One World-Building Tip: Purpose

One Fantasy Worldbuilding Tip: Purpose

World building can be a daunting task. Afterall, you’re playing God and the details can be distracting. But it’s a lot of fun.

The most important thing to remember is the purpose. How important is the message of your story to your world?

To know understand the purpose of your world there are two questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Is the purpose of your story to inform the reader?

  2. Or is the purpose of your story to entertain the reader?

Purpose exists on a spectrum. On one end, you have Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. At the other end you have the Dragonlance Chronicles series by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman.

Informative Worldbuilding

The world of Sword of Truth is a platform for the author to relay objectivist philosophy. The geography, how magic works, the history and lore behind the world; they’re all symbols and metaphors for how he perceives life and how the world should be. He uses his story to further his Randian beliefs and attract the reader to his philosophy.

This is also reflected in Goodkind’s prose: long winded speeches and “Mr. Exposition” tropes to expound his beliefs. For his world and characters, this works. And his readers love it. They’ve fallen in love with his stories, the characters, and the ideas they represent.

“Informative worlds” have a definitive end. In this case, Goodkind’s hero eradicates a dictatorial government and gives freedom back to the people. He charges them to “rise up and live [their own lives].”

Entertainment Worldbuilding

The Dragonlance Chronicles doesn’t have the same goal as an informative world. It’s a fantastic colorful world that exists for the reader’s entertainment.

The authors don’t try to seduce you with debates, arguments on morality, or discussion on societal ideologies. Instead they win you over with whimsical and relatable characters that live in a world of magic and conflict. The historical lore, arcane magic, and diverse races are meant to capture the reader’s attention and immerse them in an adventure.

The best thing about these worlds - clearly, I have a preference - is that they don’t need to end. The world continues on long after the main conflict is resolved. New stories can be imagined. New generations of characters can emerge. New villains with different problems cand take over.

The downside: long-term planning and thinking ahead - books ahead. On a personal note, I have finished my first book. However, I also know the contents of the second and third book. I also know the next cast of characters for the next series that occurs in the world I’ve created and I know the villains and how they die.

It’s a lot of planning but the pay off for the reader is huge. There’s nothing quite like revisiting old characters with new ones and seeing a great villain rise up from an ignored character in the first book.

Mid-Spectrum Purpose

Don’t feel trapped by the “law of purpose.” As the author, it’s up to you to decide where you fall on this spectrum of purpose.

There’s plenty of room on the spectrum for you to fall in the middle. Many authors do it. A classic example: Chronicles of Narnia. There are many undeniable christian allegories in this series but it’s also not intended to hammer the reader with the bible or religious morals. Plenty of atheists have read the series.

Lord of the Rings is another example. Readers, researcher, and professors have spent decades talking about series and its depiction to World War II. Yet generations have read the books without obtaining a degree in modern history to understand it. They can appreciate it without the history lesson.

It’s Your Decision

It’s up to you to decide why your world exists and what purpose it serves. Don’t be concerned so much with how it’s existence is interpreted. People will find meaning where there isn’t and gloss over your well-written metaphors.

The most important thing: have fun.