A lot of what I write about worldbuilding is at least partially technical. It’s about breaking things into areas of analysis, questions, outlines, and more so you can make your world. Good worldbuilding is about thought and techniques and keeping track of things – well, half of it is.
The other half of worldbuilding is those wild ideas, those crazy thoughts, those “what ifs.” In many cases you’re either doing good with those moments of creativity, or organizing what thoughts you do have. Of course, not all of these moments come at the right time – sometimes you want to get organized and your brain won’t shut up, sometimes you want an idea and feel like a book-keeper.
Then where there’s those times that your worldbuilding comes together, when you grasp the big picture, when you get both the “wow” and the numbers behind it. That moment when you have A Vision and it all comes together.
Those moments you “get” your world, and those are the moments that are beautiful and powerful.
You probably know what I’m talking about and wish you could get into that state more.
The fact that I’m writing about this means I’m betting a good chunk of my readers can’t.
We can talk about jets of inspiration that spout out ideas like fireworks and flares in the night of our minds. We can discuss plans and outlines, maps and diagrams, character profiles and history. Then there’s having a “feel” for the world, a vision.
The vision is when you understand your world. You can feel the flows of history and know the fine details. You can see it happening and it makes sense – and most of all you can see the grand themes and small patterns and how they sync up. It’s an intuitive grasp of your world that isn’t just warm and fuzzy but can be hard as nails and sharp as a knife, but it’s all so organic.
In this state you can write and build at the same time. You can craft prose knowing you’re sure of your setting, and as you write or design the plot or make the game content you also can build the world almost on the fly. You can make huge swaths of fictional history and then record them as needed, but even as you make them they’re just right.
You’ll get flashes of your vision as you build your setting. You’ll recall things without looking at your notes or find connections pop into your mind that just make sense. At some point, you’ll know your world so well you can write it spontaneously. You’ll have a vision.
That’s when your worldbuilding has really paid off. The world is not just notes and random ideas, but it’s something you truly understand.
Getting there is the issue though, isn’t it?
It’s my firm belief that you shouldn’t start writing in your setting until you’ve got enough of a feel and enough detail to have these moments of vision. Not every detail, not every emotional connection need be there, it doesn’t have to last – but you’ll be able to write when you have these moments of just sheerly “getting” the setting you’ve got.
If you don’t write with a vision you’ll be revising, discarding, and making mistakes at a far higher rate. You’ve probably known the agony of throwing out what seemed to be good ideas, or discovering you didn’t know your own world. Admittedly forging ahead (as I’ll address below) might be a solution, but it can still be painful.
I used to believe that you couldn’t really “induce” the vision but over time I’ve come to believe that’s not entirely true. I think there are things you can do t keep getting into “the know” and start making it part of you. None are a single direct gateway, but they’re tools to help you build the gateway as it were.
Let’s take a look.
So when it comes to getting a vision, there’s some things I’ve found can help you develop that connected sense of the world you’re building. Try these techniques and find which ones work for you – but try all of them if possible, and keep retrying ones that didn’t work. You want to keep your imagination fired up.
here’s what I recommend.
The key here is to keep your mind moving and keep shaking it up.
What happens when you jus cant’ get that vision? When you want it to come together but it doesn’t? Then I’d actually advise writing – with a caveat.
Start writing your setting, but be willing to go back and revise or throw things out. It may be difficult, but getting moving is a better solution than waiting – because waiting rarely helps you get things done worldbuilding-wise.
Maybe you start small or try some of the exercises above, but If you’re stuck you can either give up (which I doubt) or hack away and hope – and while doing so, try the techniques above.
Getting a vision, getting a real “sense” of your world isn’t something you can follow a path to – but it is something you can move yourself towards with time, exercise, and willingness. When you do that, you’re able to write and worldbuild almost as one, and get true creative depth. Also, it’s quite less stressful.
It’s not always easy to get there, but it’s worth it. I’m sure you’ve experienced it before and know it’s value, even when frustrated – so try these techniques and keep making your way there.
– Steven Savage