Do Fantasy Writers First Create Their World or Their Story?
In a classic example of what “came first, the chicken or the egg?” you may wonder if fantasy writers, or Dungeon Masters, should first worldbuild or simply start writing their story and invent as they go along. It all depends on your own writing style and preferences. To help you decide, here’s how both strategies might pan out for you.
The Advantages of Worldbuilding Before Writing Your Story
There are several approaches to the writing, or creative, process. In fact, this list gives a few examples of the writing processes of a few acclaimed authors. You may find that some of their processes also work for you. You may find that they don’t. Being creative is, inherently, a personal process.
If you choose to create your world before you start writing your story, then you may find it easier to write your story. This is a process I prefer, myself. I may have an idea of the general story that I wish to tell. I may even have a few names in mind. However, I never start working on the actual story until I have the history of the world, the geography of the world, the culture and politics, and some of the notable people of the world written down and developed.
This is because I consider myself a visual learner. It’s easier for me to understand and plan things better when I can see the world.
You may find that this system also works for you. It can be easier to keep track of the story and the lore that you’re building while you write the story. For example, when you need to refer to a long-dead king in a certain city, you can simply refer to your notes. If you chose to write your story before creating your world, then you may invent on the spot. However, you’ll have to remember that name going forward. It can be easy to lose track of the history you’re creating during the story writing and have a few plot holes or retcons.
The Advantages of Writing Your Story Before Creating Your World
There are other creatives who are able to just get right into writing and can create their world in real-time. I absolutely admire these folk. Some writers and creatives prefer to just throw a bunch of word vomit on a page and then edit it later.
That can be a great process for certain writers. For creatives that do worldbuilding for tabletop RPGs, they might find the process a bit difficult in terms of keeping track of their lore. However, there are a few advantages that you can enjoy when you choose to write your story before you create the world.
The first advantage is that you may create more organic lore or you may think of something truly original or creative in the heat of writing. Sometimes the best ideas occur while you’re writing. You may think of something while your characters are tackling some obstacle that you would never have thought of before if you had sat down and tried to plan it all beforehand.
Another advantage is that you can deliver the lore to your readers or players in a more organic way. If you have pre-existing lore, then you may struggle over how to introduce that to your players or readers. Simply giving them the lore may be boring or unsatisfying. Yet forcing them to listen to a historian prattle on for hours about the kingdom may bore them. When you’re creating the lore while you’re writing, you may do so in a way that interests the readers or players.
Finally, you may find that writing your story before you create the world is also more of an immersive experience for yourself. Instead of breaking up your focus by having to stop and look up your lore, you’re able to create it on the spot. You’re learning the lore alongside your readers or players. This can make the experience fun for them as well as yourself.
Mix and Match
You may even discover that a bit of both is your preferred way to create. You may have a general outline with information about the world. Yet the majority of your lore is developed while you write. Because the creation and writing process is so personal, it may take you a few different tries and using a few different methods until you find the one that fits you. Let us know in the comments what your preferred process is!