Don’t Let World-Building Get in the Way of Story-Building

Happy almost-November!

Today I’d like to share more on world-building by means of a guest post from an author I recently connected with—TCC Edwards. You can check out his book, Far Flung, which is has been picked by an Inkshares syndicates and is still funding, at nearly 1/4 of the way to meeting the Quill publication milestone.

TCCHow many lists of world-building tips, hints, questions, and resources have you seen on the internet? They’re a bit intimidating, aren’t they? Especially when they’re as exhaustive as the queen of all world-building lists by author Patricia C. Wrede, with questions about politics, science, religion, and many more aspects of your fictional world.

You could spend a lot of time building your world with a list like this, but without proper attention to the story and characters, readers aren’t likely to appreciate the effort. If you are writing a multi-novel epic, sure, you might sketch out answers to some or even all questions in one of these lists, but don’t put aside your first draft to answer them all!

When you start a fantasy, sci-fi, or any story, you should focus on carrying the main characters through their journey, with challenges to overcome and a goal that they achieve or fail to achieve by the end. World-building provides the set pieces and props these actors need to get there. For example, in my current sci-fi story, I have several main characters I focus on as they travel through space to find a new home. Obviously, they need a spaceship to do this! Not only do I need a good ship, I need technology and amenities to make it usable and livable. The characters need quarters to live in, fancy tablets and holographic displays for work and play, and a cafeteria for their meals. These places become defined as characters interact and experience conflict within them. The technology and the locations around the ship are like coloring pages where I fill in the details as needed. All these needs came from one place – the author’s need for a (literal) vehicle for the story.

For a fantasy setting, perhaps a similar approach can work. A traditional medieval fantasy has stone alleyways, alcoves in castles, hidden dungeons, and other locations that fit within the landscape to serve as meeting points and arenas for conflict. An urban fantasy might have a run-down bookstore in the oldest part of the city, where elves and faeries can conduct business away from human eyes. As characters meet and have conflicts within the space, the reader learns bits about how and why the true nature of the bookstore is hidden from the “real world”. Like the engine room in my sci-fi example, the bookstore has a function within the story world, though with the bookstore the ‘real’ function is hidden at first. The story explains and justifies the bookstore as the characters meet up and use props appropriate to the setting. Instead of computers and entertainment devices, a fantasy world might have magic wands, scrying glasses, magic mirrors, and other items that characters use, but the basic idea is the same – each item fills a need. The writer shows the functions of each item and space within the story as the characters need and use them.

As an author develops settings and items for a story, they might end up with only slightly more backstory in their head than what is presented in the narrative. In my case,  know only what I need to show in the story. I have the characters use the pieces of world-building to move along to the next part of the story, and not much more. Maybe alarm bells are going off for you now. If my world details are only what I need at the time, doesn’t that mean there will be issues with continuity and believability?

My advice—write the darned first draft before you get bogged down! Yes, there will be issues. You might write about an incredible summoning spell that could have solved the entire plot had the great wizard only cast it earlier. You might have easily-cast spells that perform too many functions, and you begin to wonder why sorcerers even get out of bed in the morning if their magic can do everything for them. Sci-fi writers might rely on the ship’s computer too often, and by the end it has translated an alien language, diagnosed and repaired complex problems with the ship’s engine, and solved pretty much every problem the characters have thrown at it. These crutches for writing develop as set pieces become too reliable or are capable of performing too many functions.

That’s what the second draft is for! And the third. And the rest of the story-development process. Revision is where you look back at the set-pieces, tools, and spaces within the world to see which functions they perform. You might have a meeting take place in a secret alcove in the castle, but you could also show the reader why that alcove is secret. Maybe it’s in a part of the castle that was intended to have more people around, but that section has been abandoned—a single line of dialogue could reveal why. That way, your castle doesn’t have a secret meeting place just to satisfy the story or genre tropes—it belongs in the world of the story just as much as it does in the story itself.

For the first draft, however, your priority as the author is to get the story to work. You’ll probably answer a few world-building questions, and with practice, you’ll likely find that some world-building details enter into your narrative without your conscious effort. Just don’t think that you have to know every detail of your world before you write the story. Some authors work that way, but most just hammer out the first draft with lots of ugly inconsistencies in the world and details that fall apart under scrutiny. But that first draft gets done and provides the framework for more details, more set-pieces, and opportunities to teach the reader as both the writer and the characters use and explore the fictional world.

About Far Flung:

jukepopBillions of light-years from Earth, in the vast cosmic wasteland of space, the stage is set for a dangerous odyssey of discovery and adventure.

William Flynn is just a rookie reporter when he boards a transport flight to the first colony outside of Earth’s solar system. Eager to start a new life with his girlfriend Darya upon arrival, Flynn’s plans – and those of the crew – are thrown into chaos when their ship is hurled across the universe and left stranded in the cosmic ocean. 

Left alone in a strange, new galaxy, and with only their wits about them, Flynn and the crew must journey through a galaxy of hostile aliens, an intergalactic war, and countless hurdles in a desperate bid to survive and recolonize, all while seeking out a way to reunite with the human race. 

With a ragtag team of engineers, navigators, and inexperienced personnel at the helm, their quest will test their resolve and forge true strength as they struggle to survive in a cold and unforgiving universe.

If you like what you read, be sure to check out Far Flung on Inkshares and pre-order a copy. As many of you may remember from my time with Blood Dawn, Inkshares decides on books to publish based on how many pre-orders they generate.

If Far Flung can reach 250 pre-orders, it will be published under the Quill imprint. If it can reach 750 pre-orders, it will be published as a full Inkshares production, with bookstore distribution.

Connect with TCC:

His website –

Inkshares –

Twitter –


About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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3 Responses to Don’t Let World-Building Get in the Way of Story-Building

  1. TCC Edwards says:

    Reblogged this on Write, or Else! and commented:
    A post of mine regarding Far Flung on John Robin’s blog. Epic Fantasy Writer!

  2. Yup, yup, yup! I’m not a sci-fi or fantasy writer, but my critique group contains many of these. The best writing in these genres focuses on characters struggling toward a goal, but that often gets lost in pointless world-building. Good storytelling is good storytelling, regardless of genre, but new-to-the-genre readers like me will give up when the story gets bogged down in orgies of technology or arcane lore that don’t move the story forward.

  3. Pingback: #IWSG November 2017 – Rethinking my blog and writing « Write, or Else!

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