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Links for this episode:

Worldbuilding for Masochists Podcast

Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

Episode Transcript (by TK @_torkz)

[Upbeat Ukulele Intro Music]
This is We Make Books, a podcast about writing publishing and everything in between. Rekka is a published Science Fiction and Fantasy author, and Kaelyn is a professional genre fiction editor. Together, they'll tackle the things you never knew you never knew about getting a book from concept to finished product, with explanations, examples, and a lot of laughter. Get your moleskin notebook ready. It's time for We Make Books.

Rekka: She was tuuckered out yesterday. I was tuckered out yesterday. [laughing] The trainer had us running around a field and it was the first time I had done any real, like, quick movements, certainly out in the sun on an 80 degree day, when I had forgotten water for both me and Evie, and the trainer only said “oh I have some in the car,” she only gave it to Evie, she didn’t give me any. But she’s like “jump around! Be active! Be real animated!” And I’m like ohh my goodness, do you not realize, that this is me animated.


[both laughing]


Rekka: So I was like, how about I lay down and pretend to be a dead squirrel, dogs love dead squirrels. [laughing]


Kaelyn: [laughing] Aww.


R: So we were all tired yesterday. So today, we are talking about worldbuilding.


K: We are.


R: We are. We are talking about mostly not overdoing your worldbuilding.


K: And because it’s me, we’re certainly going to be talking about some of the elements of worldbuilding as well. Worldbuilding is the process of creating, constructing, and coming up with the rules for an imaginary world, or sometimes an entire fictional universe. There’s a lot of elements that go into this - interesting fact that I found while doing some research for this: the first time “worldbuilding” was used was actually in 1820.


R: The term, or..?


K: The term “worldbuilding” was first used in 1820 in the Edinburgh Review.


R: Okay. 


K: Fiction has existed in one form or another all through the course of humanity, obviously, you know, as we got into more recent centuries, literature became a little more organized? I guess? For lack of a better term.


R: So that’s the first time it appeared in print as far as we know, in English, and presumably someone would have said it aloud and said “hey that sounds pretty good.”

K: Yeah, you know what, I have to - I’ll try to dig up the article because I am curious but, the Edinburgh Review was, of course, just reviewing published stories and literature and reviews of different things. So the term really gained a lot of traction in the early 1900s when we saw a lot of science fiction and fantasy writing. A really good example, actually of thorough worldbuilding based off of existing history, would probably be Huxley’s Brave New World, and I think that was 1932, I believe. 


K: Regardless of where your story is set, what time it’s set, how much you’re using and building off existing human history, or if this takes place in a galaxy far, far away, there’s certain elements you have to have in worldbuilding. One of the good places to start is geography. If it’s Earth: you’re done. No problem. [laughing] You have established that the world is Earth.


R: But do you? Do you even say [laughing] that you are writing a story on Earth, if you are on Earth? 


K: You name a place that the reader would presumably have context for. If, you know, the story is set in Delhi, India then yes we’re on Earth. Tokyo, places we’ve heard of.


R: So in fair Verona, on planet Earth where we lay our scene.


K [laughing]: On planet Earth, yes, Shakespeare did always make sure to specify that.


R: That’s what I was kinda saying is that -


K: Yeah.


R: - because of context, because of cultural understanding, some books, current for the audience they were intended for, are going to need less explanation of the setting than others.


K: Yeah, now the other component of geography then, especially if you’re writing a fantasy or a science fiction story, there’s probably some hidden world elements in there. It may not be a hidden world story, but there’s probably some things that regular people don’t see, or some locations that you have to create. So that’s part of establishing your geography.


R: Hidden or invented?


K: Well, invented and hidden.


R: I’m just making you define your definitions.


K [laughing]: Okay.


R: When you say hidden, do you mean literally, like underground caverns? Or do you just -


K: Could be!

R: - mean secret societies -


K: It could be any of those. For secret society, we’d be talking about the place that the secret society meets. In some cases, this could be established places that you’re repurposing for your story, but you still need to establish the geography of what these are and where these are.


R: The Mall of America.


K: Exactly.


R: Where my cabal meets every Sunday.


K: Wait, that’s where I’m hiding my Deathstar.


R: It’s a big mall.


K: It is a big mall. Yeah.


R [overlapping]: You could do both things.


