Image credit: Charles Hamm

Ramblings on World Building

Renee Cheung
Oct 11, 2016 · 3 min read

I write electronically. As much as I want to, I can’t do notebooks. I say this so that you will understand what I mean when I say I keep a document solely about the world I write in.

The document is full of bulleted notes on different topics, from rules about how magic and technology works, to historical references. It’s not fully flushed out but every time I write a story that references something, I go back to check. Does it contradict the rules I have set forth for myself? Or is it adding another dimension that have not been previous thought of before. If so, how does that piece together with what already exists?

I have found that world building for me is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I started with a simple premise that may have been the outline of the puzzle.However, the details didn’t become clear until I started focusing on one specific portion of the puzzle, putting all the pieces together. Those pieces bring more clarity and details to the world and it is those details that, I think, make the world come alive through the eyes of my characters. However, every time I lay down another piece, I always have to check if they fit with all the other pieces already put down. It is a slow process, and one done through multiple stories.

My husband and I talk a lot about deux machina and how often a story’s world and its rules are used to resolve plot devices. In his view, it is a major cop out and every time a problem resolves in one of my stories, I am hyper wary that that’s what I was falling back to. So we have a rule. If something about the world helps a character resolve a problem, then if a similar problem occurs again, there must be a reason why that same resolution cannot be used. The way I try to achieve this is to keep track of what can or cannot be done in this world I am building.

I think back to a logics course I took in the Philosophy department of my university. World building is like developing a set of propositions. For those of you not familiar with the term used in this context, here’s a good definition:

“A proposition is a declarative sentence that is either true (denoted either T or 1) or false (denoted either F or 0).”


In order for the world to work, each proposition must be true and therefore, non-contradictory to each other. As such, every time my story references the world, it must not contradict any of the previous written proposition. In addition, every time a property of the world, or one of those propositions, can be used as part of the plot, it must be used unless another proposition prevents it so.

I believe (and hope!) that adhering to those rules makes my world a more solid and believable one, no matter how fantastical. What personal methods or rules do you abide by when you world build? I’d love to hear. Share below!

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