Pantsing or Planning Your World
Posted on March 3, 2013
World building is essential for writers. For me, it requires planning. In an earlier blog post, I talked about trying to figure out whether or not I am a Pantser (writing by the seat of my pants) or a Planner (writing with a detailed outline). I realized that as I build my world, I must be a Planner in order for the world of my characters to be as rich as possible.
Since I deal with magic in some form or another, I’m finding it essential to create my rules and limitations. There has to be reasons and answers even if the background information isn’t all conveyed to the reader. If magic exists, why? Do the characters use some sort of magical tools to help them – why or why not? What kind of magic do the characters use? What are the consequences of using magic? The questions go on and on, and as a responsible writer, I should be able to have an answer for them all (even if I don’t give all the answers away in the text). And these questions are just about the magic. There are a lot more aspects to consider.
The problem with getting too involved in world building is that you can get caught up in doing it through planning and researching and not get to the most important step – writing!
There are some great resources for world building, especially for sci-fi and fantasy writers, that I use. Orson Scott Card has a great chapter on developing the rules to your world in his book How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. While he promotes spending time planning, he relishes finding the “impromptu moments” when writing. But as he says, “…such impromptu additions would not have been possible had I not laid down many strata of creation before I started that draft” (33).
David Gerrold, author of many books and screenwriter responsible for Tribbles on the original Star Trek, has an incredible book titled Worlds of Wonder. With tons of other storytelling tools, he offers two dedicated chapters to world building. I had the great fortune to have him present at the writers’ workshop for Dragon*Con last year. His book, like his presentation, is rich in information that intermixed could help create a great story.
The last two resources are from websites. The first is from Writing-World.com, which is a great website with loads of information and resources. They offer a dedicated page called “Creating a Realistic Fantasy World.” Even if you give it a cursory look, you’ll find some great points.
And I have to say that I’m lucky to live near an active writing center. Two writing workshops that have been more than helpful were taught by Leona Wisoker, author of the Children of the Desert series. Reviews of her books rave about her world building within them, and the work we did within the workshops showed her expertise. Beyond her author website at www.leonawisoker.com/, she writes a blog about writing. On that blog, she offers a post about world building that is definitely worth checking out (as are her other posts).
All of these resources are a great place to start. The problem with getting too involved in world building is that you can get caught up in doing it through planning and researching and not get to the most important step – writing! I think that Card may have it right in that it has to be a mix between planning and pantsing. Start with an idea, plan it out, then write and see what new ideas build on what you’ve got. One of the best things about being a writer is that we can create worlds inside our heads