14.8: Worldbuilding Q&A #1

Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, Dan, and DongWon

We invited attendees at WXR 2018 to ask us some general worldbuilding questions. Here’s what they asked:

  • What cultural stuff do you need to know during the writing process?
  • How do you treat overlaps between real-world religions and fictional religions when the fictional religions are part of the story’s fundamental conflict?
  • How much worldbuilding do you have figured out before you start your first draft, and how much do you discover on the fly?
  • What’s the point in a book beyond which you shouldn’t introduce big worldbuilding elements?
  • How do you ensure that the world comes through as a character of its own?
  • How much change to terminology is too much?

Credits: This episode was recorded live by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson


What do you do about time in your universe? Spend some time considering how it is demarcated in your setting.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

2 thoughts on “14.8: Worldbuilding Q&A #1”

  1. Just finished a secondary world epic fantasy.

    There are a lot of creatures that are weird and have an “ancient” name – which have a particular structure and sound to them. Although the characters discover a weird creature they have no name for at one point and have to make up their own name (“mist wolves”).

    I pointedly removed all time measurements and replaced them with five-day, ten-day etc (though my editor has found a couple of references to “week”s – they’re going). Years exist because that’s a reasonable thing. Month cycles also exist. No minutes, seconds or hours.

    Seasons are seasons.

    Also gone are distance measurements, except I decide to use “league” (as in 3 miles) because that’s sufficiently obscure and only used in fairy stories.

    It’s what Mary Robinette says: you just don’t mention the thing you’re avoiding, you only need to replace it if its important.

  2. Once upon a Writing Excuses Retreat cruise, Howard, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Dongwon answered questions from the attendees about worldbuilding. Culture, religion, prep or discovery building, where in the story do you introduce major worldbuilding, how much of a character is the world, and inventing new terms for our world? All kinds of fun, from hearty stew and crusty bread to how many blerks does a bowl of city soup weigh! Read all about it in the transcript, available in the archives and over here:


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