World-Building: What Not To Tell Them

Today I’ve got a couple of things to talk about.

The first is a change in the two projects I’m focussing on at the moment. I’m putting Project Shuriken to one side for a little while. This is simply a practical function of what art is needed for each project, and the fact that I’m not yet happy with the stuff I’ve been doing for it. I have a specific idea for what it should look like, and I just need more practice to get it right. So, for the moment, I’ll put that down and go back to another idea that needs a simpler and sketchier style of art to illustrate it.

The other thing that I wanted to talk about today relates to how you approach your world-building.

When you describe your world to someone, you’re not going to be able to cover every last detail. This is actually a really good thing. And, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest that if you’re wanting to make finished products for a wide audience, you should consider the following.

There are three strands to this approach. Note that it is not a step-by-step process as you’ll be bouncing back and forth between these stages as you work. But I think that it helps to see these as distinct tasks within the whole:

  • Build the parts of your world that your story/game/whatever needs.
  • Hint at what is just over the horizon of the bit you’ve just defined.
  • Stop yourself from defining the rest of the universe.


1 Build stuff

This is the most straightforward: you have to define the parts of the world that your game or story will be set in. Only you knows what that is.


2 Hint at More

This is possibly the most entertaining bit. You’re going to tease your audience with intentionally incomplete information about what’s lurking just out of sight. Drop hints of battles or locations, people or events; but only hints.

The aim here is to mimic reality. In the real world, the road goes ever on, and there is always something just out of sight. Your audience is used to this. A world in which things are defined close up with nothing beyond is unreal and harder to believe in. Incomplete information is also more interesting and adds to the mystery. For example, you drop in a casual mention in passing of the Final Protocols of the Eminent Seers. What are they? Who has them (assuming they are written anywhere)? Who are the Eminent Seers anyway? And how are they involved in the disappearance of the 3rd legion (assuming they really did disappear).

A few careful hints can imply a much larger and much more credibly vague world than spending the same time on properly defining a few more pieces will.

Importantly, even you don’t need to know the answers to these questions yet, or maybe ever. You’re adding questions that don’t need answers.

If you have the time or need later, perhaps another story will explore the Seers in detail, or plot the route of the 3rd legion and reveal their fate. Or not. The function of these details at this point is simply to add a wider context to what you’ve done in (1) and to intrigue your audience. Worry about how everything links up later. Or never. See how things go.


3 Stop

This might seem like a non-task to you, but for me it’s possibly the hardest of the three.

Building worlds is fun. Finishing products and dealing with logistics and marketing is much less fun. It’s very tempting to hang out in the former while leaving the latter to another day, and this isn’t good if you want to get stuff out into the world and also get better at doing it.

Unless you’re making this all for your own amusement and nothing more, you’ll want to try and move forward with your project as a product and leave the extra world building for another day. It’s hard, I know, but necessary.

Stay strong.

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2 Responses to World-Building: What Not To Tell Them

  1. Pingback: Game Design: Challenge Yourself |

  2. Pingback: World-Building: A Vast Zooniverse |

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