Let me sing you songs from the worlds,
To make you feel much better than you could know…
–not quite Jethro Tull
When I was in Singapore last fall, I gave a 3-hour workshop on worldbuilding. I was super nervous beforehand; I had hardly any teaching experience, and as far as worlds go, I’ve really only built the one, which I started at twelve years old.
It’s not viable writing advice to say, Go back in time, and when you’re twelve years old, dream up a world… I would blame my physicist husband for neglecting to build us a time machine, but he has his reasons, and that’s probably enough about that.
My point is: I wasn’t sure I knew how to build a world, even though I’d supposedly done it. That supposedly weighed on me. A comic book series, two published novels, a third drafted, all of them set in the same world, and yet I hesitated to call my world built. Goredd had been with me for more than thirty years and there were still things I didn’t know, still elements evolving, still facets that seemed to spring up out of nowhere and take me by surprise.
In fact, that’s one of the things I love most about my world: I’m always learning new things about it. There’s still room for it to grow.
You don’t have to start when you’re twelve. Worldbuilding can take thirty years if you want, but even after such a ridiculously long time, I still don’t know everything. Heck, I don’t even know everything about the real world, and it’s much more objectively knowable.
An invented world is always going to be incomplete.
This is wonderful news, friends! I want to make sure you understand how encouraging this is. It has many intriguing implications, of which these are only a few:
- You don’t have to know everything about your world before you start writing.
- A world can be deepened and elaborated in any direction that strikes your fancy.
- People in your world can be wrong about your world (because they can’t know everything either).
- YOU can be wrong about your world and still recover (I will talk about this in more detail later, I promise).
- You really can do this any way you want. You are completely free.
So I’m going to make this a series, of sorts, because once I embraced the incompleteness, I realized I have a lot to say. Like, a lot a lot. Thirty years’ worth. My goal is to give you tools, not rules. Anything I say that looks like a rule (even “An invented world is always going to be incomplete”), please feel free to break it and show me what. I will be extremely pleased. The rules are really only there to give us something to smash.
Tune in next time, true believers, for a merry chat about weirdness.