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A few days ago, I entered a writing contest a my school, which promised that the winner would have his or her writing published. I proceeded to go home, began writing, and immediately came down with a terrible case of writer's block. At that point, a friend referred me to this site. I came here today, and saw the term worldbuilding, which I though was simply the name of the site standing alone. Being unsure what it is, and since I'm already here, I've decide to ask you guys.

What is Worldbuilding?

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  • $\begingroup$ Our site's What topics can I ask about here? gives several examples of what we, as a community, consider to be, and not to be, within the scope of worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 13 '16 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ Start with the tour and browse some of the existing questions! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 24 '17 at 8:45
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Worldbuilding is the act of creating and "building" a fictional or imaginary world. Oftentimes these worlds are created for use in novels, movies, or video games (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Elder Scrolls, etc.) Sometimes, worldbuilding as a process is used to create an entire fictional universe, similar to that in the Star Wars movie franchise. Some people (like me) enjoy creating these worlds as a thought experiment, so sometimes these worlds are created only for your own amusement and enjoyment.

According to Wikipedia, "The resulting world may be called a constructed world". Worldbuilding encompasses creating geography of the world, history of the world and its people, fictional languages, religion, culture, environment, and it often includes creating maps.

One of best examples of this is the Lord of the Rings (including The Hobbit) novel series by Tolkien, in which he created the well-known fictional land of Middle-Earth, along with its inhabitants, Men, Elves, Dwarves, Wargs, Orcs, Goblins, and more. He created a fictional language based on Viking runes, and created a backstory to explain the history of these races, and also explain the significance of the One Ring, and how it was acquired by the hobbits.

However, this definition of worldbuilding, as defined by this SE site, is probably the most relevant to you:

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a site for developers, designers, writers and artists to get help creating imaginary worlds. This includes geography, culture and creatures for the world. Questions on this site should be about building settings and the reasons around why they are the way they are. A setting might not be a planet; it can be larger than a multiverse or smaller than a village. You can ask about languages, species, buildings, biology, technology, magic, and your fictional world's societies, cultures, and environment.

This question is probably more suited to meta though.

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I'm sure you're going to get a lot of answers from this, so I'll give you some "big picture" definitions

Worldbuilding (noun, verb, adjective) - The act or subject of construction of (fictional) worlds, especially as an aid to the creation of art or to facilitate play.

The key part of this definition is that the construction of the world is an aid to something else. This is not always true, but may be the reason why many people come to this site or got into worldbuilding in the first place.

Perhaps you want a more specific definition:

Worldbuilding (verb) - The creation of lore, history, religions, geography, or any other aspect of a fictional world which is not directly related to the characters in a fictional story

A great example of this are Brandon Sanderson novels, as he does a lot of world-building to create these fantastic worlds/universe for his novels to take place in. I suppose this leads to my final definition:

Worldbuilding (verb) - the creation of the setting of a fictional story.

Good worldbuilding helps answer some questions like "How does magic work?" "What is different about my fictional world (especially in contrast to the real world)?" and "If this universe/world/story has this property or situation, how can I make it believable, or what are the logical consequences?"

Worldbuilding can be useful for writers, game designers, RPG players, and even as a tool to explore our own world. That's also an argument for science fiction and fantasy in general, but the worldbuilding inside those works facilitates that exploration. A well-made world allows the audience to accept even outlandish or illogical aspects of a fictional world, to enter "the magic circle" and suspend their disbelief.

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Worldbuilding is the term used to describe the art of building an imaginary world -- i.e. a setting in which a story or game takes place. This might involve creating fictional geography (maps), biology (races or creatures), politics (kingdoms), history (famous people or events), language, religion, mythology, technology, philosophy, or pretty much any other aspect of the world.

To take a concrete example, consider Tolkein's Middle Earth (Arda) created for the Lord of the Rings. None of it exists for real, but there is a huge amount of detail available. Tolkein creates new races (Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Trolls, Orcs, Ents...); creates a detailed map of Middle Earth, with mountains, plains, forests, and rivers; imagines political entities such as the kingdoms of Arnor, Gondor, and Rohan as well as towns and cities like Hobbiton, Bree, Rivendell, Helm's Deep, and Minas Tirith; a family trees of Elvish languages (Quenya vs. Sindarin); the creation story of Eru and the Valar; and Three full Ages of history, including family trees for some of the rulers of prominent kingdoms.

