Tag Archives: secondary worlds

Writing Appealing Action and Wondrous Worldbuilding

How I Layer Worldbuilding Within Action

Over the last few days, some friends in an online writing group and I have been discussing worldbuilding in our writing. Long time readers will know that worldbuilding is something of a passion for me and my own worldbuilding in The Bell Forging Cycle often draws compliments. So whenever there is an opportunity to chat about creating and exploring secondary worlds I’ll gladly join in.

One question came up and I thought it was interesting: can a writer maintain the breakneck pace of an action story and still worldbuild? As a writer who has written three action-oriented novels, I believe the answer is yes. I figured a quick post would be the perfect way to go a step further and explain how I maintain pace and still write a plot-forward scene that expands a world. Show don’t tell, right? To demonstrate I threw together a quick scene, you can read it in all of its trope-filled glory below.


My opponent was Ver, a kudär, one of the desert dwellers. He wore the leathers of a Stalwart, cut from the backs of the enormous lizards that reside deep in the shifting dunes. His was a caste accustomed to war, violence, and bloody hand-to-hand fighting. That didn’t bode well.

Ver beat his chest and threw a handful of dust in the air above his tattooed head. Around us, the crowd chanted, “VER! VER! VER!” in a steady throbbing rhythm.

I rolled my neck; feeling it pop, and shook my arms to keep them loose. I wondered if I looked nervous. A damned kudär, here, of all places. They tended to stick to the fringes, away from population centers. Kudär didn’t usually fight in sanctioned matches. I’d need to change strategies; perhaps I could—

The gong thummed, cutting off my thoughts. No time.

“Fight!”


So, let’s break it down. Here’s what I am doing in that tiny 143-word scene to expand the worldbuilding without interrupting the pace.

  • I’m establishing the action immediately. A fight is about to go down. Just calling out an opponent introduces the tension. The pace is set, let’s keep it up.
  • Relevance matters. Don’t throw in random details that don’t serve the scene. Keep your reader focused on what is happening in the moment.
  • I begin to hint at some interesting stuff without getting bogged down in details. Everything is focused on the fight and then rolls from there. This is key. As my friend Jim has said, think of worldbuilding as a spice. Like any good chef, you don’t want to over season. Give just enough to enliven the imagination without derailing. Should any of these ideas become critical to the plot, they can get revisited. But for now, keep them lean, so the action keeps moving. But there’s a lot there, consider:
    • The kudär. Who are apparently some sort of desert people?
    • They hunt giant lizards for leather.
    • Apparently, the kudär people operate under some kind of caste system.
    • Ver is a “Stalwart, ” and apparently that means he’s accustomed to fighting.
    • The kudär tend to avoid population centers. It’s rare to see one. Our narrator is surprised, this changes his strategy.
    • This match is somehow “sanctioned.” Which opens up a lot of questions. By whom? Why? What for?
  • I also threw in some personal rituals. Ver slaps his chest and throws dust like Lebron. I find little details like these important. Readers like personal connections. I feel like they go further in establishing character than most writers realize. Everyone has nervous tics or habitual fidgets. Play ’em up.

Seasoning worldbuilding elements throughout your story can help to expand the world. And you can do insert them anywhere. The trick is to layer in your deeper world, while you avoid reveling in it unless necessary. Reveling in detail is often where one finds the dreaded info dump. Remember: in the end, all things must serve the plot.

How about you? How do you enhance worldbuilding in your own work? What tricks do you use? Leave a comment and let us know!


Interested in my other articles on worldbuilding? Check out any of the links below.


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Middle Earth and The Perils of Worldbuilding

Middle Earth And The Perils Of Worldbuilding

I’ve long been a fan of Evan Puschak’s YouTube channel, The Nerd Writer. I like to be challenged, and I appreciate his scholarly approach to all manner of topics. So when I saw he did his most recent episode on world building—something near and dear to my own heart—I knew it’d be something I shared. Give it a watch below:

The comments on the video are really good (yeah, I know!) and I recommend reading some of the discussion happening over on YouTube. Also, I highly encourage you to read M. John Harrison’s essay on worldbuilding as it serves as a basis for a lot of Pucschak’s argument.

So, what do you think? Is world building the “the great clomping foot of nerdism” as Harrison alleges? Do you agree with Puschak’s assessment; is world building potentially dangerous? Or do you have a different take? Leave a comment below, or, better yet, join in the discussion on YouTube →