Wednesday on Writing: Worldbuilding- Plan It All or Let It Grow On Its Own

Worldbuilding is a big topic in science fiction and fantasy. Not that it isn’t important in other genres, because of course it is, but in sf/f, it is one of the bigger components of many stories. After all, we are often conceiving either worlds that never existed or haven’t yet come to be. We are actually building many of the worlds that serve as the setting for our stories. Worldbuilding often becomes as important a part of our work as character and plot.

How does an author go about building a whole world to surround his characters and story? There are, as with every element of writing, multiple approaches to this aspect. You can plan and outline a detailed setting, figuring out all the ins and outs of the place, government, work, play, social systems, and more. Or you can simply start with a basic idea- a huge space station orbiting an Earth-like planet in another galaxy, for example, and just let the world develop as you write the rest of the story. Both are valid approaches and both work for some writers and not for others.

For the planners, it is important to know the details before they get too deeply into the story. That way, they can be sure things will be consistent and make sense throughout the whole tale. At least, for the most part. Even with the best plan, just like a detailed plot plan, some details and circumstances can arise that require a rethinking or changing of the original plan. But at least the major details are there and already fit together, waiting for the characters to interact and move within the structure.

For the more organic writers, the process of building the story world grows with the characters and storyline. We know we are on a space station, but the exact layout and the hierarchy of command or social structure is dictated more by the flow of the story and how the characters move within it. This process can leave the writer with gaps and pieces that don’t quite fit together and that must be reworked so that it all makes sense.

Where do I fit in? Well, like most of my process, I tend to be a bit of a hybrid. I plan much of what I am writing. I have a basic plotline, I know the major and most of the minor characters and how they fit the story, what they want, and most of how they go about getting what they want. It is the same with my setting. I know the basic structure. It’s a space station, but it’s a civilian station not military. I know the basic layout- concentric rings or long, tubular shape. I know some of the interior details- living spaces for the people (families, individuals, etc.), that there is a market or mall of sorts, how the basic government will work. But it’s not drilled down to fine points, nor is most of it set in stone. It flows and changes with the flow and change of the story and the people in it. Sometimes, a lot changes. Sometimes, very little does. It works for me.

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg that is worldbuilding. It’s an interesting topic with a lot of parts that all have to fit together in an almost seamless fashion for the reader to believe in the world you create. It’s difficult, it can be time consuming, it has a whole set of inherent problems, but in the end, it’s fun and fascinating, and one of the best parts of making up stories.


Do you like science fiction and fantasy? I would be very happy if you would check out my books and other stories. You can find more information about them all at the link below. Thank you!

My Writing