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Combating World Sprawl

A common problem amongst Worldbuilders is that we enjoy our hobby too much. We never stop building, and yet find ourselves having no product to show after months,but are, or even a lifetime of crafting. We just keep adding to our world. Today, lets take a look at some of the ways that the infamous World Sprawl can show itself and how to keep our building in check.  

Minute Minutiae Here is smallest bane of productive worldbuilding. The theory crafting, the details. Describing every nook and cranny of every surface of your world to make sure everyone knows exactly what is what and why and who made it. These are all good things on their own, but in real life, that knowledge does not benefit everyone. Think of things like why there are rivets on blue jeans, why dress shirts have extra buttons, or why pen caps have a hole in the top. Important or practice, yes. Needed for every person that steps into your world to know? No.
Take a read through World-Building with Greebles, Nurnies and Wiggets to see how deep to take this type of information. Have these types of things in your world, but don't write more than a passing mention on how the serial number of your robots are written on the inside of the left arm socket.
Massive Scale Here is a multi-fold problem of worldbuilding. Your story is about a small family running a convience store in rural Montana, but for some reason, you just spent 7 hours detailing every member of the royal family of Mars, including characters that won't exist in your story proper until you get that movie deal.
Or, you've spent 3 days writing about the Kings Guard, but your players are only just meeting the Sewer Rats tomorrow night. Kings Guard is, like, 3 more sessions away.
Or worse, you've written every bit of information about your setting you could think of. Everything is ready for the next phase of your project. But where should you begin? That's right, you've given yourself too much choice to be able to go back to the original story of two brothers backpacking across the universe on a quest to pour their mother's ashes in Sirius.
What you have done here is filled more of the grand, verbose World than was necessary for you to create an end product. It's been either unproductive to your story, a waste of time when you don't have it, or has left you in a state of choice paralysis.

How do I avoid this fate?

Avoiding these two tipes of World Sprawl is difficult. It takes discipline. It takes courage to tell yourself that you don't need to write that article on why your insects all taste like candy. It tales wisdom to know when you should dive deeper into a concept, and when you should just skim the surface.   First and foremost, you must have a goal. All the work in the world is meaningless if there is not a defined, achievable goal to meet. Here's the quick points of a good goal:
  • Specific Specific goals have defined parameters. "I want to write a novel" is not as specific as "I want to write a gripping crime novella set in Ancient Egypt." Thinking about the specifics can help focus your work, and help you start to explain it to those that will support you.
  • Mmeasurable How do you know younhave met your goal? Setting a measurement of completion helps to show how on track you are, and early in to your project, allows you to see if your goals are too lofty to be attained. "I want to write a gripping crime novella set in Ancient Egypt of 20,000 words," will let you know when younhave completed it, keeps you from accidentally writing a novel, and has become an almost fully fleshed out goal.
  • Attainable Can you actually complete the goal? This is one of the most logical steps, but also the easiest to pass due to human stubbornness. "I want to write this novel in one night" is not attainable, nor is "I want to become a Velociraptor".
  • Realistic Is the goal logical given your skills and education? "I want to write about Ancient Egypt using my degree in Native American Culture" is just... Odd. Having no knowledge or even intrest in the subject matter can make the project unfullfilling.
  • Time-bound For Americans, this one is extremely difficult. We hate giving ourselves time-limits. But, without them, we won't know if we have been productive in our project. Set a realistic goal, some where in the month - 3 month span for non-moneymaking goals, 3 - 12 months for moneymaking ones. "I want to write a 20,000 word crime novella set in Ancient Egypt, using my Egyptology degree, before I graduate next may (8 months)," is a fairly solid goal.
  Now, write that goal down, amd put it somewhere you will always see it. My personal favorite locations are on my fridge, my bathroom mirror, and on my computer monitors at home and at work, meaning I see the reminder close to 7 times a day.   After that, share your goal with at least 3 close family members, friends or coworkers. At least one should be able and willing to check on your progress once a week. Have these people hold you accountable for a progress up-date once a month, and be honest about your progress.   Having a solid goal will allow you to know when you've strayed to far from or down your world building rabbit hole, so make them solid, make them good, and make them SMART!  

What are your goals?

Drop down what your goals are in your worldbuilding in the comments below, and I will add myself to your personal update crew!

Cooper's Toolbox

One of the best ways to keep your brain under control ia to talk with others about your ideas. Keeping track of what others want to know more about can help you see if you need to dive deeper or can keep at the same detail level you are. If your audience is snoozing off during your explanations, reel things back to a more relaxed detail.

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Author's Notes

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18 May, 2019 20:17

Yup, I found myself grunting as I read this---because I already HAVE a massive world from my comics and books and I'm trying to figure out how to get enough information onto WA so readers can enjoy it.   My only idea at this point, is to start with the book I'm actually writing on currently--providing the maps and info--then move forward with the books and backwards as time allows to cover what's already BEEN written. Hopefully connecting them all together.   *whew*

19 May, 2019 02:28

In your position, I'd probably do the same, but enlist the oldest of your thirteen kids to help with the latter.

20 May, 2019 12:06

Wish I could, but she's busy with 5 kids of her own, LOL.