Another week, another topic about which I have not much opinion to offer. The issue at hand is how much time to spend doing worldbuilding versus doing actual writing. When does worldbuilding for the sheer joy of it become procrastination? Writers are notorious for finding things to do to allow them to procrastinate versus actually putting words on the page, so I think it’s a valid question. IF the author in question actually does world building in some “chunks of time invested”, methodical way. When is enough, enough and when has the sheer joy of thinking through all the issues become its own thing, divorced from writing books?
I don’t spend any time worldbuilding as a separate activity. The stories, the hero and heroine and the world are all in my head when I sit down to write the story. Ancient Egypt or a lived-in, beat up far future out in the galaxy, or a fantasy world where magic of various types swirls…those are my settings.
Now granted, I don’t write big, complicated, thousand page epics with subthemes and subplots and all the bells and whistles including my own languages. I read those on occasion and I might want to go visit Middle Earth, even if only in the superb Peter Jackson movies, but I myself write fast paced scifi action adventure (or ancient Egyptian adventure) with a strong love story and a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now ending. I’m focusing more on the characters and the specific adventure than I am on the lushness and depth of the intricate details of the world where the action occurs.
I invent the more detailed pieces of whichever time and place I’m writing as I go and as the plot calls for more information. So while I’m writing a novel, if I need to write about ancient sentient trees for example, as I did in The Fated Stars, I go off and research a lot of things including redwoods on Earth, synthesize the information and then put my own spin on it. Now my worldbuilding in the Sectors universe includes a planet with these amazing entities. No, they aren’t relatives of Tolkien’s Ents. These trees don’t walk around or talk but they can absorb another sentient into themselves and have a telepathic conversation and colorful lemur-like creatures live in the branches and…well, it was a very fun sequence to write! It never would have occurred to me to say up front that my galaxy needs such trees. (That’s part of why I love writing science fiction so much because literally anything is possible.)
I think a lot of my scifi world is based on the premise that people are people and always have been and always will be, just the tools and the surroundings change.
Now ancient Egypt existed obviously and that world has already been built in intricate detail by the actual people who lived in it for thousands of years. I layer on my own interpretation of how the gods would have been involved in daily life and try to tell a good story. I indulge in a few conscious anachronisms, like giving my ladies pockets when the pocket wasn’t invented until centuries later (as far as we know).
I admire authors who can invent an entire world and all the politics and the geography and actually have a map! Yeah, not happening for me. The one time I did have to stop and take some time to design the environment and draw a perfectly wretched schematic (not an artist here) was for Wreck of the Nebula Dream, where I couldn’t just be a pantster. I had to know from the first page what was on every deck of this doomed luxury interstellar cruise ship. I still have the drawing somewhere because it was so not-me to actually have to do that! But all my ensuing Star Cruise series books build on that foundation so it was worth doing.
I did have to think through the basics of what the Sectors would be like and who their enemies would be before writing the first novel but I did it in a very fluid, top level way and have slowly over time built upon that framework to provide more details and depth as each story calls for it. I have the world in my head, I know where it's all going, but the pieces only reveal themselves to me (and my readers) as I'm in the flow of creating new adventures.