The Big World of Worldbuilding (Oren Patterson)

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Worldbuilding is not just for fantasy or science fiction.

  1. World

    • Climate/Geography, Natural Resources, World History, Specific Country’s History

  2. People and Customs

    • Customs, Food, Greetings, Gestures, Language, Ethics & Values, Religion, Holidays

  3. Social Organization

    • Government, Politics, Crime & Legal System, Foreign Relations, War, Weapons

  4. Commerce, Trade, Public Life

    • Business & Industry, Transportation & Communication, Science & Technology, Medicine, Arts & Entertainment, Architecture, Urban Factors, Rural Factors

  5. Daily Life

    • Fashion & Dress, Manners, Diet, Education

Worldbuilding can be overrated.

Deep and elaborate worldbuilding should be considered on a per-audience basis as a writer.

Minimalism can be just as powerful.

  • Narrow scope, reveal the world in small bits to core characters

  • ICEBERG - Worldbuilding to emphasize the character, not the world.

Worldbuilding can be done incorrectly.

Not thinking about basic infrastructure:

  • How do people eat? What do they eat? How do they take out garbage? How do they deal with bodily wastes? How do people travel?

  • Economy

    • People don’t oppress others for fun, economics almost always have a part.

  • Do not create an elaborate society and not have the REALITIES of food, shelter, and clothing considered.

Not having an explanation as to why events are happening now.

  • Why is all hell breaking loose NOW in your story? Why not in a decade? Why not a decade ago?

  • You must account for why your antagonist has not done anything until just this moment, as it relates to the societal and historical structure of your story.

  • If you’re drawing on real history, realize there likely was a dominant culture that historical works survived from. Try to find work from marginalized groups in history. Dive into your research from beyond the perspective of those who won.

Creating one-dimensional ethnic groups.

  • You must make any ethnic group-alien or human or otherwise--as nuanced as possible. Think of the different cultures on Earth and notice how different say a Texan from San Antonio is from a Hindu from Mumbai. Each is rich with their own style of speak, heritage, life history, city differences, dress, etiquette, and food. Yet neither is any less deep than the other.

Conversely, creating giant monolithic political, cultural or religious groups.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of making everyone in a culture think the same way, agree on the same things, or hold exactly the same opinions.

  • NO ONE will agree on anything except what they personally believe in and learned for themselves, even if the foundation of what they follow remains the same for everyone. This will create a deeper vision of your world.

Not adding immersion.

  • You can add in all the religion, geography, history, and cultures of your world after hours of work, and how every different group collides politically and religiously all day, but you haven’t created a REAL place until you make the reader feel the dirt under their nails, get transported by the beauty of elaborate gardens, or the smells of a polluted river.

  • The world--even fake ones—are real and alive. THE ENTIRE PURPOSE OF WORLDBUILDING IS TO GIVE A SENSE OF PLACE.

Introducing magic or technology that is life-altering, without accounting for how it changes the world.

  • If everyone could create fire from their fingers, they would never have invented weaponry, electricity, or methods to cook. How would these changes have affected development.

  • If everyone could go invisible, how do you handle issues like privacy on a global/societal level?

  • Your magic/technology that is fantastic MUST have consequences and influences in your world.



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The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.