Worldbuilding: It’s About the Rules

Worldbuilding is an extremely complex process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Every story needs some sort of world building. Even contemporary stories require world building, not just fantasies and historical fictions. The world must be built in order to establish some sort of context in any story. However there are ways to do it right. Now I’m not going to talk much about contemporary, or even historical fiction. Instead, my focus will be on science fiction and fantasy, sonsidering tha is what I consume most and choose to write.

How to make world building work
The most important thing that I’ve learned about world building is knowing the rules first and early. This is especially important with science fiction and fantasy because they often don’t operate by normal rules. The rules that the society of your world uses are very important. This is because breaking those rules is very much like a terrible offense. As a reader, there are few things that are worse than discovering that the story I was so interested in can’t follow its own rules. Which is why even if all the details in the world aren’t figured our and you wish to build the world and the details as it goes, figuring out the rules will get you through the trouble.

When I worldbuild, I like to know the details of the world. not just the rules, but also how everything fits together. This means knowing the history of the world, which is particularly useful with Space Operas and epic fantasies. Whenever I encounter a new space that has never been inhabited, there are more than just rules to know. Worlds feel shallow if they aren’t fleshed out. And when I am talking about fleshed out, I’m not talking about lengthy descriptions, I’m talking about the little things that shade everyone’s lives. Those shades arise from the circumstances in which everyone lives. Experiences are different and are shaped by interactions from past events.

For example if someone has a nervous tick when they encounter someone they just met. Perhaps they are overly gracious and super attentive to the new person. The careful monitoring may be a defense mechanism of a shy person who is trying to make sure they don’t offend someone. They may be trying not to offend someone because in their society murder is not a crime. As a creator thinking about how society would be different if say murder was not a crime, but theft was a crime. Maybe all the people around would not have expensive things in an attempt to avoid being murdered and their belongings going to others. Or what if every person in the world froze on the spot at the exact same time. The reason they froze was to prevent sickness. The way to prevent sickness among these people may be to download an update of the immune systems.

The rules make everything work. It allows for the various details and all the history to shine through in a way that actually makes sense. If your universe can follow a set of rules, even if they are convoluted you will be better off

How do you go about creating the rules of your universe?

2 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: It’s About the Rules

  1. With Wiki. There, I said it.

    I start with an idea for the particular world, but then I pump up its worldbuildy credentials by searching for histories, like 19th century Hong Kong (current WIP) or Joseon Dynasty Korea (planned book two). I focus on the social and political developments, and rely on lonely planet books for the smaller, anecdotal stuff like wet markets and awkwardly named apartment complexes with pirate play-gym courtyards. The socio-political stuff comes out in funny ways, for instance – the opium wars would work well in the context of a space-faring analog of the British East India Company, trying to peddle an addictive virtual reality MMORPG into the Qing Dynasty’s part of the asteroid belt, in exchange for tea and minerals.

    I like your point about the rules being central. I usually wrack my brain to figure out the science behind the sci-fi, and ponder long and hard about the myth behind the magic.

    Good post, will follow. Cheers.

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