I’ve always loved writing stories, but I also love working on the setting of my stories – even when it isn’t at all relevant to the plot!
Many people would say that this is a sign of failure as a writer. There are a plenty of books out there that tell you how to ‘world-build’, but they almost always say the same thing. Only build as much as you need. Don’t get carried away.
This always frustrated me. It felt as if the world I built didn’t matter, because only the story was important (and presumably, the story itself only had value if other people were willing to buy it!) These books told me that expressing my creativity purely through world-building (a thing I loved doing) was a waste of time.
Well, if you want to become a successful author, they have a point. How can you churn out bestsellers and make money if you’re busy creating an illustrated guide to the different types of tree in your fantasy world?
Anyway, I ignored this advice, which perhaps partly explains why I’ve failed as a professional author.
I’ve drawn maps and written histories of Udarissan kingdoms that my characters never even make reference to in the stories, let alone visit, simply because I want my world to feel complete. I even once created an illustrated guide to the jazhagria species of Askamar (I’ve yet to get around to an illustrated guide to trees, however!)
A few years back, I discovered a fascinating book called Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation by Mark J. P. Wolf, and I realized that there are many others like me – people who build worlds as an artistic creation in their own right.
Calling my hobby world-building never felt quite right, however. World-building is what authors do to create a setting for their stories. It serves a purpose, just like plot-building and character development.
It was only last autumn, when I was thinking about inventing some languages for my world, that I discovered what my hobby is actually called. I found that invented languages are called conlangs (from ‘constructed languages’). I then found that a constructed world – one built as an artistic project for its own sake – is called a conworld.
It seems that, when you’re a conworlder, you don’t build a world for the sake of your stories. You write a story to illustrate / expand upon your imagined world.
That’s exactly what I do!