The woods, the people, the experience. That’s worldbuilding.— Riya M. Cyriac
Worldbuilding is a task that all writers have struggled with some time in their career, but this task is especially taxing in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. Since we are creating our world from scratch, we have to build it up so the reader doesn’t get lost in between the mystical fairies and leprechauns.
First, you gotta figure out what kind of worldbuilder you’re going to be. I consider there to be two main categories: the spoon feeder and the drip feeder.
The Spoon Feeder
This is the type of world building where the author lays out the world for the reader. This is done by paragraphs of information, flashbacks, and overall paints the scene out for your reader. This is what this looks like:
Rome was a vibrant, rich city. Helen stepped into the forum with her fifty dirams in her purse, which was a copious amount. Since she was the Emperor’s wife, the eyes didn’t mind her. She’d grown used to the angry stares or the adoring gazes. What else could she expect in a war driven society? Her husband had just snagged a victory in Carthage
Though people gawked at her wealth, Roman citizens wore the finest of silks from China. Even the slaves adorned gold. Mules trudged on through the sweltering day. The sun never slept in Rome, meaning all the wheat and food withered underneath the heat. To compensate, Rome traded olives for grain, which is what Helen sought out to buy.
In this excerpt, we see that Athens is an extremely rich city that buzzes with luxury to even the lowest class, which are the slaves. It’s hot there, which means they didn’t have many staple crops needed to sustain a large population, so they trade luxury crops to places like China. In this paragraph, we have already seen the economics of the world, the social status, and the political structure.
Also, note that this isn’t info dumping. Spoonfeeding it by telling the reader the economic status doesn’t mean that it’s just paragraphs of information, it’s just relying more on telling all at once than gradually showing.
This issue with only using this method is that it can easily become info dumping and lacks depth and vibrant language.
The Drip Feeder
This is the type of world building where the author gives information in small bits to the reader without laying it out. This is typically done through, characterization, character interaction, and lots of description. Heres the same paragraph below using the drip feeding technique.
The Roman market buzzed with midmorning chatter and the rattle of coins in cloth bags. Helen stepped into the forum with her fifty dirams, which could buy her another golden hairpin from Mali.
Merchants from all around the world parked their boats at its ports and waited for the moneymen to buy their goods. Citizens bowed as she walked by. Helen wore her husband’s recent victory with the same prestige as the crown glimmering on her head. A man spat at her feet and growled, but she moved on. She wouldn’t waste time on filth.
The finest Chinese silks were draped on the slim bodies of the Roman people. Their slaves adorned gold on their thin wrists. The mules drugged on under the explosive sun, sweat rolling down their hairy face. Helen took the cloak from her head and dropped three dirams on the merchant booth. She didn’t make eye contact as she plucked a handful of wheat from Egypt into her basket. Making these errands were a luxury her husband detested but allowed.
“TThe victory at Carthage was honorable, Your Majesty. We thank Emperor Paer for his bravery.”
She only tipped her head and weaved through the crowd again. She’d missed feeling so…common. Empresses didn’t step out until the moon replaced the sun.
In this excerpt, I expose the same things–there is a war going on in Carthage. Since people are eager about a victory, it is a war driven society. People in Rome are rich and dripping without foreign material and jewels. There is trade, there are slaves, there is a conflict between the classes.
Yet, this method has its drawbacks. While being beautiful, it takes up time, and therefore, your reader’s attention span. It’s also a lot of information weaved in in hints.
So what next?
Every good piece of worldbuilding in books use a mix of spoon feeding and drip feeding. While you don’t want to undermine your reader’s intellect by giving them everything, you don’t want them to get swamped in those small hints at the world. Here’s the paragraph using the mix.
The Roman market buzzed with midmorning chatter and the rattle of coins in cloth bags. Flies annoyed marketgoers and mules trudged on, buckling under the heat. Helen stepped into the forum with her fifty dirams in her purse, which could buy her another golden hairpin from Mali.
On the edge of the ocean, past the booths and shops, merchants from all around the world parked their boats at its ports and waited for the moneymen to buy their goods. Helen longed to venture to the sea, to see what awaited her, but stayed on track. The world is dangerous, they said, you mustn’t leave, Helen, they said.
Citizens bowed as she walked by, their Chinese silk dulling in comparison to her elaborate designs. Guards walked beside her. People stumbled back.
She’d grown used to the angry stares from the peasants or the adoring gazes of the young, pretty girls. Helen wore her husband’s recent victory with the same prestige as the crown glimmering on her head.
Helen took the cloak from her head when sweat collected at her hairline. She dropped three dirams on the bread merchant booth, tightly packed against a street food vendor. Spices and seasoning wafted up to her nose, almost making her ravish herself, but the guards stiffened beside her.
She didn’t make eye contact with the merchant as she plucked a handful of wheat from Egypt into her basket.
A man bumped into her and didn’t bother to apologize. Her frown dissolved as quickly as it appeared as the guards prepared to jump into action. When they saw her hand in the air, the stilled.
Any knowledge of male contact and the whole city would erupt in rumors. The Emperor would never let her out again. She couldn’t be ungrateful for the public realm. Making these errands were a luxury her husband detested but allowed.
“The victory at Carthage was honorable, Your Majesty. We thank Emperor Paer for his bravery,” the storekeeper said whilst dabbing a handkerchief to his forehead. “My, does the sun not sleep? Egypt will run out of bread if we keep buying so much from them.”
Helen kept mum. Though she was enchanted with the prospects of holding a conversation of substance with a commoner, she simply smiled and realigned the bread into a neat order. Her husband would not approve of her conversing with other men.
She tipped her head and weaved through the crowd again. She’d missed feeling so…common. Empresses didn’t step out until the moon replaced the sun.
See how much better that is? It’s a mix of both with a sprinkle of worldbuilding. There are obviously gender role tensions here. You get a sense of the horrid heat, the tension in the market place, the obvious warlike attitude of this place, the gossip culture, and the food. The dialogue added to those aspects to reaffirm that that’s what I was going for. Though it was long, it was informative and entertaining.
Now that you know what type of worldbuilidng techniques there are, you can mix and match to create the perfect formula for your book. There’s no standard recipe for building your world. Think about the size, the extent, and the amount of time you have to convey everything. Next week, we’ll be diving into WHAT you should be building using my handy dandy PERSIA method.
See you then!