K: So [laughing] geography is just a good way to get yourself grounded of where things are especially in relation to each other and that’s very important if your story is set on the road. Because otherwise we start ending up with some Game of Thrones style jetpack -


R: You mean like fast travel? [laughing]


K: Yeah, there were some characters that the running joke was like, for them to have gotten from place A to place B in that amount of time they must have some secret Game of Thrones jetpack that they’re [laughing] doing this with.


R: Well, then you need fossil fuels.


K: Yeah, or dragons.


R: This really - well, yeah, how about you just hop on a dragon! Turns out, everybody was riding dragons in these books -


K [laughing]: Yeah.


R: - it’s just that some people made a bigger fuss about it than others.


K: [laughing]


R: We all ride dragons! All the time! You’re not that cool.


K: So geography is a good way to get your story grounded, so to speak. Now if you’re building one from the ground up—a world, that is—you may not know exactly where everything is when you start writing, and that’s okay. But having a rough idea is very helpful, especially - as I said - if your characters are going to be traveling from place to place because knowing how long it should take them to get from place to place is critical to the story.


R: Yeah, I was just gonna say this is a very story critical element, not just -


K: Yeah.


R: - the setting, some stories could happen almost anywhere, and the setting is not 100% ingrained in the story. 


K: Yes, and geography then also plays into one of the other major elements of worldbuilding, which is culture. So where your characters live and what their setting and environment looks like, is really going to affect what type of people they are. But if you have an entire village set on a rocky island in a stormy area in the middle of nowhere isolated from the rest of the people of this kingdom, and those people aren’t good with boats, that’s probably a problem.


[Both laughing]


R: Well, it depends how rough the water is, maybe the water is an actual obstacle.


K: Well, see? And there you go.


R: [laughing]


K: Because the geography there comes into play, because maybe this is an isolated group that never gets off this island because the water is too rough.


R: Maybe the water’s frozen!


K: Maybe the water’s frozen!


R: [giggles]


K: This is going to feed into their culture and what these people are like. This isn’t just culture based on their surroundings though, you have to establish everything about culture which is: their past, their current social structure, religious elements, what do they eat, what do people do there for a living, are they part of a greater entity and if so, what is their contribution to this greater entity.


R: I feel like now would be a good time to make a nod to the podcast Worldbuilding for Masochists.


K: Yes! Yes. [laughing]


R: Which, if you haven’t heard it, goes episode by episode just taking one aspect, and for a while there the hosts were actually building a world with no intention of writing for it, just literally like “okay what’s another thing to consider about this world?” and each host was handling a certain element or a certain region and it’s good evidence of how you can worldbuild and never ever ever get to your story. Because as Kaelyn’s outlining, there’s a lot to go into a finely detailed world for your narrative story, so this way trouble lies -


K: [laughing]


R: - if you are on deadline, for example. [laughing]


K: And there’s a good example of this: Tolkien.


R: Mhm.


K: Tolkien wrote a lot of his books because he was a linguist and he came up with all of these languages and then created history around the languages - because languages are intrinsically linked to history - and then developed this very rich, millenia-long history of Middle Earth, and then he wrote a story set well after he’d actually established all of these things. So he spent a lot of time creating a world and this history to not tell stories that were necessarily set in that, but to tell stories that were a product of everything that he had created. 


R: But for this later world that he writes his setting into, the history he created is their history and you can tell.


K [overlapping]: It’s very important to the story as well, yes. If you’ve ever read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will know that there is an exhaustive amount of time spent with characters having conversations in different languages, and that’s because this is what Tolkien was all about.


R: That's what he really wanted to write. [chuckles]


K: Yeah, he was very into creating languages. And that, by the way, is why people can learn Elvish, because it’s an actual language with an alphabet - so to speak, if you want to call it that - grammatical rules, syntax, all of the things that need to be there to create a language.


K: But anyway, so culture elements are important because, especially if you are creating a brand new world, if you’re fabricating or you’re building from nothing, you have to have a world that these people live in. You can’t just take a group of people, plop them down, and say: “and then one day a dragon came!” Because we have no context then for: is this a good thing? are they happy the dragon’s there, or did the dragon come to eat them? Is this a frequent problem, are dragons kind of like rats, do they just pop up every now and then and you’ve gotta deal with it? Do they have methods for this? If the dragon eats all of them, is that the end of the story, or what happens to the dragons? [laughing]


R: Was the dragon prophesied? Have they been anticipating their arrival or -


K: Exactly.


R: - was it a surprise? [laughing] like surprise dragons.


