate too. I don't normally like bringing up anime as an example, but there's one in particular called Hakuoki. It's set in the bakumatsu period (the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate), and it is completely historically accurate... except that has demons in it.

    All the events in it are historically correct, but explained in such a way that fits in with version of reality. For example, one character, Yamanami Keisuke (called "Sannan" in the anime, an alternate reading of his name), in reality was forced to commit seppuku after trying to leave the Shinsengumi. In the anime, he becomes injured and infects himself with demon blood to try and cure his injury. It leaves him unable to withstand sunlight, and periodically loses control. The Shinsengumi put out a story that he had to commit seppuku in order to hide his real condition from the public. All the demonic events happen out of the public eye, so you could imagine yourself as a historian who only saw the public facing events writing what would become "our" history.

    And if you've read Flashman, you know how you can inject your own characters into real historical events and have them be the main - albeit hapless - character in all the events. :)
     
  13. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    This stills counts as alt history, but its fantastical instead counterfactual.
    @jannert is saying that a historical fiction should be historically accurate...which makes perfect sense.
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I admit lots of historical fiction plays around with facts, to some extent. There is a point where the writer has to say, okay this didn't actually happen, but it certainly might have done. (It's nice, from my perspective, when at least the known facts are all adhered to.) There WILL be a point where history and fiction divide in historical fiction, otherwise you'd be writing 'history' not 'historical fiction.'

    In an actual history, the things we don't know about people or situations from the past can't be 'made up.' If we don't know the kind of house Charlemagne lived in, we can't write a historical biography of him as if we do However, in historical fiction, we can certainly put him in some kind of a house that we know did exist during that period—that is consistent with what else we know about him.

    From my own viewpoint, however, a story set within an accurately-portrayed historical period, but that also contains demons, is probably not what I'd call 'historical fiction.' Demons never existed, and the writer knows it. He's knowingly playing the 'what-if' game and applying it to history, rather than writing about a demon in modern day. I would call that 'fantasy' or possibly 'magical realism.' If I picked that book up, thinking it was historical fiction, I'd feel a bit let down. (Although I might well enjoy it anyway, if it was well-written.) Hitler did not win WW2, and a writer will also know that—so a book where Hitler DOES win WW2 is called 'alternative history.' It's not the same as 'historical fiction.'

    However, an accurately-portrayed piece of historical fiction, as experienced by a fictional character—is the closest we can come to 'being there.' We're not trying to change history or throw fantastical elements into the setting. We're just trying to portray it, as it was, as accurately as possible, from a human perspective. (I don't know if that applies to Flashman or not, because I've never read any Flashman stories.)

    On this thread, I was comparing doing historical research versus building your own world from scratch.

    You still need a world, whether it's totally fictional or totally accurate or somewhere in between. There will be some similarities in how the contemporary writer (who lives in neither of those worlds at the moment) will find out—or figure out—how settings work, in the world of their story. The more detailed and consistent the writer is, the more immersive and convincing their story will be. Even if they're writing about demons (or space ships) in 16th century Japan. :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2020
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  15. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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    I disagree. It's still historically accurate in terms of events. Otherwise *anything* you change, including putting your own fictional character in the story, is alternate history.
     
  16. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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    I think it depends what you mean by an accurate portrayal. If you take Shogun, for example, the portrayal of medieval Japan is accurate, but the events, although based on real events, are a fictionalised retelling. Even The Last Samurai has a more-or-less accurate portrayal of life and post restoration Japan, minus the nonsense about samurai honour and ninjas. The events were an amalgam of certain real events. Does that count as historical fiction?

    In Hakuouki, the portrayal (with the exception of character design) is pretty much accurate. Everyday life, the nuances of Japanese society etc. The author had to do some pretty in-depth historical research to make it as accurate as he did, down to the place and time of death of relatively minor characters. The only difference was the demons. To the average peasant in this setting, history unfolded exactly the way it did in real history. That's why I'd count it as historical, albeit historical fantasy.
     
  17. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, aye. Historical fantasy will work for me, as a label. It's honest.

    You can have badly researched 'historical fiction' that purports to be realistic. (I've read that kind, and want to scream.) And well-researched historical fiction that admits to also being fantasy, or alternative history. (Like the excellent series by Mary Stewart, about Merlin.) The quality of the research can vary, no matter what category you're writing in.

    I can do half-baked medical research and write what I advertise as realistic contemporary fiction. Or I can do meticulous medical research, then introduce a zombie. Or a space ship. Or a time traveller. The quality of the research has nothing to do with the genre itself.
     
