Tips for someone who doesn't like worldbuilding?

I love sci-fi and fantasy. I’m quite happy reading things like the Mass Effect Codex or the books in Skyrim. However, when it comes to the process of creating my own worlds, I find it very draining and often lose my enthusiasm for a project. Analysis paralysis has always been an issue for me; I tend to get swamped by details or simply give up worldbuilding before it’s ready (which leads to feeling completely lost halfway through a project). When it comes to plotting, I’m a plantser and use what I think of as a skeleton plot (with a similar formula for characters) but worldbuilding covers so many areas I haven’t managed to come up with a similar frame that works for worlds.
Does anyone have any advice?

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Use Jill Williamson’s book called Storyworld First; she gives you a basic outline of how to worldbuild. I can’t get you an Amazon link, but I can tell you how to get it on Goodreads, if you like.
Search in the top right bar “Jill Williamson Story”, and the book will pop up. Hope that helps.

There are tons of worldbuilding templates out there, which give questions and stuff to cover the necessities (and some really go into detail). I personally don’t work with templates (aside from the ones on WorldAnvil), but a quick google search for “worldbuilding template” or “worldbuilding questions” should give you plenty to browse through.

WorldAnvil has a bunch of templates for creating articles about things in your world (locations, characters, organizations, etc.), so you can build up a sort of a wiki, and it also offers a ton of question prompts and even lets you create timelines. Personally, I love WorldAnvil, and I’d definitely recommend it.

r/worldbuilding on reddit is a subreddit dedicated to worldbuilding. Question prompts regularly get posted, so those threads should at least give you things to think about. Plus, you may be able to draw inspiration from other people’s worlds.

The most important piece of advice I can give, though, is to not stress over it. You don’t have to come up with a fully fleshed out and detailed world. Work out the details as you need them. Ultimately, you don’t need much more detail than what’s on the pages (though a little more never hurts). Let the story drive the world rather than vice versa.

Also, don’t stop writing just because you have to figure stuff out in the world. Don’t know what your characters would likely eat in a restaurant/tavern/mess hall/whatever? Just put down [food] and fill it in later. Write around the missing info, don’t let it stop you.

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I mean, particularly given that you’ve said you’re a pantser, what parts of the world do you absolutely need to know about to tell the story? I don’t mean the minimum to be able to talk about how the world functions, I mean the minimum to prevent your characters from acting against truly white space.

If your story is a murder mystery set in a castle, what does the castle look like? Is it the type with big elaborately decorated courtyards and stained glass windows or does it have thick walls and narrow windows common to castles designed to withstand combat? Are there more courtiers or men at arms running around?

If the novel begins with the main character boarding a ship on a travel-heavy adventure, what kind of ship is it? How big is it, how is it propelled, and in the likely instance it uses sails, how is it rigged? What is it carrying besides your character — grain, passengers, luxiry goods?

If your hero is going to explore a cave, what kind of rock has it formed from? And more importantly, what tools are they taking with them while spelunking?

Some of these details are going to suggest things about the world. A castle designed for war probably houses a different kind of murder mystery than one with growing room for a decadent court. What your ship is carrying probably says something about how far it’s travelling. And if the spelunker is carrying nylon rope and a flashlight, they live in a very different world than they would if they’re bringing along a map and a torch. Some of it really is gonna be scene setting.

On the other hand … it’s all stuff you need immediately, and as you go you can build on the world by asking questions about the stuff that’s already there. If the castle is built for defense, who were the expecting to attack it? If the room is lit by magic crystals, what happens when one falls and shatters on the ground? If the ship has cannon, are there other firearms in the setting? And so on, as you start needing things.

I tend to double-check my first answer early on, because I may just be regurgitating a cliché, and at least make sure that cliché is there because I like it. But the farther you go the more likely the answer is to flow naturally out of decisions you’ve already made.

Worldbuilding without it being tied to story in some ways can be tough for me, honestly, because I start with character most of the time. And I genuinely really enjoy worldbuilding. But it is helpful for me to start with something I know I absolutely need to tell the story — a piece of setting, a political event, a particular magic spell — and see what kind of context it fits into. And then to just keep going from there.

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Welcome to the forums!

I’m going to second @krikkit_war_robot in saying “don’t stress it” and @Loki_Mischief-Maker in “just develop what you need.”

If you have a skeleton structure, what sort of things do you absolutely have to know? Once you have those bare minimums written down, everything else can be developed on the fly. (Though I suggest if you develop it on the fly, you keep a running note of those things so they don’t get mixed up later.) It’s absolutely possible to pants worldbuilding.

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Related to this, there’s an interesting worldbuilding plan, I guess you could call it, called the World-Building Leviathan. It heavily focuses on what you need for telling your story, rather than broad worldbuilding, so the first part is literally just figuring out your characters, your plot, etc. You build off of this to figure out what specific parts of the world you need to plan, and slowly grow over time.