K [laughing]: A surprise dragon! The best kind of dragon.


[both laughing]


K: So, establishing the culture, apart from being good for worldbuilding, helps a writer figure out how characters would react or act based on certain events. Leading in from culture, next I would say is cosmology. And I’m gonna put this in two different perspectives here: the science fiction and the fantasy. For science fiction, you gotta establish what’s up there.


R: [giggles]


K: Stars and planets and who lives on what and how fast can you get to them, what's the gravity like, what’s the air situation like, are they all just the planet Venus which is incredibly toxic, or are they all just Saturn and we don’t really know what they’re made up of? [laughing] For worldbuilding and science fiction, that’s very important especially if your story is set in space. And you still, by the way, can absolutely have science fiction set on Earth, in which case the cosmology is ours. And that’s fine, just establish that. But anytime you’re involving space marines, aliens, wormhole travel, you gotta establish, not just Earth, but everything else that we’re interacting with.


K: So then on the fantasy side, it’s a little bit more metaphysical. This kind of leads into the culture aspect. We need to know you know, on this planet - or setting or town or wherever it is - how do these people think about their place in the universe?


R: Is it the center of the universe? Do they have awareness of other life sustaining planets? Do they understand that there are planets or is it just sparkly things in the sky?


K: Are they the dominant species? Is there another one that’s equivalent to them? But also how do they see themselves in the world? Are they a chosen people of a deity that put them there? Are they the rejected children of an angry god? Did they just accept that they evolved from whatever was swimming around in the primordial ooze and now that’s - 


[both laughing]


K: - that’s where they are? A lot of times in fantasy, there’s beings of varying degrees of power and there’s frequently like a hierarchy of these and now, granted, some of them - they may be all the same species and some of them are just more powerful than others.


R: Mhm.


K: But typically when you involve magic there’s an otherworldliness to it; the magic is coming from somewhere, so that’s something that needs to be addressed in the cosmological metaphysical scale, if you will.


R: Okay.


K: So then that bleeds into the fourth one, which is physics.


R: You know what, just throw physics out the window, it’s very optional.


K: Well, ‘cause you gotta decide: are you sticking to real world physics? If so, what are you gonna do when you need to invent things, are you gonna try to apply the rules that we theoretically would apply to these things? Or are you just gonna kind of make up like, “yes and we’ve invented a way to take dark matter and make it into energy.” Don’t do that unless you can really back that up. [laughing]


R: Hey, lots of people try. The other thing is, if you can find out the largest argument against doing that, like if other people have tried it in their books and real world physicists have offered their criticism of the method, then you have a scene where one character says: “how did you solve the such and such quandary?”


K: Yes.


R: And you invent a method, give it a name but do not explain it, and just hand wave the heck out of it.


K: Yeah, so how much are you gonna stick to real world physics, and how much is gonna be magic? And obviously magic tends to dabble more into the fantasy side, but you can still apply physics to this. You still have Newton’s primary laws involved there, you know an object in motion tends to stay in motion, okay so a spell that’s already cast tends to continue to be cast -


[both laughing]


K: Maybe you get a little more into a Fullmetal Alchemist with the equal exchange principal, which by the way, is also rooted in physics: matter cannot be created or destroyed.


R: Right.


K: That, though, ties into cosmology frequently which is: where is the magic coming from?


R: Mhm.


K: All of these things that I’ve talked about here, these are how you are going to establish your “rules” of this world. Be they geography, travel, physics, magic, society and culture - this is how you have to set these up in order to place your characters in a setting that makes sense.


R: Okay. Would you say that concludes the definition?


K: Well I would say those are my four elements that I would highlight.


R: Okay.


K: There’s definitely more, and like, subelements within those but I think those are always a good place to start.


R: Okay. So this episode topic was proposed to us as: how do you create worldbuilding that doesn't trap you in both rules and details? So now that you’ve just told people to invent everything -


K [overlapping]: [laughing]


R: - from the Big Bang to the point of your story, how do you make sure you don't?


K: I’m assuming in this scenario we’re talking about multiple books or short stories set in the same world.


R: Why does it have to be multiple?


K: Because, if you are building a world and worried about trapping yourself, you would be able to write your way out of it if it was one book.


R: You think.


K: I think, yes.


R: My answer to this is don’t put all the details in the book.


K: Yeah, absolutely.


