This one’s been in my drafts for a while. As have many things, actually. Some of my more lengthy drafts are eagerly awaiting some concrete research that I don’t have the time to do during the school year. Some of these, though, I have no real excuse. Just general bad time management and bad organizational skills.
Lately, I’ve been adapting my dark fantasy world for another D&D campaign, which almost always means I’ve got my mind on worldbuilding, which, for a lot of works I’ve seen, stops barely after the bare minimum. Now, I don’t want you thinking I’m saying this because I have high standards. In fact, I should probably outline a few reasons why worldbuilding is more important than simply the backdrop to your writing.
Worldbuilding creates the skeleton for the rest of your work.
We can consider characters, first, although this isn’t the main thesis for this post. Your characters’ motivations will be affected by the world they grew up in, whether it be cultural, political, or both (usually, both). This doesn’t mean that your characters need to be heavily involved in politics, but keep in mind that the authority in the world trickles down to their level eventually. It affects how others see them, how they view those close to them, what they can or cannot interact with, why they learn the things they do, etc. More often than not, history is an excellent resource for this. Don’t be afraid to use it!
Still, I wanted to talk about something more technical than character building (although if anyone’s interested, I may eventually write that up too).
Stop for a moment and think about what you’ve interacted with on any given day. What sorts of stores are near you? Who runs them and why? What sorts of pressures are they driven by?
Maybe that’s a bit deeper than most people are thinking of on a daily basis.
But that’s the line of thinking you need when you’re worldbuilding. A thorough world for writing doesn’t need to be complete, but it should have some sort of internal logic that doesn’t necessarily need to be explained all at once, but it does need to be there. It should be revealed throughout the story without anything being too unexpected – your worldbuilding should provide a scaffolding for your writing.
Consider that details of a world force the reader away from your characters and your plot. And this isn’t a bad thing, especially when integrated correctly. Even if you’re not writing in a secondary world, these characters interact with just as many things as you might on an average day. As a writer, there’s an important distinction to make regarding these aspects: what’s important to the story? what’s important to these characters?
When you use your characters to reveal your worldbuilding, your pacing can slow, and your readers won’t be pulled from event to event to event.
It can also be very handy in establishing gravity. After all, when a reader is pulled through a series of events, they need to understand the stakes. The world you’re writing in can be as wide and large as international politics, but it could also be as small as two best friends. As a writer, the decision to determine which aspects of your world is important to the story is not something that should be just glazed over. The reader should understand the gravity of what’s happening to these characters, and much of it is revealed through worldbuilding.
Creating and then referencing the internal logic of your world will help readers come to an understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. Surprises can be good, but surprises should come with an understanding of its gravity.