Unique is Easier and Harder Than You Think

Let’s talk about worldbuilding. It’s one of the most crucial elements of any successful story, and don’t think you get out of it if you happen to be writing a story set in contemporary times and places. (Oh no. In some ways, it’s even harder for you, but I digress.) For the purpose of this post, I’m focusing more on the worldbuilding that happens before you even start drafting the story; what you do during the brainstorming process. I suppose we could call it worldstorming, but that sounds like a bad disaster movie starring David Hasselhoff and Tara Reid.

Actually, let’s stick with worldstorming. I’ve convinced myself.

Worldstorming defines the backbone of any creation. Hours spent in this process will provide the fundamental laws the world follows, the culture and development of its people, the ways the characters mesh and fit into those elements, and all the little unsaid things that facilitate the plot’s development. Why do hobbits prefer to avoid adventure (minus, of course, those of Took descent)? Why is there a lamppost within the wardrobe?  Why is Data emotionless?


Given the importance of worldstorming, it never surprises me when I see it go awry. When acting with the nigh-omnipotence of a storyteller, the intoxication of the process can lead to a few common mistakes like, for example, magpieing.

(We can argue about whether or not that’s a word later.)

When I first started writing novels, I sunk deep into the waters of world creation and began pulling together all of my favorite elements of all of my favorite stories. This was incredibly fun until, six months later, having gotten distracted by classes (these were high school days), I returned to the story and realized that I had created a Frankenstein’s monster of a world. It took zero effort to see where I had pulled each element from and, frankly, they didn’t work together well.

I had been writing stories and, especially, poems for many years at that point, but it wasn’t until I really got into worldstorming that I ran face-first into the challenge of being unique.

Every artist has sources of inspiration. We make references, allusions, and homages all the time. It’s an age-old practice. The problem is when those references essentially are the story. If you are inspired by the beat or world element of another creator, don’t just use that same beat. Take it, churn it through your brain, and make it entirely your own with unique twists and turns that fundamentally alter what inspired you.

If you can’t find the way to do that, then set aside that element or story until you do. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on others’ ideas to move your plots forward. Trust high school me’s experience: it doesn’t work well. I did go back to that story, strip out all of the derivative content, and start over anew. It actually became the first novel I finished drafting. I merely needed the time and thought to create my own twist on common themes.

The beautiful part of worldbuilding (or storming) is that it grows as you do. The more you use your creativity, the more stories you try to tell, the better you get at them. To paraphrase Bob Ross: “It’s your world. You’re the creator. Find freedom on the [page].” Take the time you need to craft a world you can be proud of.

A place where you can be free to tell whatever stories move you.

We’ll have more posts about Worldbuilding in the near future, so please stay tuned!

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