When is it Time to Stop World Building? Outlining? - Travis Senzaki

When is it Time to Stop World Building? Outlining?

I, like many beginning fantasy writers, suffer from an over-fondness for world building. It was the worlds that drew me to fantasy, the exploration, discovery, wonder, and, to a significant extent, the fact that nobody I knew lived there. But world-building is not story, and jamming too much of the world into the beginning of a story alienates some readers. (I know, I don’t get it either.) But how much world building is enough?

Is This Even Relevant?

Last week, deep in the joy of world-building, I found myself writing out the political hierarchy and office-purchasing within the religion on the Enemy, and had to take a step back and pause. I’m pretty sure that isn’t remotely relevant to the story. The religion itself is relevant, and I can make the excuse that I needed to describe it to understand the depths at which it interacts with my Hero’s religion, but overall, religion itself is a background element, at best.

Outlining, Yeah, I Could do That Forever, Too

I could probably sit around for weeks, delving deeper into the details of the world, but I realized at that moment, that I wasn’t serving the story, I was only delaying it. So, I’ve moved on to outlining- my next favorite part. (For me, the writing process gets progressively less exciting as I go on, with writing being just ok, thanks to confidence issues, and editing… ugh). But I’m planning to go short on the editing this time, as well. I’ve worked out the scenes for the opening part of the story, which might count as a full try-fail cycle, and might not, I’m still really not sure what that means. I have general descriptions of where the following parts of the story are going to go, but not a full outline or even a scene index, but I think I’m going to pause the outlining at this point, too.

Cycling the Building, Outlining, and Writing Phases

Actually, by outlining as far as I have, I’ve discovered a few areas of the world that need fleshing out, so I have to dip back to world-building, briefly. This time, though, I know that the world-building serves the needs of the story, so I can keep it focused. Most importantly, for now, I need the linguistic and naming traditions of the societies that I have in conflict. Once that’s done, I’ll start writing the opening scenes, catch up to my outline and massage it based on where the writing went, flesh out the world as necessary, then get back to writing.

So, the process in summary:

1) World-build until I find an intriguing conflict, character, and idea where the story could go.
2) Contine world-building on a narrower scale, as it relates to the story ideas from 1.
3) Describe the parts of the plot arc then outline scenes of first part.
4) Go back to world-building to fill in any holes revealed by outlining
5) Write first part of story.
6) Outline second part.
7) World-build to fill in holes revealed by Part I writing and Part II outlining.
8) Write Part II.
9) Repeat as necessary.

Another nice perk is that I never have to look back and sadly admit to myself that I’ve finished building this world. There’s always a little more out there, like a treat, once I get through the next bit of writing. I like treats.

More to follow once I figure out whether this system really works!

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