I recently talked with an author who told me she struggles to worldbuild for her own projects and generate all the details, but she loves helping other authors refine their worlds and problem-solve.
Is this you, too? If you’re a problem-solving author and you feel like it takes more energy than it should to generate the initial ideas for your world, I want to challenge the way you think about worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding is Problem-Solving
When you flesh out your world, you’re solving problems for your characters. You’re figuring out where they’re going to live, what they’re going to eat, what sort of work they’re going to do, how they’re going to find entertainment, etc.
This is true of whole societies, as well. The societies you build will have problems, and they’ll need solutions to those problems. Worldbuilding solves those challenges–whether they’re challenges unique to the society you’re shaping or they’re the challenges naturally faced by any fallible society.
All that you need to have built “from scratch” in order to solve these problems are the tools you need at your disposal for constructing the answers: the resources and values of the context in which your characters live.
The geographical context of your setting will inform what resources your characters have for meeting their physical and societal needs. Maybe the question you’re immediately interested in answering is, “What is my character’s home like?” The setting and resources around that character will influence the answer. What resources are primarily used for building (stone, wood, etc.)? If homes in this culture reflect the natural world around them, what does that natural world look like? What natural shelter can be found in this setting?
Obviously, the more detail you have, the easier these questions will be to answer. But you don’t have to build entire biomes in order to flesh out your character’s world. If you take just a few minutes to choose a handful of physical resources and give the area a basic physical shape (are there mountains, forests, a river, etc.?), you’ll have what you need to start answering questions. (Which, in my experience, will lead to more questions which will lead to more answers which will lead to a more and more fleshed-out world.)
While I personally love diving into, that step can be super quick, too! All you really need are 2-3 core values (concepts like beauty, vitality, strength, faith, piety, wealth, etc.) to give you a powerful starting point. A culture that values efficiency may craft very simple houses, or simply work with what shelter already exists; a culture that values beauty or the natural world may spend more time crafting aesthetically-pleasing homes that reflect their surroundings; and different combinations of values will add greater variation.
For more on this idea, sign up for the free Worldbuilding Checklist mini-course! I elaborate on this point in one of the first emails in the series.
After you have these two foundational elements in place, everything else is a matter of asking and answering questions–and you can absolutely limit the list to questions that are relevant to your characters and story. If your strength is problem-solving, focus on that in your worldbuilding! There is no one-size-fits-all approach; make your process work for you.
If you’re looking for help uncovering the right process for you, check out The Worldbuilding Toolbox, where I cover the key elements of strong worldbuilding and different approaches to help you get there.