Worldbuilding

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Synonyms: world building, world-building
See also: Worldbuilding Exchange, Canon, Fanon
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Worldbuilding is the process of creating a complete imaginary setting for a story, novel, film, game, etc., particularly in the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genres. Probably the longest, most ambitious worldbuilding ever undertaken was when Tolkien created the languages and mythology of Middle-earth. However, he would not have used the word; the earliest cite listed in Brave New Words is 1965.

The term "worldbuilding" is used by both professional writers and fanfic writers. In fanfic, the term is especially applicable to writing AUs, but canon-compliant stories may also involve worldbuilding if the writer examines gaps in canon or sets their story in the future.

Background

The Worldbuilding Exchange defines fannish worldbuilding like so:

For the purposes of this exchange, "worldbuilding" will be defined as any exploration of how a fictional world works beyond the information presented in canon. This includes (but is not limited to) more detailed extrapolation of information presented in canon, filling in gaps in the canon backstory, attempts to reconcile apparent contradictions in canon information, exploring the perspectives on canon events of characters implied to exist but not considered within the canon, etc.[1]

For some fans, worldbuilding for canon is the main reason to write or read fanfiction:

Other than porn and representation, I would argue that exploring world-building is one of the main reasons authors write and read fanfiction. They want to spend more time exploring the fictional world that they’ve only had a brief chance to enjoy. When reading Harry Potter, fans explored the Wizarding World with him, but only through his limited and often ignorant view. Furthermore, you can only explore that world through him; if you hear about something or see something in the story that you find interesting, you can’t leave Harry and read a side story about it—you have to stay with Harry. Then, after several hundred pages, you have to leave the world when you weren’t done exploring. Fanfiction allows a reader to continue to explore the world, perhaps with or without Harry. Not only that, but fans then get to contribute to building this universe in some way. Sometimes fans even do better than the source material at world-building.

[...]

Magic in fantasy writing is great, but an author can’t just throw in a magical creature or some magical elements and call it world-building. They have to think of the implications surrounding those things. How would these magical things affect different cultures, societies, politics, and even more basic things like biology and home life? Some stories are lacking the world-building elements, and others just don’t have time to explore everything we are interested in. Thank goodness for fanfiction.[2]

Canon

(may involve close reading and analysis)

Post-Canon

(Death of the Author, extra info, clarification, JKR)

Fanon

For many fans, worldbuilding in their fanworks is a mixture of both love and frustration. This is especially true for the Naruto fandom, where just establishing a solid timeline of events is practically impossible. Silver Queen, author of the long-running SI OC fic Dreaming of Sunshine, has often been praised for the worldbuilding in her work. She's said:

...all these rants make it sound like I don’t actually like the series. I do! I wouldn’t still be in this fandom if I didn’t. [...]

DoS was mostly (okay it was a little bit a ‘fix it’ fic) about ‘well why did these things happen’. Not about changing them, not about being some ‘rationalist’ take on it all. I can’t understand why people read DoS and complain about how silly things like sending a team of genin after Sasuke are. That’s canon. It happened.[3]

She's also described worldbuilding as a way to "explain the irregularities we see on the screen", following canon information to its logical conclusion, asking herself "Why is this thing where it is, why is it what it is?" when trying to fill in details about Naruto's setting.[4]

Other fandoms with large amounts of worldbuilding include Harry Potter, Teen Wolf, The Hobbit (and other Tolkien fandoms), and Boku No Hero Academia.

Further Reading

References

  1. Worldbuilding Exchange Rules 2019, Jan. 4th, 2019.
  2. Lady Geek Girl, Magical Mondays: World-Building and Magic in Fanfiction, posted December 23, 2013.
  3. Silver Queen, reply to an anonymous ask on dosbysilverqueen Posted 14 July 2017. (Accessed 11 July 2018.)
  4. Sarasa2016, Interview with Silver Queen. Posted 23 Aug 2015. (Accessed 11 July 2018.)