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So fun fact: worldbuilding is frequently my biggest struggle, particularly in early drafts. Which is really too bad because I love writing books that require a ton of it, so it’s really no surprise that I tend to get lots of worldbuilding notes from CPs, betas and later readers late in the revision process.
Good news is even though I have to work extra hard to get it right, I actually love worldbuilding. But boy, it can be a major challenge sometimes, especially when it comes to figuring out how to balance building a world without burying readers in a world information avalanche.
So how do you worldbuild without info-dumping? The key, for me at least, is to think of worldbuilding as layered. Some layers may include:
- Architecture/physical setting
- Cultural mannerisms
And so on, but you get the idea.
As I go through my WIP during revision rounds I try to focus on one layer at a time, or a couple related layers at a time. This can be as simple as going through and paying attention to what everyone is wearing and making adjustments as necessary, while ignoring the rest of the story. And doing the same for food. And dropping a tidbit of history here and a mannerism there.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your world shouldn’t be built all at once. Worldbuilding is a gradual, ongoing process—it’s an offhanded comment about a failed historical ruler, a city named after a victorious battle, a particular style of dress, your MC’s favorite dessert, and whether it’s frigid and snowy or hot and arid.
Secondly, any information you give should be woven in organically and make sense in context. It’s unlikely that in the middle of a war, your MC is going to think about formal menswear (unless everyone is wearing formal menswear to war, which I suppose isn’t out of the question hypothetically speaking), but if your MC goes to a wedding it’d make sense to think about what people are wearing. Similarly, we don’t need a full accounting of your world’s history from inception to present day—instead, it can be really effective to give snippets here and there as they become relevant.
Think of worldbuilding elements as spices. A pinch here and there as you go along to add layers to your world and make it vivid and engaging is what you should be aiming for—but a mountain of salt on your first page is too much too fast.
Have you tried worldbuilding in layers?
Writer @Ava_Jae says, "worldbuilding is a gradual, ongoing process." What do you think? (Click to tweet)
How do you worldbuild without burying readers in information? @Ava_Jae says it's all about layers. (Click to tweet)