Full disclosure: I am easily the most impatient person I know. I flip my grilled cheeses four or five times before they’re actually done. I skip the three seconds of silence at the end of songs. I fast forward through commercials, show theme songs, and the “that’s what you missed on Glee” parts of episodes. Anything that takes up more time than is strictly necessary will only be sort of tolerated.
Because of this, worldbuilding (which is easily my favorite part of writing) can be somewhat difficult.
I want to know every aspect of a world and I want to know it now. I want the religion, the magic system, the political spectrum, all of it, to come to me in the same flash of inspiration that the world concept initially came from. But the hard reality of crafting good worlds with meaning and heart is that they need to be given time to grow on their own. Just as characters need time to breathe and speak before they can be considered fully-fleshed people, worlds need to same (if not more!) consideration.
Personally, I’ve been working on my own project, the Retreat of the Gods, since middle school – about six years now. I would say that the world is pretty well fleshed out. But there are always things to add! For example, just a few months ago, I realized that even though the forest of the Retreat universe is a major source of setting characterization, as well as a plot device, the actual forest had very little detailing behind it. This is a fantasy story; who lives there? What does their society look like? How do they interact with the main characters? I had no answers. So I had to find them. I made new characters; nymphs and satyrs and other forest spirits. I developed a political atmosphere for them and how each community interacts with each other. There are rivalries and alliances, banter and romance, history and tension. This is still a work in progress, and it comes in drips and drabs. The Senate delays a crucial vote again? Just like how the satyrs hold up any sort of progress toward integrating other societies into the forest society. Reading Greek poetry and literary/linguistic analysis thereof becomes contemplation of forest literacy. Even the wind blowing through trees as I walk by on the way to class, or through wind chimes on the way home, can become the struggle between the dryads, the aurae, the satyrs, and the naiads. I was able to add a whole new plot point to my admittedly skimpy beginning-of-the-middle part of the story because of this. By rushing that part of the worldbuilding process, I could have missed a whole new subplot that has honestly been some of the most fun writing I’ve had in a while.
Of course everything is inspiration; but just like writers should listen for character inspiration in the people around us, writers should look for worldbuilding inspiration in the world around us. So often, worldbuilding is rushed and there are holes that are overlooked until some overzealous fan raises their hand in the back of class and say, “But what about-?” The best way to spar with this fan, as beloved as they are, is to allow your worldbuilding to have the same process as a character. Allow it time to grow and mature and love and grieve. We can talk more about specific aspects of worldbuilding later, and there are plenty of good resources out there as of now! But before you start to pull things together, know that building a good world takes time, and it takes work. Your setting is one of the most important parts of a story. It’s what people remember, and it’s what envelopes the plot and the characters and everything else that makes your story worthwhile. Stop rushing it. Let it come naturally. My vegan friends tell me that they went vegan to help prevent animal abuse. Well, I’m a worldbuilding vegan, then: only natural worldbuilding for me, please, because I can’t stand to see another perfectly good world get neglected and abused by rushed development. (If you could just donate one dollar a day while Sarah McLaughlin plays in the background…)
Next Thursday, we’ll talk about symbolism and imagery and all sorts of fun pretentious literary analysis things that make people just sort of turn their head and go “huh?” It’s way easier than you think, I promise. See you then!