R: Understand your rules and understand your basic principles, but don’t reference them in the book because that does then therefore hold you accountable when you get readers who are so enthusiastic about the world you’ve created that they start to write these things down.


K: Writing yourself into a corner with world building - I’m not saying this to be critical of anyone’s writing style, but this is why planning is important. There are certain things that you kind of just need to know are gonna happen in the story in order to construct the world properly. If you get too far into it, you keep adding too much backstory, too much history of the characters, you’re gonna start to run into situations where - like Rekka was saying - there’s contradictions. When you really start to have problems with writing yourself into a corner is when your stories and characters get large enough that they have to keep expanding, that you’ve gone on and on and on in this world for a while. 


K: George R.R. Martin has fans who are sort of archivists for him, that he will send them the books or novellas or even like preview chapters, to check against what he’s already written to make sure he’s not contradicting himself in any way. He let them write The World of Ice and Fire book, that was written by just fans of the series that were documenting all of this stuff, so they worked in conjunction with Martin on this, and even with that, he still - things still slip in those books. The scale and sprawl of the world in A Song of Ice and Fire is gigantic; I would argue it’s the biggest problem in getting these books released now -


R: Mhm.


K: - because you’ve flung all of these characters to such far corners and come up against these problems of how do we get this person to here to interact with this person but then get them back over to where I need them to be at the end of this story.


R: A dragon with a jetpack.


K: Yes. Yes. Oh, so the dragons have jetpacks now?


R: I mean it makes more sense; they’re the fireproof ones.


K: That’s a good point, yeah. So in terms of not writing yourself into a corner. This isn’t maybe the most encouraging answer, but I’m going to say that if your world keeps growing and you have to keep adding history and new characters, it’s going to happen.


R: It’s absolutely going to happen. This is a problem that, on the one hand is frustrating, but on the other hand can be good to have. You end up writing more about your worldbuilding and more about your details than writing out your story.


K: This, again, falls into a lot of early epic fantasy where it felt more like there were characters that we were just watching interact with a world so that we could learn more about the world. And the story itself [giggling] wasn’t as important. There’s definitely a balance, but the thing about worldbuilding - about good worldbuilding - is that once you establish it, your reader shouldn’t need a lot of context for it. They should kind of understand: this is the world that this story and these characters are set in, and be able to apply that to the rest of the book as they’re reading it.


K: I wanna distinguish here between setting and worldbuilding, because worldbuilding is not necessarily describing a specific place -


R [overlapping]: Mhm.


K: - it’s describing all of the places and giving the reader context for them. A setting is “places that the characters are.”


R: Right, but if you are showing off your worldbuilding -


K: Yes.


R: - by describing your setting -


K: They certainly can cross, yes, but they -


R [overlapping]: - how do you stop yourself from doing that? Just get a really good friend to smack your hand and tell you “no you’ve gone too far here?”


K: You mean when you’ve gone too far in the world building and we’re getting into like, an exposition dump?


R: Yeah!


K: Yeah, that’s editorial to be honest with you. That’s something that you revisit in drafts, that’s something that you get feedback on. If you have a really richly built and developed world with history and culture and all of these interesting things that you’ve spent time and effort thinking about, there’s gonna be this inclination to just dump all of it at once, to just do a lot of: “these such and such people lived here, and they had spent a lot of generations at war with this and that people who were allies of the third people.” There’s ways to do this and it’s a skill you have to develop, it takes a certain amount of finessing.


R: Usually, some allow more for it than others.


K: Yeah absolutely, and there’s a lot of clever ways to squeeze this in there, and by the way, this isn’t to say that there’s something wrong with a character giving the reader information - either through an internal monologue or explaining something to someone. There’s all sorts of great articles - and, I would imagine, Youtube videos, subreddits - about worldbuilding tips and tricks. So there are ways of incorporating that into your story without having to give a long, tiresome, and confusing explanation. Dropping a lot of information on the reader, they’re not going to retain that.


R: Mhm.


K: Whenever I’m reading a book where I have to keep track of certain places or groups of people or what different types of magical abilities do and mean, I need to re read that a couple times. When there’s a page that has information on I usually bookmark it so that when later -


R [overlapping]: [laughing]


K: - I see it referenced, I can go back and be like okay, yes, those are the people that control fire, you know? [laughing]


R: Kaelyn doesn’t read with bookmarks, she reads with post it notes. [giggles]


K: I - yes. I do still read physical books and sometimes it is bookmarks and post it notes. [laughing] 


R: So that brings to mind the idea of how much a reader has to remember what you write in your exposition. If you’re just describing a setting, can you get away with more than laying out the way things work?


