Is there a point where world building stops helping you support your story, and starts wasting your time and effort? The short answer is yes. This week, we’re going to talk about the dark side of world building – the dreaded world builder’s disease.
What is World Builder’s Disease?
I first heard about world builder’s disease while listening to one of Writing Excuses’ episodes on world building. It mostly affects writers of genres where building an engaging and complete world is necessary, like science fiction and fantasy. World Builder’s Disease greatly slows a writer’s progress. In the worst cases, it prevents the writer from starting their story at all.
This can go on for years. The most famous sufferer of world builder’s disease was J.R.R. Tolkien. It took him at least 12 years to world-build Middle Earth. Compared to other writers of his caliber, he didn’t write many works at all (He did write some short stories and academic papers, but many of his books were histories of Middle Earth, which is a symptom of WBD all on their own).
Read on for a list of symptoms and causes.
World Builder’s Disease Symptoms
- Neglecting to write the story in favor of creating vast lineages and histories for their world. Is it really necessary for us to know the name of your MC’s best friend’s second cousin’s great great great grandmother twice removed? Unless she factors into the story somehow, no. Also, don’t waste your time writing tomes of fictional science, myth, or history. No one wants to read them. Channel your effort into writing your story.
- Info-dumping. Info-dumping is almost a good sign, as it means you’ve made an attempt to start your story. Info-dumping happens when you summarize a lot of background information for your reader. It usually happens at the beginning of a book, which is the worst place to info-dump because it adds an extra obstacle between your reader and the story. Tricks to curb the info-dump include:
- Give info only in scenes. If you have more than a few sentences to a paragraph where no action happens in the story, you run the risk of info dumping.
- Describe your world through the perspective of your characters. They will not linger on things that are mundane in their world.
- Only give facts that relate to your story.
- Obsessing over irrelevant facts. This harkens back to the point about the great great great grandmother – why should we care?
- Fear that what they write will never live up to the world they’ve created.
- Lack of story, 1D characters, no plot
- It’s hard to write your story if you don’t know what it is, or if you don’t have interesting, 3-dimensional characters to act it out. People with this problem should spend time developing character and plotting out their story.
This isn’t necessarily true – they are spending time working on their world after all (if they aren’t, they are suffering from a lack of motivation to write, not world builder’s disease). But, be honest – it’s a lot easier to design a world than to gracefully make it come alive and develop engaging characters and an original plot, isn’t it?
Is There a Cure for World Builder’s Disease?
Why yes, yes there is.
That’s right, folks. The only way to get over world builder’s disease is to go cold turkey. Write the dang thing. Sit down at your keyboard, and start typing. BIC-HOK*, people! This is not a drill. Sufferers of World Builder’s Disease might also consider spending some time developing their story and characters.
Those who feel like their story will never live up to their world might consider putting this world away for a while and write something else, something that they don’t feel so strongly about. That being said, I would just like to inform you of one thing:
Whatever you’re writing now will not be the best thing you ever write.
It would be really sad if it was. You learn something with every book, chapter, paragraph, and word you write. If this is going to be the culmination of your talent, the best thing you ever do, it means you’ll never get any better than you are now. And that is super depressing.
So let go of your need for perfection. Just get out there and write!
Next week, we’ll continue our world building series with The Three Onlys: 3 rules to help you write your world. If you’d like to learn more about world building, please take a look at the previous installments of this series, 2 Essential World Building Questions and World Building Magic.
*Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard