Constructed Worlds:What is conworlding?

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Sketch map of a section of Middle-earth in the fictional universe of J. R. R. Tolkien

Conworlding, also known as worldbuilding, is the process and art of constructing or creating a world (known as constructed worlds or conworlds for short). It involves the development and elaboration of how an imaginary world operates and works. This may include writing about the world's geography, history, culture, and ecology. More advanced constructed worlds may also explore complex systems such as politics, religion, and economics. There is an overlap between conworlding and speculative fiction, as some conworlds may be set in fantasy settings (with elements such as magic and fictitious races such as elves, orcs, or dwarves), while others may be set in science fiction settings (with elements such as advanced technology, alien species, and interstellar travel). Still others may be based on the real world or planet Earth, and may be constructed as an alternate reality or timeline (known as alternate history or althistory). A closely related, sister discipline known as conlanging (the process of creating a fictional language) is commonly employed in conworlding as well.

The scope and breadth of conworlding varies from author to author and conworld to conworld. Some conworlds may encompass entire planetary systems or galaxies at the cosmic scale, while others may be as limited as a single village or hamlet. Worldbuilding is prevalent in mass media franchises which create fictional settings for characters to live in and readers or viewers to explore. Fictional universes are closely related to conworlding and refer to self-consistent settings with their own events and internal logic separate from our own. To put it another way, conworlding produces fictional universes and fictional universes are created and expanded through the work of conworlding.

On the Constructed Worlds Wiki, the community recognizes two main classes of constructed worlds (which are further broken down into subcategories): a posteriori constructed worlds and a priori constructed workds. A posteriori constructed worlds are based on preexisting conditions and circumstances such as the real world (such as alternate history timelines or future history scenarios) or established fictional universes (such as from a popular media franchise). A priori constructed worlds are entirely original fictional universes which are not based on the real world (such as fantasy worlds and some science fiction worlds). It is important to note that realistic a priori constructed worlds (e.g. ones governed by the same natural laws as our own without any magic or fantasy elements) are still a priori even though they are "realistic" as long as they are not based within our own universe (or at least on Earth). In addition to realism-based worlds, fantasy worlds, and sci-fi worlds, there are also other genres of conworlds including: horror, utopian, dystopian, supernatural, superhero, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic. All of the aforementioned categories are not meant to be restrictive either as there have been, are, and will be conworlds which have multiple genres at once (such as science fantasy).

Overview[edit source]

Worldbuilding traces its origins in the literary works of fantasy authors such as George McDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lord Dunsany, Dorothy L. Salyers, and C. S. Lewis. Tolkien was especially erudite in the exploration of worldbuilding as he devoted a great deal of it in his writings. In his essay On Fairy Stories, Tolkien described the "Secondary World" or "Sub-Creation" as distinct from fictional settings found in theatrical plays. Unlike the settings found in other works, constructed worlds are not necessarily constrained by storytelling or narratives, as they may shift more towards describing aspects and details of the world in of itself.

Methods[edit source]

Conworlding is a creative writing process that seeks to establish, design, and develop a fictional world. Generally, writers may approach conworlding in either a top-down or bottom-up approach, or a combination of the two. Depending on one's preferences or vision, both methods have their pros and cons.

Top-down method[edit source]

The top-down method is generally the preferred route undertaken by conworlders. In the top-down method, one develops the main, overarching details of the constructed world. This may include overview information of the constructed world's geography, history, civilizations, peoples, climate, and politics. Other important topics that may be covered include culture, religion, and military. Emphasis is placed on creating the largest units of civilization such as empires, countries, and territories. Major cities and settlements may also be created. The top-down method is ideal for writers who want to create an expansive world that is diverse and large. Top-down constructed worlds, if written competently and extensively, have the potential to become well-integrated and immersive enough to warrant dozens, if not hundreds of articles in the wiki format. One of the major drawbacks of top-down conworlds however is the sheer scope and scale of such worlds. If the project is written by only a single author or a few authors, the project may feel overwhelming and daunting without focus or a goal-oriented structure.

In order for top-down conworlds to reach a level of detail appropriate for cohesive storytelling or roleplaying purposes, enough topics and aspects of the conworld must be developed and elaborated. A well-written, top-down conworld will have pages (or sections) of considerable length and depth for the world's major or most important civilizations, geographic features, languages, politics, and cultures. Once a top-down conworld has been developed enough, it is possible to write about the more specific, nebulous, or esoteric aspects of the conworld such as biographies of individuals, smaller settlements, or minor historical events.

Bottom-up method[edit source]

Elements[edit source]

Types[edit source]

See also[edit source]