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The Other Side of World Building

March was a month dedicated to world building in preparation for Camp NaNo, which is already at the end of its second week. One of the biggest issues with the process of world building is the fact that you are not writing as you build the world. You have concept characters in a concept world pushing conceptual plots.

As a writer, you should know, what you have in your head never works out the same way once the words fill up your blank page. Your characters start misbehaving, adding more to their backstory, referencing characters you haven’t really created because you didn’t think about them. The world, which was rich and expansive, does not incorporate the little spaces your characters decide to visit.

This has been my woe with the first of the novels I’m working on, Last Robot on Earth (name to be revised). Below is the mind map that plots out all the places where the story takes place. This is one of five mind maps that are just as detailed. I figured that all of this would be sufficient… but it’s not.

I had to create a sixth map where I outline what happens in the first arc, and within that arc all the details of what should happen. I say should because when I started writing, I realised that what I had built was still being shifted around by the story itself. On this side of world building, the story is the boss.

Plotting vs Pantsing

I’m not a plotter by default. Perhaps that’s why this isn’t working as well for me as I thought it would. I lack the details. I see the overall picture and think little of the puzzle pieces that work together to build the picture. What has definitely helped with the plotting, is knowing where I am going. Which means I still have the freedom to write the scenes as they happen. Of pantsing my way through the checkpoints I have planned.

This also means writer’s block doesn’t strike so often. I am thankful for all the work I put in to planning and so onward I go. 18,582 words and counting.

Have you experienced this when you are world building?


About Nthato Morakabi

Nthato Morakabi is a South African published author. He has short stories appearing in both international and local anthologies, and has published his first book, Beneath the Wax, which opens his three-part novella series "Wax". He is an avid reader, blogger and writer.

16 responses »

  1. Having the major plot points in place is definitely helping me as well – characters are allowed to misbehave a little, but not suddenly go overboard because I have no idea where I’m headed. I’ve now started a timeline in which I also plot the big historical happenings in my world for easy reference 🙂 And mind maps are also a big help!

    • Haha yeah I had to reel in a few characters who were deciding to go on their own little quest. Had to show them the map, “You’re going here! Stay on the road man!” type of thing haha.

      Timeline is actually a really good idea, because people seem to have lived through two different eras and that’s not right, just convenient haha.

  2. I want to create a world sometime. I just don’t write in genres that need “worldbuilding.” Someday, though. My novel right now is set in New York. I’ve never even been there, so that’s going to take some time expanding upon it. 🙂
    I have been using mind maps for settings and locations, though. I find that it really does help.

    • You should totally use Google Maps and streetview to get an idea of what’s were and what it looks like. People from NY will all flail about “I know that street!” when they read your novel. Solidifies it a bit more.

      I learned how to plan my writing from mind maps when I was younger so it’s me default planning tool. Glad they working for you too 🙂

  3. I think I’ve over-plotted the novel I’m working on. My MC isn’t very happy with the situation. I love the visual mapping exercises you talk about, I might employ some 🙂

    • Haha no your MC will never be happy about that. Being confined is one of the worst things you can do to your story.

      Visual mapping is fantastic for getting the overall picture. I guess I’m not one to tell you to use it sparingly haha!

  4. Almost 19,000 words–WOW! You are well on your way to something. Your ideas of mind mapping and creating worlds and timelines blows my mind. It seems like once you get those things done, your novel would write itself, would it not?

  5. I have experienced similar things. I have a fantasy graphic novel planned, and I found that I might have over planned the deeper aspects of the world before starting to write the story. Not that it’s lost ir anything but I meet some obstacles sometimes,realizing I probably should have had more attention on the details in the story from the beginning. Writing flashfiction is teaching me a lot about world building and writing process, I think. The perfect exercise.

    • Yeah it’s hard to note the little details without the actual story. You know where the characters go and why, but it’s the “what” in between that actually combines the where and why. What are they going to use? What are they going to say? What are they going to need/change/destroy to get there.

      I find flash fiction is perfect for the smaller scenes. You can build a lot in a few words and still make it powerful. Actually I haven’t been doing this enough. I might just incorporate it now!

      • You should! My characters seem to want to go other places than what I had planned for them sometimes. I guess the best thing would be to let them, or at least agree on a middle ground. Flash fiction has thought me quite a bit of which aspects of the story and my characters that are most important to get the story right. There’s no room for unimportant stuff there;)

  6. Pingback: Blog Round Up: April 2017 – Rachel Poli

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