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  18. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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    I think you just summed up Dr. Who. :D
     
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  19. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    What if the author actually believes demons are real? I'm pretty sure there are still people like that.
     
  20. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    I'm a huge WW2 counterfactual nerd. I read an alt history book base upon the German carrier Graf Zeppelin being completed and put into operation service. It should have been tech porn: the Germans were using a catapult launch instead of the convention roll off, but with air compressors instead of steam. The author, however, apparently knew little more about WW2 ships than wikipedia and maybe a World of Warships match or two. I will admit that the book achieved a level of historical and technical inaccuracy that was very impressive.
    If I ever find myself in a life boat with the author I'm pushing him out.
     
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  21. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If they try to market their book as accurate historical fiction, they'll likely get laughed out of the park?
     
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  22. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    Fair, I guess. I'm just curious if a story in a historical setting is necessarily obliged to completely conform to the more general scientific consensus - in this case that supernatural stuff should not be considered real because they have not been proven to be exist - in order to be considered historical fiction. I guess that just doesn't strike me as a matter of historical accuracy, strictly speaking, and more as a general worldview kind of thing or a stylistic decision.

    Put another way, suppose there is a historical account of some event that people at the time at least believed was supernatural. Are writers of historical fiction required to dismiss that event as mundane in order for it to be historical?
     
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  23. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I get what you're saying, and I am certainly not the ultimate source of what's right or wrong on this topic. I only know that from my standpoint as both an avid reader AND a writer of historical fiction, that historical fiction gives me a chance to vicariously live in a real era from the past. To feel what it was like to be there when it was happening. To learn about it.

    Stick in a demon, and you've lost me. If the characters in that story believe in demons, that's fine ...but I'd better not actually see one there.

    Soon as that happens, I reckon the story becomes fantasy. I might enjoy reading it, but it is no longer believable. I might as well be reading fairy tales about giants and frogs that turn into princes, and coaches that turn into pumpkins. These are fun tales, and I love them to bits ...but I know they're not real.
     
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  24. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    For me, world building is just something that happens during the brainstorming and outlining phases. The more I figure out about the story and the characters, the more I know about the world. It has to be pretty well fleshed out in my head before I start in on the actual story, but I spend very little time on the task by itself. A lot of it's just intuitive. I prefer to let my world building be story driven. When I need to know something about the world because of the story, it either fills in on its own, or I stop and fill it in. Of course this probably works better for architect writers than discovery writers, because there's usually no outline phase for pantsers.

    Regardless of method though, it's time to stop brainstorming when thinking and taking notes on a project becomes a form of procrastination. I'm guilty of this myself sometimes. Eventually, you have to write that first paragraph.
     
  25. SNJade96

    SNJade96 Active Member

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    How do you approach worldbuilding for your stories?
    I use a specific method - I'll make a sort of worldbuilding encyclopedia. Right now, I'm using a custom-made (free) website to compile everything I need to know about my world, and I do it before writing the actual book, so I already have all the quirks of a society figured out beforehand and don't have to edit it in later. Anyway, I basically separate everything into different categories, then categorize those categories, and then again, and again, and basically until I have a huge tree of things to write about. Then I go to the smallest details, like detailing each different cult or religion that's popped up in a specific country, and then I'll make different pages for each of those cults, and I fill out two different categories: Traditions and Beliefs, and History. That's just an example, but that's the general process for everything. Oh, and the Cults and Religions category is under the Culture of That Country category, which is then under the category for that country, which is then under the category for that region...you get the idea.
    How do you know when you have done enough worldbuilding?
    When I get bored. One of my favourite parts of writing is the worldbuilding, so if I'm getting bored, I've definitely done enough.
    How do you know how much worldbuilding you need to do?
    I don't. Like I said, I don't write the book until after all the worldbuilding is done (though it is normally at least partially plotted out, as is the case with the thing I'm currently worldbuilding for). I just stop when I get bored.
    How do you stop yourselves from becoming overwhelmed with worldbuilding?
    I split it into the smaller categories like I said before, and then even though looking over it all, I still have a ton of work to do, I take it step by step, and it's easier to manage that way.
    How do you balance worldbuilding and actually writing the story?
    I don't write the story until the worldbuilding's done. I'm just repeating myself at this point.
    Resources:
    I'd like to mention the worldbuilding Reddit, as others have, but I also have this specific list of things to come up with for cultures here: Culture-making checklist - Neitherworld Stories. It's helped me a lot.
     
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