How to Get Started Worldbuilding
Guest blog by Héctor González
In my previous guest blog I touched on what worldbuilding is and why it’s helpful for your creative efforts. Now I'm following up with a series of resources to help you get to know more about worldbuilding and what works for you.
An important aspect of worldbuilding is knowing when to keep it simple and when to add a lot. The former is called "soft worldbuilding." The latter is called "hard worldbuilding."
Soft worldbuilding involves using a unique premise without delving too much into it, letting the reader fill in the blanks or not worry about the details. An example could be a world where vampires are real and a known fact to everyone. The story could only deal with how a vampire is adapting to their world as a newfangled creature of the night or finishing school while unable to take classes during the day. The right trail of breadcrumbs could lure your readers to want more of the world you created, leading to further development or other stories down the line, additionally expanding your world.
With hard worldbuilding, you are creating a very detailed universe that is part of the narrative and plot. Following the same vampire example, imagine how becoming one has a lot of social implications, different factions or even ways to become immortal. Maybe not everything the reader knows from pop culture about vampires is the same, leading to a different interpretation of this classic monster. A downside to this might be how much exposition you’ll need to share about this world without coming across as too lengthy or boring. Although, some people LOVE info dumps, like The Silmarillion.
It is a fine balance between how much and how little to define and how to convey it in an organic way. At times like these, having alpha and beta readers helps a lot, as they will be able to give you their perspective and share what could improve your creations.
I've also gathered some resources to help. These are by far not the only ones out there, I’ll share my reasons for enjoying each one:
Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer is a great starting point for creative storytellers. It is not only Jeff sharing his insights but he recruited a great list of writers to help you flash out those stories. It also has a companion website with lots of great resources.
Worldbuilding Magazine started in 2017 as an effort to help other creatives (writers and artists) with ideas on how to improve their worldbuilding skills. Their past issues are available in PDF with a treasure trove of resources for every creative.
The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Worldbuilding Guide by James D’Amato is more focused for game design but it can easily translate to other creative uses.
- K. Jemisin’s books feature very detailed examples of worldbuilding and she has shared her experiences and tips on how to enhance your work. The first link is for a Wired25 Festival, an extensive workshop that is a must for worldbuilders.
Recently MasterClass released a course by Jemisin with her take on how she approaches worldbuilding in her writing.
Writing The Other webinars and workshops touch on how to create characters for your worlds with nuance and a diverse point of view. This is a valuable resource for creatives who want to portray their stories with sensibly represented characters.
The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers has multiple modules for worldbuilders, both as live classes as on-demand modules. There’s a something for every taste over here.
The team of Mary Robinnete Kowal, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler at the Writing Excuses podcast took on worldbuilding for their Season 14. Through 52 episodes, they covered different aspects of how to create a world with nuance and detail. Expect lots of industry guests popping in and out of these episodes. You can also explore the tags "worldbuilding" and "world building" on their archive for other episodes touching on the topic. Highly recommended.
Worldbuilding for Masochists was recently nominated for a Hugo award and for a good reason. Rowenna Miller, Cass Morris and Marshall Ryan Maresca are the hosts and regularly invite a veritable who’s who of talented writers to share their methods and secrets.
Fonda Lee is the author of the Green Bone Saga and is featured in this episode of the diyMFA podcast. I have to single this episode in particular as Fonda talks in great detail and with helpful advice about how her worldbuilding works. If you have read Jade City, this is an amazing treat.
Online resources and groups
Sarah Gailey hosts the Building Beyond series on their Ghost.io newsletter, where they share an idea and ask a writer as well as a reader to create something based on the prompt. A fun exercise also for creatives who want to stretch their muscles writing their own takes on the ideas.
SFWA has a great article titled "Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions" by Patricia C. Wrede with great queries to ask yourself when worldbuilding. I can’t recommend it enough!
The r/worldbuilding subreddit is a great spot to share some of your thoughts on worldbuilding as well as being inspired by the work of others. This is one of my favorite rabbit holes.
I hope these resources can help you get into worldbuilding. One in particular that I go back to is often overlooked: history books. Especially when there are more than one touching on a particular topic from different points of view. An event can have multiple narrators, similar to how it happens in stories. Getting to understand and relate to these experiences can help you create unique worlds with different environments that feel realistic.
Worldbuilding is creating a culture for your story. Sometimes we borrow from current times or familiar settings to make it easy for us. Other times we look to construct governments, traditions, cuisines, religions, financial systems, sports, and other systems that define a protagonist’s views. This satisfying-for-many, tortuous-for-some pursuit is part of your creative DNA. Maybe it will be inspired by a passing shower thought or after getting lost reading Wikipedia articles. No matter the inspiration, if your worldbuilding is handled with nuance and detail, it could be the seed that grows into the stories you’ll shape and share with others.
Héctor González (he/they) is a queer México-born speculative writer living in Austin, TX. They pair their love for food with their passion for stories and finding more about the secret origins of your favorite dishes. You can find their latest thoughts, cooking and writing as @mexicanity on Instagram, Twitter and Medium. Their motivational ASMR 4 Writers recordings can be found under Abuelita Héctor on SoundCloud.