Worldbuilding 101

I did a recent talk for the Writers’ Digest Online Workshop and Annual Conference on worldbuilding, in which I basically explained how I do what I do, and led participants through an exercise in creating their own world. I’d hoped to actually do the exercise in realtime, using some poster paper and audience participation, but alas, ran out of time. There’s a good example in the Powerpoint, though. Note that if this doesn’t make sense in places, remember that it was meant to be shown alongside me talking and filling in conceptual gaps. But hopefully you can figure it out. PDF file for download.

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19 Responses »

  1. I loved this document! Thanks for sharing. Would have loved to be at the actual talk.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Next best thing to being at the workshop. And wow, that world looks like fun :)

  3. Wow, this is amazing, and so generous of you to share it! I love the Immersion Pyramid. Also, your powerpoint is super pretty. ;)

  4. That was hard case. Gonna need some serious study, methinks…

  5. I attended this WD conference workshop, and it was fantastic. Thank you for putting up the slides so I can supplement my notes!

  6. This is really interesting insight into your world building process. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Very helpful and perfect “template” for diving deeper into this next revision. I appreciate your generosity in sharing this beyond the workshop (where I wish I had been seated in the front row).

  8. Awesome. This is excellent.

  9. This is awesome. Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. Thanks for this! I’m taking baby steps into writing speculative fiction. This will help me a lot, I’m sure. Again, thank you for your kindness and generosity.

  11. I’m preparing 2 ideas and both require world building. Something I have looked forward to as a learning writer, but never attempted. This is going to be incredibly helpful.

    Never in my life did I think my sociology degree would help in my writing. Boy, was I wrong apparently.

  12. Thank you for sharing this!

    When it comes to exposition, you recommend that the writer increase the level of immersion as the difference between the secondary world and our world (the real/primary world) increases. Can you talk a little more about why you suggest this approach?

  13. Hello, saw that Jim C. Hines had linked to this and came to check it out. What an excellent guide! It seems like it could be really useful. Thank you so much for making it and putting it up :)

  14. Oh, thank you so much! I’ll have to transfer this to my phone so I can read in bed. (Desktop computer, back injury #3007–nowhere near the worst or most interesting.)

    Seems like lately, I’ve seen a lot of newer writers who treat research and worldbuilding as trivial or even for chumps. A lot of that is probably a Tumblr thing (I miss LiveJournal), but it sends me batty. Worldbuilding is THE most critical element of writing, because it defines everything. Even in real-world stories, the smaller world has to be laid out. I mean, imagine how different I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings would be in the Flatiron District? Or The Glass Menagerie in Fallingwater? There’s too much symbolism and behavioral tesselation and simple ability wrapped up in the world. Don’t even get me started on resources and research for Arda and Valinor; or the gentle grotesquery and macabre sweetness–and the potential for cruelty (Something Wicked This Way Comes)–in the world surrounding Bradbury’s Autumn People, among whom I still want to live while approaching my 39th birthday.

    Really, REALLY don’t get me started on science fiction. I’ve had two people I consider writing mentors, both sadly gone now, and one was Suzette Hayden Elgin. I can spends hours talking languages, physics, biology, multiverse theory, alien species of every level of evolution and intelligence, and what-have-you, then get up the next day and pick up where I left. I worldbuild for fun.

    I’m going to go spread this around Tumblr, and maybe convince a few folks that worldbuilding really is the best way to make a story glow. Thank you again, and I hope I didn’t break your brain!