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Special thanks to Serdar for inspiring me to write more on my experience’s guts with one of his latest columns.
“Oh no, not another learning experience,” reads many a t-shirt, coffee cup, sticker, and almost assuredly a few tattoos. Writing means one is always learning, and I view every book as a learning experience. My current book, A School of Many Futures, has been exceptionally informative.
My latest finding? I saw how worldbuilding and story could work together – and conflict.
For those unfamiliar with my return to fiction, ASOMF, as I call it, is a sequel to my techno-fantasy novel A Bridge To The Quiet Planet. The first novel was fun – “a romp,” as one person put it – but also my first fiction piece in awhile. I want to keep growing – and ASOMF taught me a valuable lesson about how worlds and stories interact.
ASOMF takes place in a very “built” world – that’s how I operate. It has politics and economics, sorcery and gods, technology and culture. I like worldbuilding, and believe it makes good stories and better authors. But I also know one can go overboard with showing off worldbuilding.
A list of facts and places is not a story in most cases – but that detail matters as it brings the world to life.
ASOMF also involved me diving deeper into making stories compelling – better structure, better flow, and so on. The previous book had pacing issues, and I wanted to keep it snappy and compelling (Knives Out was a major influence). But my story was also hip-deep in detail, giving it meaning, and I didn’t want to follow some common plot structure and lose the heart.
Just because you follow good writing rules doesn’t mean the story is meaningful – but good fiction writing helps people come into your world.
There’s my challenge – and yours in a worldbuilding-heavy story. What fits the world may be hard to put into a compelling story. What fits good storytelling may not reveal the heart of the world.
I realized that the two of them should work together, and neither dominates the other. A few things I can share:
One. What made a good pace for fiction did not help explore the setting deeper. I added an entire chapter that enriched the story – and got exciting with a few useful storytelling techniques.
Two. Some parts of the story weren’t compelling. My worldbuilding gave me options to tweak the story to make it more interesting. Changing one minor character’s motivation to another equally likely reason made the story much better – and you only see this character three times.
Three. Writing-wise, a part of an arc lacked a particular “identity” – there was a lack of emotional resonance. A review of my characters’ viewpoints helped me find a view that made the arc compelling and brought everything into perspective.
Four. A general structure I aimed for was each chapter should have an arc to keep people interested. That meant thinking and rethinking when chapters ended and what was revealed. I had to ask what mattered to start a chapter, what mattered to end it, and what meant something to people.
Good writing and good worldbuilding should support each other. It may mean not showing something in your world as it does nothing. It may be going deeper into your world. But don’t view them as in conflict.