What Is Worldbuilding and Why You Need It
Guest blog by Héctor González
Have you ever experienced a work of fiction so delicious, that by the end you only wondered how it felt so enjoyable and wanted to know more about that reality?
That is the result of worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding is the term used to describe the creation of worlds in speculative fiction. The initial term “world-building” was used first over 200 years ago in the Edinburgh Review and then in 1920 in A.S. Eddington's Space Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory. This document theorizes about other realities with different laws of physics. Which is always a fun experiment. If you decided to give that a try and imagine how that could be, congratulations! You are a worldbuilder.
Any hypothetical idea can be developed into a world, if you put the effort and develop that seed.
Let’s do a quick experiment. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say “a world where giraffes are the main transportation system?”
It’s possible you might ask:
- WHY is there a world with everyone riding giraffes?
- HOW did this happen?
- WHEN did this occur?
- WHAT happened to other transportation systems?
- WHO decided this?
- WHERE is this place with giraffes?
It is also VERY likely you might ask other questions that aren’t here, but the important thing is that my idea prompt gets the wheels moving in your imagination. That is the beauty of worldbuilding. It is a fertile field waiting for your story seeds. Time to see how to improve your odds of a great crop and nurture your green thumb!
Think about the works of fiction in the media and how worldbuilding happens within these. Here are a few known examples:
- In Greek myths, we have a whole genealogy of gods, demigods and mortals interacting with these. We know their alliances and conflicts, as well as places and relevant information about their environment
- The works of J. R. R. Tolkien are well known as painstakingly detailed, due to the rich backstory behind these, his love of languages and extensive use of maps
- Ursula K. Le Guin is another fantastic worldbuilder, creating wonderful environments within her Earthsea series as well as very nuanced studies on social matters through her extensive works
- The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin gives us a world where climate as well as social dynamics have tremendous impact on the characters
- The Tensorate Series by Neon Yang is full of evocative locales, great conflict, an interesting magical system, all giving the characters a lush environment with stunning results
- Valerie Valdes creates an intricate world on her books Chilling Effect and Prime Deceptions. Psychic cats, space pirates and other sci-fi elements turned on its ear help shaping this universe into an enjoyable experience
Worldbuilding isn’t only creating a reality, it is the work of finding the elements that will make this new world believable and interesting enough for whoever gets to know, read, listen, or roleplay in it. It is the place, the people, the history behind it, the economics, the social dynamics, the power structures, the laws of physics, the economy, etcetera.
You can grow your world little by little, so you don’t need to have a 2,000-page document with every detail about your new setting from the start. Like seeds, you can give your new story-plant time to move from seedling to a tiny stalk. More often than not, the more you immerse yourself in the joys of writing or even thinking about your new world, it helps you develop and find new ways to make those ideas blossom.
One matter that I want to touch on: quality. There are lots of creators out there churning out worlds and stories. Some give us an extensive amount of details about that reality while others might only touch on the surface of how the world works. Both are valid. Some stories resonate with others for certain aspects while maybe other tales might not catch the recipient’s attention. That is okay. Every person has different tastes in worldbuilding.
If your world doesn’t work for someone, maybe it’s not for them. That doesn’t make your world terrible or bad. It is just not their cup of tea and that is fine. Don’t chase the good/bad game while imagining. Find what makes this world unique for you and play with it. It’s also important to be open to kind feedback and let your imagination do the rest.
My next guest blog will touch on resources to help you get started on your worldbuilding journey. Until then, keep imagining!
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.