More Thoughts about Worldbuilding and Food
Lincoln Michel
3311

Re: the Lit Hub essay, I completely agree that it’s important to set world-building/-conjuring aside as a separate element from other elements like voice, character, etc. in order for it to be a useful craft term.

I think you’re being disingenuous, though, when you claim that the distinction you’re making between “world-building” (as you define it) and “world-conjuring” is merely one of degree. You’re defining world-building not as a more extensive form of world-conjuring, but its buzzkill opposite, a foolhardy time-waster that does nothing but create new problems for its author and the book’s fictive dream. World-building, for you in this essay, is an unconvincing catalogue of unnecessary detail delivered in exposition dumps that attempts to explain away imaginative leaps without requiring readers to use their imaginations. In this analysis, when world-building books work for you, it’s in spite of, not because of, what you’re defining as world-building here. (Saying that some people like world-building or that it should be allowed to exist don’t count as aesthetic arguments in its favor.)

The way you define world-conjuring, in comparison to this, is not like a pebble in comparison to a boulder; it’s like a gold nugget in comparison to a manure pile. World-conjuring becomes all the neat, imaginative stuff in the world of a story that makes you intrigued and feel like you’ve arrived someplace new.

But my question is, how do you *evaluate* world-conjuring? In this essay and your earlier one, you give nothing but examples of when world-conjuring works — when it affects some kind of inexplicable, or at least unexplained, magic on the reader. Obviously, though, I’m sure you know from your own experience with writing SF that world-conjuring, like any other fictive element, often doesn’t spring fully formed onto the page from the font of inspiration. Instead, it requires thought and working-through, either in your head or on the page during the revision process. So when you world-conjure, what are you working toward?

The reason I resist your characterization of world-building and world-conjuring is, spoiler, that I think, when they’re functioning well in a story, they’re both fundamentally working toward the same thing: describing a sphere of what’s possible within the world of the story — directly or indirectly answering the questions “where can characters go?” and “what can characters do?” When writers vastly overreach and answer these questions well beyond the scope of the story they’re telling, of course that gets boring. And when writers refuse to give even a hint at the bounds of a story’s setting or logic (esp. when that logic differs widely from our world’s), that makes it hard for us to develop expectations and experience suspense. To me, both extremes represent world-building problems, and I find that a useful way of describing these problems, both to students and to myself.

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