K: My experience tends to be that readers will remember descriptions well, because when they’re reading through something and you’re describing, you know, vast mountains capped with snow and trees stopping at a certain point because of the -


R: So that’s imagery.


K: Yes, because you’re giving them something to picture in their mind. What is kind to do for readers, especially if these are things you’ve made up - let’s pretend in Avatar, waterbenders were called something specific. [laughing] You remind them, Katara was a whatever the word is, she controlled water. There are ways to drop those reminders in there so that readers don’t get frustrated by like “I don’t even know who this person is or where they’re from at this point.”


R: But that is a good point. When you’re naming things -


K [overlapping]: Mhm.


R: - consider being a little bit more explicit in the name than to come up with secondary world terms.


K: Yes but, if you do decide to do that - this is where I’m gonna, not derail us a little bit, but talk about another element in the book that can be helpful here which is maps and glossaries.


R: Mhm.


K: We did a whole episode about maps and why they’re so useful and helpful, one of the great reasons is worldbuilding. It’s really nice to open a book and, assuming you can do it without spoilers, see a map there to give the readers some context of where the world is and what’s going on there. I always, whenever I get a map, I like to take a look at it and look at some of the names of places and get an idea of like “okay so I guess we’re going here eventually, we’re probably going there eventually.”


R: Mhm.


K: Glossaries are good for that too, especially when you have to create a lot of stuff, it’s good for the reader to be able to flip back to one of those terms to go like “oh yes, okay, that’s this kind of magic.”


R: Right, and this is a spot where unfortunately, digital and audio do not help us.


K [overlapping]: No.


R: Like if you’re reading a paperback of something you can flip to these things, you can keep your finger in it as you go through, as opposed to - you can put a post it in it! - whereas it is really difficult on, say, a digital reader. It’s still not as natural an experience -


K [overlapping]: Yeah.


R: - as flipping to either the start or the finish. All of my Peridot books have glossaries in them and I feel bad every time I think of anyone reading it in audio.


[both laughing]


R: Because it’s not there, and while yes you can download the files to pair with the audio, you’re generally doing something while you’re listening to an audiobook.


K: Yeah.


R: But I agree with you about the map. The worldbuilding that you get out of a map is pretty impactful in terms of the distance between things, as you started off saying, like how many jetpack refuels does your dragon need -


K: [laughing]


R: - to get from point a to point b in your story.


K: I’ve also seen a lot of books now, especially where there’s a large caste of characters and certain groups or family units, in the beginning of the book they’ll just have a list of them or maybe a family tree.


R: Speaking of Romeo and Juliet again like you have the dramatis personae -


K: Yes, exactly.


R: - a real quick rundown of how they relate to other characters and stuff, again not helpful in audio. Again, this is front matter back matter -  if you had the clout, you could print a separate book of your world bible.


K: And by the way, if you have a glossary, a map, a dramatis personae in this, that is not an excuse to not do the worldbuilding.


R [overlapping]: Right, that’s what I was gonna come back to was like, okay so you’re sticking it outside the actual story, but I would argue that it’s important to be able to read the story and understand everything without supplemental reading material.


K: Yeah, that should be there either for prestory context - reader, I’m gonna throw a lot of people at you, I know it’s gonna be a little tricky to keep track of it have this helpful guide to who these people are -


R: Mhm.


K: - or it’s just a “hey heads up here’s everyone in here,” but that still means you need to do the actual worldbuilding and do the work in the book.


R: Right. So using a prime example, a recent example is the Gideon the Ninth -


K [overlapping]: Ah, yes, one of our favorites [garbled through laughter]


R: [overlapping]: - The Locked Tomb Trilogy. I would much rather talk about Gideon all day than A Song of Ice and Fire, let’s be real.


K: [laughing]


R: So, it begins with names from each of the houses. Not only that but it sets a little bit of tone  -


K: Yeah.


R: - for each of the houses without saying “these houses are like this.” So it begins with, in order of House appearance: “The Ninth House, keepers of the Locked Tomb, house of the Sewn Tongue, the Black Vestals.” And that in itself is worth like six paragraphs of explanation that -


K: Absolutely.


