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How do you write a worldbuilding manuscript? I am wondering what a worldbuilding manuscript should look like. I am planning on writing a novel with a really detailed world, so I was wondering what I should put in there and how I should format it.

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  • Maybe do some research of your own at worldbuilding.stackexchange.com. Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 13:22
  • How alike to the real world is your world? What's the genre?
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 13:32
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    Formatting depends on the publishing media and intended reader.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 16:20

2 Answers 2

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I am not aware of any standard format.

Most worldbuilding exercises I have seen begin with a map of the world, cities in the world, climate information, etc.

The written part is some sort of world history, and then local history or information about towns, their primary "job" (trading, finance, farming, manufacturing something, etc).

Then perhaps something about different cultures and/or species and/or politics. Languages. Sizes. Whatever is important for your book, even marriage and sexual practices. (e.g. are they monogamous? Paternal power, or maternal power? Are genders equal? How many genders are there?) Is your culture Democratic, Socialist, a Monarchy, Lawless?

Who are their rivals? Who are their allies? Who are their trading partners they keep at arm's length?

Then there is history, and mythology. What wars have been fought, won or lost?

What is their religion like? How many religions are there?

You can go on.

I personally only build the world using the "movie set" idea; meaning I only build just enough to tell the story, as I need it. I do make a map, and keep notes, but typically 90% of my map is just empty. I'll put stuff in there if I write a sequel!

If you ever watch a "Making Of" documentary, you'll notice they can give the illusion of an entire world, but really they only ever build out the set for what will be "on camera". Rooms may only have two walls, castles are actually just a drawing, the only interior sets actually built are those that will appear on camera.

I use this same philosophy with world building; I only build what I actually will need for a scene in the book.

I do this because there is a significant danger of getting lost in worldbuilding, it can become a hobby in and of itself, like building model trainsets. And people that want to write just procrastinate for years (literally) busy building their history and cultures and creatures and their rules of magic or laws; imagining all of this being used in stories but never actually writing the stories.

My advice is to get to the story, and only build a set when you need one, and only build out as much of that set as will appear "on camera".

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The format of wordbuilding manuscripts depends on the purpose.

As for the content, put everything you have, or your world will seem even more incomplete than it already is.


Formats:

Encyclopaedias

Some examples:

  1. Any natural / scientific encyclopaedia
  2. A certain writer's fictional encyclopaedia of fantastic beasts.
  3. Bestiaries (whether historical or fictional)
  4. Thematic atlases

These texts are meant to provide an easily searchable reference to the reader. They are typically presented as lists, arranged either alphabetically or grouped by theme. The content is often provided as factual evidence. An attempt at generality and clarity of language is a common trait.

Cosmogonies & mythologies.

Some examples:

  1. some religious texts
  2. Sturri's Edda
  3. Silmarillion
  4. Plutarch's Parallel Lives

Some religious texts are worldbuilding manuals in their own right. Their main purpose is to provide moral guidance and explanations as to core questions such as 'why are we here?', 'what are we meant to do?', 'what awaits us in the future?', 'what did the people that I should identify with do?'.

These types of texts are often indexed in an (approximatively) chronological order, sometimes grouped by author when they are the result of multiple contributions. One common trait is the anecdotal character of the content, often provided as a bridge from oral to written tradition. These texts tend to focus on the actions of specific individuals, or specific beings. The writing is often obscure, archaic, riddled with references to poems and to other main authorities.

Hobby

Worldbuilding SE is a great example. This is mostly a collection of 'what if', wihout any other purpose than satisfying one's desires for escapism or perhaps their intellectual curiosity. They tend to be less broad and comprehensive than the other categories, and often rougher as the result of one's own imagination rather than the collection of actual facts or the summary (or rephrasing) of a longstanding oral tradition.

A Q&A format would be an excellent format, although not as pleasing as trying to imitate the style of one of the categories above.

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