Why bother building a world? Why not just use the world we have? You know fantasy and science fiction aren’t real, right? Why do you need to create a new language? Just use one that Tolkien invented. What are you trying to do, make yourself a god?
There is so much wrong with those statement I don’t even know where to start. The problem is that I’ve heard them all, even the last one. No, I’m not trying to make myself a god. No, I can’t use one of Tolkien’s languages; that’s plagiarism. Yes, fantasy and science fiction aren’t real in the sense that they don’t exist in the natural plane, but they still affect us in how we view the world. They still show us possibilities, even where it’s physically impossible. Science fiction shows us how it might be later in the future, and fantasy shows us how it could have been.
Okay, there’s my defense of fantasy and science fiction. It seems easy enough, but there are so many people I’ve known who have tried to convince me that they’re wrong that it’s ridiculous. Anyway, that’s not the point of all this.
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Okay, here we go. World building. Conworlding. Creating a constructed world for the purposes of fiction, role-playing games, or philosophical exercises. How do we do it? It is something left to people like Tolkien, Martin, and Rowling?
Short answer, no. World building is essential for every storytelling exercise, whether it’s filmmaking, literary, or interactive, and while it’s necessary even for stories set in the real world, the need for it is even more obvious in speculative fiction. The difference is that, when you have a story set in the real world, whether it’s contemporary or historical, the world building isn’t comprised of creating the world, but researching what’s there. When you’re dealing with speculative fiction, whether it’s fantasy, science fiction, or alternate history, world building is essential, but a good amount of research is still important.
That’s what I’m here to talk about: writing, researching, and making your world. It’s not about basing your world on this world, but understanding enough of the way that natural forces like geography and physics work to make a feasible planet with realistic, or at least believable, weather patterns, and understanding the way that human psychology works to make believable cultures, and even non-human races. Language, religion, architecture, and even dietary practices are all important to understanding the way a culture works. The old saying “the devil is in the details” is really true in this case.
You can create a massive world-city if you want, but if there’s no way for the people to grow food, or at least import it from other, more agrarian areas, then it’s completely unfeasible. If you don’t care about feasibility or believability, then this isn’t for you, but if you want your readers, viewers, or fellow gamers to see the world you’re making and actually believe it’s possible, then there are a few things you need to know. And that’s what I’m here for.
I’m not claiming to be an expert at it. I’m not a published novelist yet. I’m still working on my novel, in fact, but I have been conworlding (creating constructed worlds) for the last seventeen years. Different worlds, different iterations of the same world, and countless hours obsessing over the smallest of details later, and I think I know enough to write a blog about world building. I may be learning along with anyone who is just getting into this, but that’s sometimes the best way to learn something.