Consistency In Worldbuilding

One of the best things about being a writer is creating a world. You get to create something that no one else has, and as you work on it more, you bring your vision to life. World building is satisfying, but it’s tricky too. You can easily build a world, but how do you make it believable, how do you draw people into it? I tend to find that some worlds suffer quite generally from what I’d call cultural inconsistency. It means what it says on the tin, quite bluntly, the cultures existing in that world don’t add up.

The best example of this is in language and place names. When creating the world map, it’s hard to resist letting lose the floodgates and going with any name you think of. On the flip side if you struggle with names, you can be clawing at your head to come up with one name, let alone a bunch of them to choose from. One of the results is that your map seems to just have a random selection of names on it. Names need to be consistent – for example you wouldn’t have two characters from the same culture with two vastly different names. Does that sound picky? Perhaps a bit, but if we take a look at a map of our own world, you see similarities between the names of places in that country. I’m British, so I’ll see Warwickshire, Yorkshire, and so on. They’ consistent.

When to comes to that fantasy world, you’re ideally looking for the same consistency. Sure, there can be exceptions, as there are in real life, but they aren’t numerous. Some readers will tolerate a lot; especially because fantasy might be the genre that they love anyway, but others won’t. As a writer these days it doesn’t work to make your writing fit into too small a niche. For me, seeing a fantasy world that is consistent implicitly tells me that it is well constructed and thought out. Readers can be picky, and believe me, if you world looks, sounds or feels like it’s some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, readers can lose their suspension of disbelief.

It’s all easily remedied though. Instead of leaping straight into your new world, plan it. Figure out what the fundamentals are for each culture you introduce. Standing back objectively is hard to do when you’re passionate about something, but paying close scrutiny to creating a world that is consistent will pay off the effort you put in. As a final little example, take a look at a map of Middle-Earth. Now, because it’s the cultures are consistent, it feels like a real map someone made for the world, not a map that someone made of a world.

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4 thoughts on “Consistency In Worldbuilding

  1. Any good fantasy story has either a solid world or an absent one (like ones that take place in a city, where nothing else outside of it is really mentioned, that sort of thing). At least that’s what I’ve noticed.

    1. Solid yes, but absent? I don’t think so. To use your example of a single city, you’d still have to have consistency, perhaps more so to create the idea that it is a city. Regardless, I think it’s almost impossible to write something isolated from a larger world. In the day to day goings on of that city, you’d see things that would link to the wider world outside. I mean if you didn’t, you’d just have a bland setting that bears no originality. I think writing relies all too much on the small details.

      1. Hmm, I don’t think simple works either. I just think you’ve got to be willing to work on the fine details of any scene in order to make things feel real. Otherwise it can come across as sterile, artificial and repetitive. I know we’re going off the topic of world-building, but I think it still stands.

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