Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tips to Fix your Worldbuilding Blunders

With the end of NaNo just around the corner and your WIP likely in chaos, the wonderfully talented worldbuilder Lex Mosgrove offers tips on fixing those pesky problems you may have run into along the way.

NaNoWriMo is almost over and chances are you'll find yourself facing holes and contradictions in your worldbuilding where setting and story refused to go together the way you intended them to. Here are some quick fixes for the problems I commonly run into.

There are a few things you'll need to keep in mind to be able to fix these problems quickly:
  • Make major change only when absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid everything that would make any part of the story or setting feel contrived.
To Change Or Not To Change 

You accidentally created a major inconsistency or flat-out contradiction while writing and it turns out you like the second, contradictory version much better than the original. However, you’re not sure if you want to change it, after all you’ll have to change a lot of other things with it, which in turn can create new inconsistencies and besides, what if it just doesn’t work?

Your first step would be to ask yourself the following questions:
  • Which version fits the story better? If either version doesn’t work for the story you want to tell then you shouldn’t use it. Period.
  • Does the alternate version fit the core rules of the setting, and if not can you tweak them to fit without breaking the setting or story? You should know these rules by now, even if you made that world up just for NaNo.
  • Can I change the setting to make the alternate version work in reasonable time? Keep in mind that what may look like endless hours of work my be solved quickly, but the opposite can happen just as well. However, this should never hinder you to change something for the better.
If you can answer all these questions with “yes” for your alternate version, then you should indeed throw the original one out.

Rebellious Characters 

One of your characters doesn't quite seem to fit the culture or world you intended him to come from, however changing the character would break the story (or make it very boring).

You have two options here:
  • Change the character and story.
  • Change the setting.
The crucial bit of information you need to change the setting without breaking it is what exactly makes the character not fit into their background. Once you know that you can re-design the culture or world to make the character work.

Cliché Hell 

There are lots of things you can do with clichés, abut these are my personal top three options when you don't want to do much rewriting or extra worldbuilding:
  • Portray it as an old-fashioned view or outdated way to do things.
  • Combine it with another cliché that's unlikely to got with the first one.
  • Give it a realistic reason to exist.
Of course you can always break the fourth wall.

Here are a few techniques I use to fix problems with worldbuilding in general, and which work for these just as well:
  • Visualization. If you're a visual thinker this will likely come naturally to you. If you don't know how this works, it's like watching a movie in your head. Except that you can change the camera angle at will and edit every part of it to your heart's content.
  • Writing down alternate versions for comparison.
  • Drawing it. Stick figures and simple will often do, and it's quite helpful to get an overview of a scene that doesn't seem to work and helps finding the error.

What other problems do you commonly run into? Have you found solutions to them yet?

All this  month, you can be entered to win a free copy of The Faithful Heart by Merry Farmer. Check here for more details! This is a giveaway you do not want to miss! And Warm Hands Warm Hearts still need your help.

All About Lex

Lex Mosgrove is a long-time worldbuilder, aspiring comic artist and notorious loner with an unhealthy taste for caffeine and True Norwegian Black Metal. They think that "normal" is boring and have made it their mission in (un)life to start small-scale revolutions when and wherever they see fit.

You can usually find Lex on their main blog, Worldbuilding Tutorials.


  1. I'm CONSTANTLY doing the first one - to change or not to change? Most of the time it's because I haven't given my universe "rules" yet - I'm just throwing paint at the walls and sometimes I like a certain color better, even if it completely clashes with another color that I also like. And there's your over-extended metaphor for the day. The only way to fix it is to change the story to fit the preferred color, and then probably sit down and hash out some concrete rules so that it doesn't happen again.

  2. I totally know what you mean. This is actually a great way to figure out what rules for your universe work best together and for the story - if you have the time and patience to rewrite what's basically the same story over and over again. But as you said yourself it doesn't work so well if your story is actually meant to go somewhere.
    As for the clashing colors - to stick with your metaphor - that's IMHO one of the most interesting challenges of worldbuilding.

  3. I run into this all the time. I try to think through all the places the change will impact, and in doing, often find the change isn't as onerous as I thought. I also run into little plot details that just won't work. Only thing to do there is brainstorm until I come up with a viable, fresh alternative - which can take a while. Thanks for your tips, Lex, and thanks for hosting, Samantha!

  4. True!
    Don't get me started on those plot errors. A good part of my NaNoWriMo novel consists of me tryig multiple possible plot variants because I ran into some sort of contradiction or plain impossibility halfway through a scene. However, if you did your worldbuilding job right, most of the time you'll be able to find the solution rather quickly here as well.
    Hey, you're welcome, that's my job! :)

  5. Thank you Samantha for this post! I'm bookmarking this one!

    I just went through a re-write and am now in the process of editing. This will really help!

    But I would have to say that keeping the conflict going is my greatest weakness. But I'm working on it.

  6. I'm glad everyone is liking the post. I know I'm going to have to use a few of these tips here soon. :) Thanks so much for giving us your expert advice, Lex!

  7. You are all very welcome! (But don't overdo it with the praise or I will start rambling endlessly about worldbuilding. :P )
    Oh, if you need some specific help with something - or anyone else does - just ask. You know where to find me.

  8. Really great information to keep handy. Thank you Samantha and Lex!


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