March 30, 2020 at 10:35 am #109627E. K. Seaver@e-k-seaver
What are the key elements of worldbuilding? I’m not generally good at worldbuilding and find delving super deep into the history of the world kind of distracting. What should I know about the world, and what’s simply unnecessary?March 30, 2020 at 2:25 pm #109644Livi Ryddle@anne_the_noob14
Good question! Unfortunately, I can’t answer it XD I’m just as lost as you seem to be lol. I mean, I know in theory what I’m supposed to know… but knowing it is a whole other thing XD (That made no sense, I’m sorry lol)
But yeah, I’ll be stalking this thread to see what other people say 😛
(And you’re not alone in the “delving really deep into the history isn’t my thing” thing XD)
“Enough! Be quiet! I can’t hear myself think! I can’t hear my teeth chatter!"March 31, 2020 at 3:18 am #109660Chelsea R.H.@seekjusticeApril 3, 2020 at 8:10 pm #109829R.M. Archer@r-m-archer
@e-k-seaver Here’s something I wrote up for a friend on another writing site, answering roughly the same question. Hopefully it helps. 🙂
M’kay, so worldbuilding. Start with what you need for your story. What is the culture like directly around your main character(s)? How is that culture different from or similar to the other culture around it? (E.g. if your character is in the lower class, how does that differ from the upper class. Or if your character is in the eastern part of the kingdom and the western side is different, how do they interact or mesh or clash?) What is important in your main character’s culture, and how does the main character feel about those values? (E.g. if you have a character who lives in a culture steeped in tradition, do they value tradition, or think it’s just peer pressure from dead people, or some balance of the two?) How does this cause conflict with those around them? That’s the core of the large-scale stuff: figuring out how things work on a large scale and what conflicts arise from those workings.
And then there are the mid-scale things, which I think actually tend to be the “extraneous” stuff that’s super fun to work out but doesn’t actually have a whole lot of bearing on the story you’re telling right now. (Could be wrong, though. This is kind of all off the top of my head, so I could be overlooking things. XD)
And then there’s the small-scale stuff, which is what brings your description and your story to life. Things like what the material of your MC’s favorite dress feels like, or who runs the bakery down the street and how well they know the MC, or where that perfect hiding place is when the city kids are playing hide and seek in the streets.
That’s a huge generalization, of course, but… hopefully it gives you a start? Honestly, my method of worldbuilding is just to figure out what I need to know for starters and then to follow the questions from there. My brain tends to generate tons of spin-off questions once I get going, and then I can end up going down a total rabbit hole. XD Depending on what your exact purpose is for worldbuilding, that could be a good thing or it could be something to keep in check by just asking with each thing, “Is this relevant to the story I’m telling now, or can I write it down as an idea to work on later?”
It’s kind of tricky for me to pin down “how to worldbuild,” as a big thing, so feel free to ask follow-up questions if you have them. ^-^
Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.April 13, 2020 at 12:43 pm #110139The Inkspiller@the-inkspiller
@e-k-seaver R.M. Archer puts up some super useful priming questions and pointers for world building. I’d like to take a crack at answering and see if there’s anywhere I can go into a little more depth. I’ve been inventing and running D&D campaigns fora good few years and so have had a lot of hands-on practice with a live audience (players) in terms of developing a world – specifically the parts that you need for story-telling (i.e., what the audience is going to ask about that you should have worked out in advance).
What are the key elements of worldbuilding? I’m not generally good at worldbuilding and find delving super deep into the history of the world kind of distracting. What should I know about the world, and what’s simply unnecessary?
The answer to this question depends heavily on what kind of story you’re telling and how deeply it’s layered. If you’re like Tolkien and you’re trying to recreate three mythic eras of epic history plus an entire fantastical cosmology centered around a pre-historical interpretation of the Christian God and the epoch of creation – then yeah, you’re probably going to have to dive in deep.
R.M. Archer made a good point about distinguishing between Small, Mid, and Large scale detail, and that applies to the scale of your story (and its individual chapters, acts, and scenes!) as well. Small-scale stuff may be no less important than Large scale and likewise Mid to Small and Large.
Aside– I’d like to briefly elaborate on Mid-scale details (@r-m-archer correct me if I’m wrong here)
If Large-scale are those things which define entire regions, cultures, and peoples, and Small-scale details concern the basic individual, Mid-scale details inform the relationship between Large and Small.