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World building is constructing a consistent setting for a story (e.g. a novel, gaming, or just a mind exercise). The "world" you build doesn't necessarily mean you are building a planet. You could be building:

  • A Universe from the ground up and changing all the the physics as you go
  • A new dimension
  • Hyperspace
  • A city
  • A computer program

Generally speaking, people building worlds use conventional physics to describe their world and only make the minimal changes required to tell their specific story (e.g. an FTL space drive or magical abilities). When this is the case, the questions here include one of the tags (hard science, science based, or reality check) depending upon the level of fidelity they wish to use.

There is absolutely no reason you need to use any of these tags. Things in your "world" may fly away from its planets (there may not even be planets). The settings illumination may be powered by Unicorn farts. Basically you get to make the world.

If you do not intend to base your world upon "Real World" science though, be sure to say so in your question!

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    $\begingroup$ Quite a few people have asked on Worldbuilding about building a solar system. That's more managable than building an entire universe, yet allows plenty of room for your story to play out even over long periods of time. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 13 '16 at 8:47
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To add to rather than substitute for what has already been written in these answers: it is worth pointing out why Worldbuilding can be particularly helpful for fiction-writing (whatever the medium).

If you think about how our own world works--"world" here meaning anything from physical universe to local town neighborhood--you might notice the omission of information from conversation. There are lots of things that are so obvious and known that nobody bothers to mention them.

Examples:

  • Elementary mechanics
  • Calendar and timekeeping systems
  • Many foods
  • Language structures
  • Mainstream religious norms
  • Basics of transportation
  • Elementary sexual politics and dynamics
  • Elementary racial politics and dynamics

This is not to say, of course, that these things are never discussed or commented upon. Lots of people love to get into lots of detail about food, for example. But there are basic assumptions that don't get discussed: onions and tomatoes are edible foods, for example. Why wouldn't they be? So nobody comments on it.

If you're writing a story set in an alternate world, be it another culture, another time, another universe, one very common and unfortunate tendency is to explain things that don't need explanation, and whose explanation in the story's narrative can be frame-breaking.

For example, if characters in your story start having long conversations explaining how timekeeping works (the number of hours in the day, etc.), that's going to seem strange to the reader, because it jars against the sense of ordinary normality. Many times, the writer has done some Worldbuilding, and figured out some nifty alien system for timekeeping or whatever, and as a writer she badly wants to share it with her readers. But it's going to be tricky to pull off, because it's hard to imagine why such things would get discussed.

One thing that the Worldbuilding process can help with is to move from this kind of "idea-dump" to a fuller integration. If you as a writer know the world very well, and you understand how all these funny alien elements of it work together smoothly, you don't have to explain everything. You can instead try to make your story seem as though it were written by someone living in your alternate universe. Because the story now includes various passing references, terms, allusions, and so forth, all perfectly ordinary and trivial to the implied or explicit narrator but alien to the reader, we get a sense of a real world. And if those passing bits actually link up to one another, not because they're important to the plot but because they're part of a complete world, the whole thing comes to seem rich and vibrant.

Tolkien's Middle Earth is the most famous and obvious example. His ability to have characters remark blandly that it's blacker than the cats of Queen Beruthiel works beautifully: it's just the sort of thing people do say, and it doesn't really mean anything, but we get a strong sense of a world in which there are a great many stories and such that we aren't being told because they don't happen to be relevant. The story of the War of the Ring just gives us a sort of slice through a very complex world, and we end up learning far less about that world than we might appear to at first glance. This is part of why Middle Earth seems so real.

But Tolkien did this the long way: he actually invented all the stuff to which people refer. That's great if you want to spend your life at it, but it isn't necessary. You can do it by simply tracing out a thin surface and making sure the various pieces weave smoothly.

Of course, to do that coherently does require that you know everything about everything. Supposing you don't, you can ask here. You know all about the languages, let's say, but although you know that this group uses bows made from giant insect chitin, it occurs to you that you don't know anything about insects. So you explain here that you've got these people who use these bows, and you want them to have 60-pound draws, and you wonder whether that means you have to use 6-foot wings or legs or what, and so on. And people here who do know about insects and archery and engineering will try to help you get the information you need so that your characters can use their bows and refer glibly to giant cricket wings, and your readers will come to feel that it all makes sense because you, the writer, know enough to ensure that it does in fact make sense.

Make sense?

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