When is your worldbuilding enough?

I think this is a really relevant question when it comes to any kind of ‘world building’ activities for novel writing. You can spend hours, weeks, months, even years (or so I’ve read…) building a world in which your novel will take place – but how much is enough? And when do you cross the line of planning/building because you need to, and planning/building just because you’ve gotten so caught up in it?

There seem to be several schools of thought on it, and I know that many people worry about not ‘knowing’ enough about their world before they get started with the writing and so plan out everything from the textiles used to make clothing through to the atmosphere and seasonal patterns etc. Others may not know enough (the Gods know I’m usually in that category), and tend not to worry about it too much while they hash out their first draft.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about this over the last few days, trying to figure out a good balance in the process, and even after all my reading I think I’d rather err on the side of not doing enough rather than getting so caught up in the planning that I forget I’m meant to be writing a novel – I can see how that could happen.

So, a few pieces of advice that I thought were pretty good were these:

1. Only create as much of the world as you need to for your story. Which means sitting down and thinking about the places your characters will go, which parts of the culture/history aspects will influence the story and characters – and I think, remembering that it’s ok if you haven’t covered all the bases because chances are high you will find the answers for the questions you didn’t foresee somewhere in the course of the novel.

2. You’ll end up knowing more about your world than you should put into your novel. I think this can be a really easy trap to fall into – wanting to put in all those pretty shiny details because you’ve spent so much time filling in the details of the world. The reader doesn’t need a massive info dump, they don’t need to know all the history, it’s not the story, it’s the background stuff and while some of it’s incredibly important for the writer to know, it’s really not as important that the reader be told every last detail.

I was talking about this with Chibi last night, and I really believe that we can build better stories when we know the details that the reader doesn’t. In the case of Ayden, and even Branwen before it, there is a tonne of stuff that the reader will have no idea about in the first book (just hints here and there), and that will come out slowly in the second book. No info dump for me ladies and gentlemen, I’m opting for the slow release method, letting things slip as and when they need to.

As a typical non-planner, and a non-note maker – both bad habits I hope to break – there is a lot of stuff that hasn’t been written down, and that I forget. So, my aim is to be much better at that this time around, in a novel like this one I really need to be on the ball, and the less mistakes I make in first draft, the less there is to search for and fix up in any subsequent rewrites. Also… I want to make sure there are a lot less un-named things in novels so that I’m not tripping up on [town name] or [man's name] in my read throughs.

Anyway, I think that’s about enough from me. I should really get some work done this morning while the house is quiet and no one is wanting me for anything :-) Have a good one!

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One thought on “When is your worldbuilding enough?

  1. It will be nice to see a lack of [town name] or [man's name] in your stories. While I know that can be fixed in editing, it does break up the flow of the story when I’m reading it. Especially in tense situations.

    I agree with the advice you’ve come up with. It’s important to know a lot about your world, but really, you only need to know as much as you think you’ll need. That means that while writing, you might have an unexpected something you need to find out – but it will prevent info dumps from sneaking in, and it means you don’t waste time planning things you won’t need.

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