Example: A Small detail like “the Apoideans naturally communicate through pheromones, not speech,” interacts with another Small-scale detail, “Humans are the best interstellar diplomats because the Google Translate project has allowed them to develop a working, learning universal translator,” to produce the Large-scale detail, “the Apoidean-Human alliance is unshakably strong,” through the Mid-scale details, “Apoideans finally have a literal ‘voice’ in politics thanks to humanity – and human pheromones happen to be chemically similar to those of the Apoideans’ ruling hive queens and breeding drones.”
What details you require depends on the scale of what you’re trying to write. If you’re looking at your archetypical high fantasy genre story with its clash of good and evil and saving the world from ultimate doom, every culture / nation / race is going to need its set of objective characteristics, personality tendencies, and stereotypes as viewed through the eyes of their peers and enemies. This is true even for “monsters” (like orcs) which exist primarily as sword-fodder for the hero. Tolkien intentionally gave his orcs really crude, thuggishly English speech (which translated into some wonderful voice acting for the movies) to highlight their brutish but clever nature. They may be cruel barbarians, but they’re not idiots. If you’re really trying to match the majestic splendor of Middle Earth, then you will have to invest in a lot of hidden history that your reader may not see directly – perhaps not even after several readings.
But if your story doesn’t leave the confines of a single city, then your world building ought to focus on that city, how it views itself, and how it views the outside.
Another useful resource for world-building is real world history, for everything from Large to Small.
Attila the Hun fancied himself the scourge of Rome, the Wrath of God incarnate; you know how he died?
While the elder barbarian king was celebrating his latest marriage to yet another young virgin, he drank so much that his veins in his throat burst and he died of massive internal bleeding, right there on the feast table.
Or at the Larger scale, look at the differences between the two great powers of Ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta, and the Peloponnesian War between them – then look deeper. Athens is celebrated as a center of culture, learning, the birthplace of democracy, while Sparta is known mainly for its enslavement of the helots and martial discipline, as we’re all taught in school. The Peloponnesian War ended with the destruction of Athens, and it once again looks like a case where evil triumphed over good…
But the Athenians started this war. High off their victories over the Persian Empire since the Battle of Salamis over 60 years ago, the Athenians began annexing allies and subjugating them to taxation in order to pay for the expansion of its navy, its colonial empire, and extravagant public works in Athens; confident of their power, they then began supporting revolts in city-states allied to Sparta, particularly Corinth, and naturally the Spartans and their allies declared war in defense of their own sovereignty.
But moving away from military history and examining culture, we can see striking ironies in each city-state and its ideals.
Athens, the famous center of learning, culture, and trade, was not above wielding its navy as a brute instrument of imperium; nor was it above putting to death its brightest minds (e.g., Socrates) for saying something they didn’t like; and while a free man might have his vote (if he had enough property and had completed his mandatory military service), there was no say for the poor, the debtor, the slave, or the woman, whose physical mobility outside her own home was severely restricted by law.
Sparta, renowned for its warrior culture, slavery, and adherence to oligarchy, was bound by a strict constitution which governed not only their laws but even their modes of behavior, from the foot-soldier to the king himself. Uniquely among the Greek city-states, Sparta required and provided formal education for their women just as for their men – while in Athens, educating women might be seen as simply unnatural. The Spartan relationship with their helot slaves was complicated – at times it could be utterly brutal and monstrous – but at the same time, unlike slaves in other cities, Helots were permitted to own property, keep as much as half the produce of their harvest, marry and have children without obtaining their masters’ permission – a far cry from the treatment of Athenian slaves.
All that massive aside to say – history is a gold mine for world building, for every detail from small to large. It’s by no means a shortcut, unless you want your audience to think, “Ok, so they’re literally just robot space egyptians,” but drawing upon how real people have acted in the past can help you to build a world which feels real (even if it’s utterly fantastical).
I’m not sure how much more helpful this is on top of Archer’s post, but it’s about the best I can think of on the spot. @e-k-Seaver, if there’s a specific story / setting which you’re trying to develop, I’d be happy to take more specific questions on that or look at your notes (if you’d like to share them, that is). Worldbuilding is a very, very broad field, and the answers to your questions vary wildly based on what you’re trying to create.
@anne_the_noob14 Same goes for you too. If you have questions pertaining to specific elements of world-building, like “Culture A has this practice but I don’t know why they would do that,” or “Culture X and Culture Z hate each other but the reasoning seems flimsy to me”, or anything else, I’m more than happy to provide an excessively detailed and tangential answer. 🙂
Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.April 13, 2020 at 12:50 pm #110140R.M. Archer@r-m-archer
@the-inkspiller Those were all good additions. 🙂
Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.April 13, 2020 at 3:53 pm #110161Livi Ryddle@anne_the_noob14
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