The World of “What If”

What if there were dragons? What if there weren’t dragons?

I was having a rather in depth conversation the other day regarding worldbuilding. In the short space of one hour, an entire world had been created, backstories for the character filled out, and a small movie adaptation was already being brainstormed.

One reason I am drawn to fantasy writing is because of the worldbuilding. You get to ask ‘what if’ to every single aspect of your world and then just run from there. What if there were dragons? What if they’re weren’t dragons. What if Character X had a superpower that was totally useless? What if there was some electricity monster that hunted down people while they slept?

Okay, so the final one sounds like something out of a Doctor Who episode, but the crazier the idea the better. Crazy breeds ingenuity, because then I have to sit down and work out how an electricity monster would be able to retain its consciousness whilst travelling down the National Grid. And how my main character could kill such a monster and save the day. And if my main character was permanently terrified of all technology and could only use a Nokia 3310?

The problem with loving to build worlds is that is all I practise. I am good at making up a new world and throwing the characters into a particular scene in that world. However, my problem is I end up with a huge world building document that has zero plot and nothing going on.

One of my writing heroes, Brandon Sanderson (go check out his books if you love fantasy, I could write another post on how awesome this guy is at writing), has a youtube channel where he has videoed his writing classes for the whole interwebs to view. One aspect that stood out for me was when he discussed the conflict of the story.

Every story runs on conflict. Without it, you have a pile of exposition and a lot of characters talking to one another with nothing happening. The idea was to place the characters in a place of conflict in that world, and focus upon their interaction with that conflict. The worldbuilding at this point drifts into the background, until you want to drip feed some thematic description or place a huge metaphorical concrete wall in front of your character just to see what they do.

Worldbuilding is important to give your story a different selling point, something that makes it unique to all the other stories in the genre. In fantasy, the worldbuilding is what defines it from Science Fiction, or other specific genres. However, it is not everything to the story, it is the characters and their relationship to the main conflict which makes the meat of the story.

Still, it’s fun to ask ‘what if’, even if it justifies hours looking up on Wikipedia for some niche knowledge on the evolution of plants.


Alex.J.Cobalt is a fantasy writer from the UK. When she’s not working away at her fantasy novel series, she posts free flash fictions on her website, along with regular blogs about writing.


Photo Credit: David Marcu on Unsplash

First posted in 2016


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