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Monday, 31 October 2016

Dealing With Worldbuilding

From my other blog: 23rd July 2015

I have been contemplating the following quote recently and come to decide upon my own stance in regards to it which I wish to share with you.

"Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unnecessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically necessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid."

- John M Harrison

I am, and have been, a huge fan of the concept of worldbuilding. I like nothing better than to sit down and enjoy a film or a book with a fascinating universe or different world to explore. Works from Tolkien to the Marvel superhero universe to television shows like Doctor Who fascinate me with their expansion and exploration of mythical or fictional places and ideas. So to read from an author who says that worldbuilding is a problem is in itself problematic to me. I feel that he misunderstands the very concept of worldbuilding. Maybe because of the problems listed in the following article:

The issue is that worldbuilding often becomes an excuse to focus on the setting rather than on the characters, If you went to a stage play and the background was fantastic and the set pieces, lighting and music yelled WOW at you but the acting stunk and the plot was terrible you'd feel rather let down. The same goes for fiction and worldbuilding. It cannot be all about the worldbuilding, but to that matter neither can you just focus on the story in a fictionalised sci-fi/fantasy setting without setting down some kind of worldbuilding rules. It just doesn't make sense if you're mentioning fictional places without explanation or rules etc.

So it's not worldbuilding that is bad but it is how worldbuilding is often used that can be very bad indeed and I fear this is what John M Harrison has encountered as an author. My response is that I think readers (and film viewers) deserve a touch of worldbuilding. What would Lord of the Rings be like without the setting of Middle Earth? What would fans think of Harry Potter without Hogwarts? Or Doctor Who without the various alien races of Daleks, Cybermen, Time Lords etc. What would any fantasy novel be without its magical rules? The problem in dealing with worldbuilding therefore lies in utilising it in moderation. But using anything in moderation, in balance, is in essence the art of quality writing and makes all the difference. Leave your reader wanting more, but not too much.