Managing Complexity in Worldbuilding: Rankings

So the first three posts in this series laid out what I think are the main factors in worldbuilding. You could argue that geography is another (I guess I’d put that as part of “society”), or that distance from the contemporary even while an “expected” part of historical reality is yet another factor to be explained. But for simplicity’s sake, I’m sticking with the three factors of Magic, Species, and Society.

How do other worlds break down into these factors?

Huge disclaimer: This ranking system is fairly subjective, based sometimes on my limited experience with the source and also on my particular perception of it. Nuances abound, and certainly arguments could be made for different classifications. And there are a lot of random examples here, because I read and watch a lot of random things.

Rankings can fall between two groups, such as “medium-high,” if the boundary is too close to call, or if there are strong nuances. And remember that all three elements work together to illuminate and adjust for each other, so that a complex magic system probably requires a more complex society to use it.

Worldbuilding Rankings

Below the cut, how to use all this:

So you might ask yourself: what’s the point of all this ranking and classification? Especially if you disagree on the finer points of each designation, or even the point of designations at all.

I originally designed this system when I was struggling with why my worldbuilding clashed with my writing—basically, why showing my world to the reader was such a challenge. Ultimately, I realized that my world was incredibly complex in all factors, and this multiplication of complexity was making it impossible to explain. I set about creating new worlds that were simpler in at least one of the categories… but then I always came back to my original world because I just love it so much.

The point is that this is not about limiting yourself to one complex category or anything like that. Write whatever makes you happy, and enjoy (I certainly do; my world has gotten even crazier).

But what this can help with is understanding what you’re working with, and the related challenges that accompany it, as well as different strategies for imparting and using it. A low-complexity world is much easier for mainstream audiences to digest, and usually requires much less exposition overall since there’s just not as much to explain. That being said, you have to abide much more closely by “reality” and the rules of the world as we know it, since your readers will be expecting this to be the “real world.”

A high-complexity world is going to present some major hurdles to the readers at the start. If this is not what you want, then you probably need to adjust the complexity in at least one category—which is least interesting to you? But if you do want that complex world, then just be aware of how much information you either have to give your reader, or leave out. For example, my weakness is over-explaining the origin and context of things; readers don’t need to know the origin of an object or custom, or the details of a species’ lifespan or mating behavior, unless it is directly relevant to the scene at hand (or you’re layering in a Chekhov’s gun moment, but you’ve got to be subtle about it if it’s not going to scream ‘this will come back later!’).

Knowing how much exposition you have to give can help you make decisions as to which opening scenes to construct, how to introduce characters, and even what plot points to use. It may also be vital in deciding which kind of “world entry” you want to use; a “crossover” character who doesn’t know anything about this world will have to learn everything they need to know, and depending on the complexity of the world, that can be a lot of expository dialogue.

For me, this system is not about creating rules for worldbuilding or how to use it. I don’t believe in rules for writing and creativity. It’s just about understanding a little more about what you have, and it may be more helpful in creating worlds that fit exactly the tone and depth you’re looking for.

Or it might be a useless system of random classifications that could be argued into oblivion and ultimately mean nothing.

If it helps or interests you, awesome. If it doesn’t, ignore. 🙂


About J. Sevick

Just write.
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One Response to Managing Complexity in Worldbuilding: Rankings

  1. Pingback: The Normal Threshold | J. Sevick

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