World should serve Story, not the other way around

This is one of those things that I don’t talk about too much. I feel that a lot of writers get caught up in World Building instead of having to actually, you know, write. It is important, but there are a bunch of other things that are also important. Like finishing your book. There needs to be balance, and I’ve seen a lot of writers get so caught up in how amazing they think their world is going to be, without getting into their world up to their arms, getting dirty, and figuring things out.

Too much time spent on world building is often spent figuring out all sorts of neat set-pieces and things that would sound awesome is often spent not figuring out your characters or how/what they do in the world. Sometimes you also need to get into that world to see how it works when you’re actually trying to write about it. Maybe zeppelins sound really awesome, but then you realize when writing that the lack of defenses against zeppelins doesn’t make any sense.

None of this is to say that preparing your world is a bad call. It can be super important. If you’re writing a big science fiction or fantasy novel, the background and world building needs to be spot on. Its part of the time-honored tradition. Spending too much time, however, creates all sorts of psychological oddities. You’ve spent so much time on building this world, often typing out pages and pages of work, so why shouldn’t you use it? I think this is where a lot of information dumping happens – people copying and pasting pages of notes on their world into the text of their book. As a reader, this usually isn’t very entertaining.

Take a look, for a second, at The Good Dinosaur.


While its overall a pretty mediocre movie, the opening segment does a great job of establishing what this world, is, while also developing characters and setting up the goals and drives of the major characters. Its also done quickly, reminding us that when things like this are done, they should be quickly with a focus on the characters. There are a number of short stories that do a stellar job at this, and they’re the place you should go to see great world building in action.

All of this follows a pretty basic guiding light.

World should serve story, not the other way around. Thismeans that just because you know something about your world, doesn’t mean that the readers should have to know it. It can come up later, maybe in future books, but certainly doesn’t need to be addressed just because you know it.


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