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Looks interesting! Bookmarked!

Oh, that looks excellent.

Thanks for the recommendation of WorldAnvil! (I’ve just created my account.) :grinning:

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WorldAnvil looks great! Unfortunately, thanks to patchy rural internet online tools aren’t that useful to me :frowning_face:

During July camp I added to my wordcount by describing the dragons my dragonkeeper may have encountered in his journey. It would go something like: “Henry once read about a dragon that…” It was a great way to organiclly add to my worldbuilding.

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When I don’t necessarily feel like sitting down and playing around with my worlds I just start working on the story and jot down things that pop up as I’m writing as opposed to focusing solely on worldbuilding for a while.

Sometimes it’s the not thinking about it that brings up the best solutions.

As for a list of questions/things to work off of-- SFWA Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions is a good place to start. You don’t have to answer all of the questions for every story, and you can definitely modify them to suit whatever genre you’re writing. The list is fairly thorough in terms of topics, and I’ve used it as a starting point more than once.

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I think a good way to go about it is to use existing history. Not the kind that shows up in the genre (because generally that’s reproducing a bunch of stylistic features, fossilized belief systems, and often outright errors of earlier writers), but real world history, which is a lot more complicated and confusing that the overview we typically get in school. The really important part is to question what you think you know about stuff, and that can be really hard, so it might be better to pick a culture you aren’t very familiar with, just so it’s easier to know where you’re missing information.

This is great because if you need to know what food they eat, you can look it up! If you need to know how they make clothes or houses or boats, you can look it up! There’s a lot of information researchers don’t know (or that’s hard to access), but there’s a lot of information characters wouldn’t know either, so a lot of it can just be, huh, I wonder too. If it’s really vital, well, it’s an imaginary world, so you can patch in something from a related culture. Or you can just cover those gaps with magic/technology, if you think those might have had a big impact.

I try to keep things pinned to the culture I live in, because it’s easiest for me to comment on a culture I know from firsthand experience, or one I can read a lot of people’s firsthand accounts, which could work if your story’s very character driven. If there are things you want heavily impacted by the world, or you just don’t want it to look like ours, it’s probably better to pick something a while ago from history. You may pick up some fun facts that can really develop your characters or plot.

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Personally, I never bother overpreparing before actually delving into a world. I like to have some bacis figured out (for me, maps are the key as well as lists of possible place names) and some generalities, e.g. key characters in certain areas, some historical happenings that will affect the story, possible plot hooks.

A lot depends on how you want to use the world. For D&D, my worldbuilding is more alike throwing together random ideas and seeing what sticks with the players. For writing, it’s much more systematic.

As others have mentioned, World Anvil is a very useful tool. I personally don’t bother with all the features that are present, but some are super useful in trying to figure out what actually should be in a world and what you maybe need to know about it.

And remember: if you take inspiration from one source, that’s stealing, but if you take inspiration from lots of different sources, that’s research. Go wild with Wikipedia! Personally I get super into certain cultures and steal from them, and then maybe spice things up by adding some things from another culture.

If you want to work on your worldbuilding while watching Youtube videos, the following are good for (D&D geared) worldbuilding:

  • MonarchsFactory (my absolute favourite, a little academic for some)
  • Artifexian (focus on realistic location creation, e.g. places that follow laws of nature)
  • WASD20 (a map based approach)
  • Zipperon Disney (very storytelling orientated)

// Edits: grammar, spelling

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I’ve had several people suggest the 30 Days of Worldbuilding resource to me. By laying out little tasks to create your world, it doesn’t seem like such a task. And, sometimes the daily task isn’t something you think you need for your world --skip it! Focus on what you think you might actually need, and if you end up to need something you skipped, go back later!

For me, I like to focus on Maps more than lore, politics, and religion. Having a visual of what the world looks like makes it more real to me and easier to visualize how that world works. And you can do that as easily as drawing a random shape on a piece of paper.

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Keep in mind that just because fantasy/science fiction are often known for worldbuilding, elaborate fictional worlds with sprawling maps and a million words of history, that’s not necessarily a requirement, and not all fantasy takes place in a fictional world. You could, after all, be writing urban fantasy and have “this is just like San Francisco except there’s literal fairies here” and go with “Earth unless I say otherwise”, only changing what aspects of the world you want to.

But yes, my own experience with fictional worlds is that I either write it or I worldbuild it. If I start worldbuilding too much before writing anything down, chances are more often than not I’m simply not going to ever end up actually writing anything in that world. I do plenty of worldbuilding, but after I’ve already written a good deal on it and gotten invested in the world, and more often than not my “worldbuilding” is just writing down aspects of the world that I’ve already decided upon just so I don’t forget them, than anything else. I may wind up having to edit/rewrite some bits that were written with worldbuilding that I later changed, but it definitely beats never getting them written at all.

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