May 19, 2022
Have you ever noticed how much of a crazily interconnected world we live in?
We live in a world where, if you over fish, then the orcas eat the sea otters. Without the sea otters, the sea urchins multiply. The sea urchins eat the kelp forests. And as the kelp forests are devoured, vast oceanic deserts take their place.
All that, and all you’re doing is fishing a bit much.
What would be the domino effect if human society evolved concurrently with magic? Or if aliens invaded the earth and set up a colony? Or if vampires had been prowling the night for centuries? For developments this large, it’s nigh impossible to imagine the myriad third and fourth order effects.
Good news is: You don’t have to.
Now, I’m not saying be lazy. If humans are living in caves in the ground, they probably aren’t eating steak. But you can say they’re eating something like, say, algae that they grow in massive vats (à la Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward world). Do you have to know what kind of algae it is they’re eating? Do you have to know the nutritional value of algae and determine if humans can actually subsist on it?
No. It’s good enough that you, the author, have said that this is the way things are. You are the creator of the world. Your words are, literally, law.
For another example, take any urban fantasy.
The entire appeal of the genre is that magic and monsters exist in a world like our own. But, if you truly think about it, a world like our own wouldn’t exist if magic and monsters did. So what do you do?
Write it anyway.
You have a story you want to tell. Don’t let worldbuilding of third and fourth and twenty-ninth order effects overwhelm you. If, on the other hand, you love exploring how the dominoes fall, then watch them fall! But don’t let your fascination with third and fourth and twenty-ninth order effects prevent you from writing the story you sat down to tell (also called Worldbuilder’s Disease).
If demons and dragons and magic exists in your world and so does social media, go for it. As long as you recognize that there will be a handful of readers who will sound like a gaggle of annoying six-year-olds: “Why?”
The author is always right.
But the reader always has the right to ask questions. And ultimately, the choice of whether to keep reading or pick up book 2 in the series lies with them. If your characters are eating steak in their underground bunkers, the readers might be worried (rightly so) about whether you’ve fully thought through the dramatic climax at the end.
So you research your topic. You think about it. You find a friend who is as invested in your world as you are and talk excitedly about cause and effect for hours.
As for me, I will be using this particular category to talk about different facets of worldbuilding—some things which you might have thought about, and maybe some things which you haven’t. My goal is to break down different topics into categories to give you a new way of looking at them, and perhaps inspire you to incorporate new details into your own story which will help bring your world alive.