Some Thought-Provoking Words On Worldbuilding In Fiction

I read this post on S F Signal, which links to this post on Warren Ellis’s website. Both are essential reading for writers. In the S F Signal post, China Mieville talks about worldbuilding and references the M John Harrison quote that Warren Ellis posted. I’m going to repost that quote here, because it stunned me and made me really stop and think. Go and read the S F Signal post, and then read the quote below. I might ruminate on this and post some more about worldbuilding later. It’s got my brain cogs a-turnin’.

M John Harrison On Worldbuilding

Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unnecessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically necessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.


This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.

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