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WORLD-BUILDING – PRE OR ON THE FLY?

September 1, 2021

            My original article on world building appeared in 2014 and I’d already alluded to the subject numerous times in the 186 articles I’d written by that time. Jump now to 2021 and the count is 563 articles. I’ve covered it in numerous forms, many more times.

            Something that has come up lately is do you world build first, and then now what? The specific question that stuck with me is this one writer who spent a lot of time building a world, but is now stuck and doesn’t know how to start writing.

            I had to do a double take on that.

            This person had some huge inspiration to create this vast fantasy world, yet never bothered to do the basics, like had a story in mind before they ever thought of creating the world in the first place.

            I suppose that could happen. The cart before the horse, and I don’t apologize for the cliché.

            I may not have the circumstances quite right, and maybe the person DOES have a story in mind. The problem may be that he or she doesn’t know the fundamentals of story telling yet. It could be that they never formulated A and B. It could be a host of other things as well.

THE THING ABOUT WORLD BUILDING

            I’ll say right off that world building isn’t story.

            World building is just that. It’s building the world in which you tell the story.

            It’s not like the world you build tells the story itself. It just sets up the environment, or the frame, in which you can now create some kind of tale without worrying about the semantics of place.

            Therefore, worldbuilding isn’t story, it’s PLACE ONLY.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORLD BUILDING AND OUTLINING?

            Aha!

            Here we go. They aren’t the same thing. They could be blended in as you go, but strictly speaking, world building is creating a setting for the story, but has little (or may have) little to do with the story itself.

            In general terms, creating a world may have certain influences and consequences of how the story develops. Things like the weather, creatures, magic or magick, races, geography can all have an effect on the plot, story, and influence the actions of the characters.

            However, that’s not the outline.

            The outline is a separate thing entirely.

            With the outline, it would be prudent to refer to the already built world as you outline.

            That would make your story come in three steps.

            #1 Build the world.

            #2 Outline.

            #3 Write the story.

PLOTTER OR PANTSER?

            If you’re a plotter, are you going to go through all three steps in order, like our hapless person who was stuck at stage two (or three)?

            Or, are you going to go right into #2 and start outlining?

            Or, are you going to do a combination of #1 and #2 before you ever start working on #3?

            There’s no hard and fast rule.

            As for me, being a pantser, I cut to the chase and just go for #3 and don’t even worry about either #1 or #2. That would just suck the life right out of all of my creativity. This is something I’ve discussed many times here at Fred Central.

            It’s like I don’t agonize over every word, every sentence and every paragraph. I blurt it all out and get the ideas down and worry about editing later. Of course, over the twenty-six years I’ve been doing it (so far), I’m a good bit more proficient at it, so my chops are a bit better than when I first started. Therefore, when I get to the first edit, I have less of a mess to fix. That gives me the freedom to create on the fly. My key, of course is to always have A, B and the title before I ever start. That way, I have a start (A) and a finish (B) and a title (main theme) to write to.

            Any world building I do on the fly. I keep track of it with an encyclopedia which I constantly refer to as I add new terms. NOTE: I also add new names and terms into the spell check so I consistently spell them the same way.

EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT

            Not everyone can work on the fly.

            World building first seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse, cliché again. Maybe that works for some people, but I’d think the writer should at least come up with the stories they want to tell first. At least jot the main ideas down, THEN build the world. During that world building process, the story may tweak a bit, but that’s okay. At least you’ll still have some idea of your direction when you finish building this big wide world.

            I may have got this writer’s intent wrong with his question. If so, it still doesn’t change my point.

            YOU NEED TO HAVE A STORY FIRST.

            As tempting as it is to create this big fantastic world, you’d better come up with a story to tell and not expect this world to inspire you. Maybe it will, but it might tell you nothing at all. Don’t let that happen.

            Happy writing!

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