R: - this is just what goes with that name. And then you have the multiple names of the characters that you’re going to encounter from this House, and no explanation as to what they’re like or anything like that. So you’ve gotten a tone for the setting, the Ninth House, you get that like, the names all sort of have a structure to them, and that’s what you get from that pre reading list. And then you get in and then you get the characterization, just like you would if you were not going to have forty characters dumped on you in the course of this book.


K: Yeah, and by the way, because this author is diabolical, by the time we get to the second book, the dramatis personae in the beginning is doing an extra level of work here because they had to do it without spoiling things. So it’s actually creating this air of mystery - which absolutely contributes to worldbuilding by the way. There’s something weird going on here because there’s some contradictions in this, or some people that you can tell are deliberately left out, and then you have to start wondering why.


R: And Kaelyn was very aware of this -


K [overlapping]: I -


R: - jumped right on those little details after reading it the first time, before the second book was out; the second book came out, Kaelyn read it and was texting me like “I have questions!” 


K: [laughing]


R: But yeah in the first book you’re introduced to twenty-eight people in three pages, and their alliances that they’re gonna start the book out with, and then you get to meet them. So a dramatis personae is not all the details, it’s not the hair color, it’s not attitude, it’s not history, it’s just “here are the names so you can keep them straight, who was that again, okay that was this person” and maybe then you remember that they had a pinched little mouth.


K: There’s a [laughing] a lot of ways to do this, it just depends the amount of effort and detail you wanna put into it.


R: And some genre expectations too.


K [overlapping]: And some genre expectations, to be sure, absolutely.


R: Always.


K: This can get as straightforward as set in Denver in the present day, and it's primarily just regular human beings and -


R: At a grocery store.


K: At a grocery store, yeah. You still need to establish that so you’re still building your world there -


R: Mhm.


K: - or you can take this as far as something like -


R: New Denver Colony!


K [laughing]: Yeah, exactly, something like Lord of the Rings or Star Trek where there’s just layers and layers of history and characters and different races and species and it’s so expansive that you can just keep adding and adding to it. So what’s the right way to make sure you don’t write yourself into a corner? Well the thing is, if you’re gonna keep developing your worldbuilding, you’re going to [write yourself into a corner] eventually.


R: Yeah. The fun part of being a writer is figuring out how to get yourself out of that corner without being able to change the stuff that’s already been published. I’ve done it! [giggles]


K: Yeah! Leaving yourself some backdoors, if you will, is not a bad idea.


R: Although that requires that you -


K: Plan them.


R: - predict a little bit of the trouble you might run into.


K: Which is a very possible thing to do.


R: If you have a magic system that has a bunch of rules, you could always say “but then there’s Chaos Magic.” And then Chaos Magic can just be a little bit of the antirule that you need later on.


K: Yeah, making something forbidden or the lost art, something that no one has access to, just to have in your back pocket -


R: But just know your readers are gonna wanna hear about it.


K: Yes, absolutely.


R: You might have to write a novella outside your main storyline just to satisfy some readers about that lost locked tomb art of chaos magic.


K [overlapping]: Yeah, Chekov’s Chaos Magic. But again, Rekka’s right then, if you bring something like that up and you’re like yeah, well, that’s forbidden, nobody practices that anymore, you don't have to say, but you have to indicate why. Was it because they destroyed the world, was it because whoever used it died horribly -


R: [giggles]


K: - was it because they just forgot how to do it? There’s historical instances of that, Greek fire is a real thing that existed that we lost the recipe for and nobody can make. There’s theories as to what it was but [laughing] no one can recreate it.


R: And maybe we should leave it that way. 


K: Yeah probably but -


R: But what kind of book would it be if we did?


K [laughing]: Exactly.


R: And that’s the other part of it, it’s not just making it explained ‘cause you don’t wanna be like “there’s this forbidden art which we don’t do ‘cause it killed people,” like okay yeah fine, but that forbidden art is gonna be in this book. You say forbidden as a storyteller and I expect somebody to crack that nut.


K: Yeah, the readers will start salivating at that point.


R: Mhm.


K: I’ve read books where there were things that were mentioned that never were discussed again and it's infuriating. 


R: Yeah, what happened to the fireworks factory?


K [laughing]: Yeah that’s exactly -


R: That’s a Simpsons reference, yeah.


K: Got too close to the Greek fire.


[both laughing]


R: Yeah, well, there ya go.


