The Case Against Worldbuilding

I’m on the fence about [ this article ] written by Lincoln Michel.

I totally agree that worldbuilding as a precursor to writing a One and Done, or a short-story, is ridiculous–but declaring worldbuilding as unnecessary and unessential is a bit much.

Michel believes this as well:

As a general rule, the longer we stay in a world, the more worldbuilding might be necessary.

Reading on though, it’s clear he has issues with worldbuilding, period.

I laud the piece as I think it will liberate speculative, sci-fi, and fantasy writers that struggle with ‘blueprinting a story’ from the rigors of additional detailing. He lost me though on his support of ‘worldconjuring’ over ‘worldbuilding.’ What confused me about his stance on allowing readers to take it to the next level in their minds instead of having writers explain it is that Michel bemoans when fans and readers do just that, in the guise of ‘Crazy Fan Theory’:

What he deems ‘worldconjuring.’

In contrast to “worldbuilding,” I’ll offer the term “worldconjuring.” Worldconjuring does not attempt to construct a scale model in the reader’s bedroom. Worldconjuring uses hints and literary magic to create the illusion of a world, with the reader working to fill in the gaps.

A common element he dislikes as a result of ‘worldbuilding.’

(…) That doesn’t satisfy fans, who instead create fan theories that “explain” and “fix” and “change the way we see” famous works. (…) The urge to “fix” or “explain” art is one we should always be suspect of…

I noticed that stories employing ‘world conjuring’ have readers, while stories created from ‘world building’ have fans. Ouch? 🙂

Michel’s summary point is interesting:

(…) do we need “worldbuilding” as a concept to explain why moral simplicity, characterization without nuance, or a lack of a tactile sense-of-place can be a problem?

Ultimately this is up to the reader (or the fan).

My take? I’ve written for enough Millenials to know that expecting them to fill in the gaps ain’t happening. Science-faction over science-fiction wins every time. (I digress).

Michel sees this also and laments:

Worldbuilding insists on a certain concept of supposedly logical “realism” that pretends it is the only way to see the world. 


I’m reminded of the old wankfests waged between fans of the Star Trek TOS and Star Trek TNG; too much science fact harshed the mellow of TOS fans, while TNG fans could never go back to the suspension of belief required to enjoy the TOS.


Worldbuilding isn’t a detriment because there’s a legion of READERS that enjoy fiction created from an established encyclopedia of info. Made for broadcast or no, fans are readers, and worldbuilding is a huge part of the reading experience for the readership; it’s why visual novels (fiction based on anime, manga, and tv/film) outsell straight up fiction in places like Japan.

The only point of Michel’s I support is that worldbuilding shouldn’t be touted as a necessary process for all writers; unfortunately, this piece spends more time bemoaning worldbuilding as a writing process. Worldbuilding is a form of creativity many of us writers engage in for ourselves and our readers; it’s as valid as any method enacted by writers that avoid it because their readers don’t need it.