Working as an editor, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with other writers. For me, getting to be a part of the process of creation is very rewarding. However, it doesn’t come without peril. Part of being an editor, much like being a doctor, is that you have to develop a sort of bedside manner. When you look into the eyes of a vulnerable writer during review and utter, “My concern is that you have developed late stage World Builder’s Disease,” you need to be able to at least explain the nature of the sickness. (Okay, I might not say it just like that — but I’m trying to make a point).
Some of you may already know, but World Builder’s Disease is basically when a writer gets so lost in the backstory of the world they are creating that they produce endless pages of history, character background, cultural information, and setting. The characters, conflicts, and actual telling of the story become secondary to this grand history and complex world. The book begins to look like an anthropological dissertation, instead of a story.
If you are completely unfamiliar with this term (or concerned that rash on your neck is actually World Builder’s Disease manifesting physically) there are a few sources I would recommend checking out.
The first thing to do would be to swing over to Writing Excuses and listen to the Season 3, Episode 1 podcast titled World Building History. I’ve mentioned this website in a few of my posts already and will continue to do so. There’s a reason the website is listed as one of the top 101 websites for writers by Writer’s Digest. It’s an awesome source of information.
Next, you should review, (The Dreaded) World Builder’s Disease from The Writersaurus blog. It’s a fun read and a very descriptive look at the menace. This blog is loaded with some fun, writing specific, content.
Finally, check out the article The Truth About World Building Disease, from the website, The Worldbuilding School. The article offers a basic explanation of World Builder’s Disease and explains some causes. If you wanted to get a map illustrated for your work, this would be a good place to check out. Additionally, if you are suffering from a lack of world building, this is a good place to start getting the gears moving.
Now for my two cents. I feel writers have the most trouble recovering from this because the words are coming easily. We hear this all the time: “Just write. Meet those daily goals. You’re right if you just write.” I still agree with these statements. Just because you have a stack of paper with no real story, doesn’t mean its useless. It just doesn’t have use as a publishable story just yet.
So if you have sat down and blasted out inches worth of unrelated historical information regarding a world, character, or item — don’t despair. Set it aside and use it as part of your reference material. Try sprinkling in some of it as descriptive beats and reveal the history throughout the course of your book. Maybe you can set up a wiki page for your readers on your blog or website that lists this extra information after the book drops? Or you could use this extra info to market your book before release, like I’ve been doing with my Wasteland Wednesday posts.
Regardless, unless you are working against a deadline, or have finished the book only to realize half of it is historical information (i.e. not characters dealing with conflicts), then don’t stress it. Everyone’s creative process works differently. Some people have the easiest time writing their characters, some people surge when they write conflicts, and other people create unbelievably complex worlds, histories, and cultures. A blending of these things is what we need.
Are you a sufferer of this affliction? Do you know someone who is? Do you have a cure that works for you? Let me know. While I don’t have a magic elixir, sometimes just addressing it works as a soothing balm. Thanks for reading and be sure to stop by tomorrow. Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!