K: So how to not write yourself into a corner, the best advice I can give is try to leave yourself a backdoor. And this means that you have done a really good job of worldbuilding, because as Rekka said, you’re anticipating where you could run into problems. And that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go down that road, it just means that you also need to have another road that you can diverge onto -


R: [laughing]


K: - in order to circumvent this problem and come up behind it, attack it, defeat it, be victorious over your own book.


R: I mean that’s the goal every time.


K: Yeah. Yeah, you really are just sort of in the act of defeating something.


R: Take your project and beat it into submission.


[both laughing]


R: That’s actually writing.


K: [laughing] Will be defeated into the ground.


R: Hey, I am learning right now with puppy training that what you wanna do is be more interesting than the problem -


K: Yep.


R: - so that you can distract and be fun, and reward. So I feel like that’s a good way to - can we apply that to writing, can we just distract the reader from the flaws -


K: No.


R: - in our logic, and the rules -


K: Nope.


R: - that we backed ourselves into?


K: Nope. [laughing]


R: But it works - what if there are liver treats?


K: [laughing] I don’t want any of those.


R [overlapping]: Squeak toys?


K [laughing]: Okay, I’ll take a squeaky toy.


R [laughing]: Okay.


K: But you know, the thing is Rekka, eventually I’m gonna chew the squeaky toy apart and then I’m gonna be like hey, wait, hang on, you promised me forbidden chaos magic.


R: Well, too bad, I have to take you to the vet because you swallowed the valve and now we have to have [laughing] your stomach operated on.


K: [laughing] Yeah, so you can keep trying to distract the reader but eventually you’re gonna have to answer for these things.


R: Okay what if your story is so interesting that the forbidden magic is actually the least interesting thing that you’re talking about in your plot?


K: Alright, I’ll give you a pass there.


R: Alright! I win!


K: [laughing]


K: I’m curious what you’re gonna come up with that’s more interesting than [laughing] forbidden chaos magic.


R [overlapping]: I didn’t say I was gonna write this. I’m not gonna write this.


K: Now I need it, I need to know what you’re gonna come up with that’s more interesting than forbidden chaos magic.


R [groaning]: Fiiiine.


K: [laughing]


R: Fine, I’ll work this into my next project.


K: Excellent. So yeah, I think that’s some of the fundamentals on worldbuilding. I’m sure we'll talk more about this in the future. Oh, you know what, one last thing. If you’re having trouble with worldbuilding and you just really do not know where to start, go get the Dungeons & Dragons official manual, because it actually has a guide for worldbuilding in there.


R: Hm.


K: It’s not perfect, it’s not the end all be all, but if you’re just really at a loss, not a bad place to start to help get some of your thoughts organized. And there are things online that are similar to this, they’ll give you steps to take like, “okay think about this, now think about this.”


R: Yeah I would say that Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer et al is about writing but it’s also - there’s a lot of worldbuilding in there and could get your brain really juiced about different things to consider.


K: By the way, if you’re having trouble with worldbuilding, if you’re going, well I need to create this whole alien society and culture and religious system and everything and you’re really having trouble coming up with it, maybe that’s a good time to take a step back and go: maybe that’s not the kind of book I should be writing right now. Can the story be set on Earth and with people and maybe the aliens are just on Earth so that’s minimized your worldbuilding requirements.


R: It’s about the size and shape of the story you enjoy writing. Because you could enjoy watching a movie where it’s all way deep space, but do you enjoy writing it as much as you enjoy when other people do that work.


K: Yeah, exactly.


R: You have a choice.


K: Got a few of them. [laughing]


R: Unless you were hired to ghostwrite this story and you’re stuck.


K: No, then that’s your problem.


R: If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re being hired to write other peoples’ stories, it probably means you already know what to do here.


K [laughing]: Yeah.


R: So write in and tell us.


K: And Rekka, if they wanna write in -


R: You can find us on Instagram and Twitter and at WMBcast.com for all our old episodes and if you are loving the commentary [laughing] along with the puppy barks and actual useful advice from Kaelyn, then you can support us at Patreon.com/WMBcast.


K: Hopefully as always, this was at least educational and entertaining.


R: Or at least useful.


K: At least a little bit useful, yeah, if nothing else, you go to hear some puppy sounds in the back. 


R: Yes. [laughing]


K: That’s always a bonus.


R: Let’s see how many I can edit out.


[both laughing]


R: This might just be Evie’s episode, co-host Evie.


K: So thanks everyone and we’ll see you in two weeks!


R: Talk to you next time.