World-Building: A Minimalist Approach

By Angela Dell’Isola

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By a virtual show of hands: when I say “world-building,” how many of you immediately think of Tolkien? Or George R.R. Martin? J.K. Rowling?

The term tends to be heavily linked to fantasy and science fiction, because it often implies building something from scratch: producing maps; coining new words, phrases, or languages (back to you, Tolkien!); and constructing full-fledged structures for the governments, economies, and social frameworks of their alternate realities.

This is one approach to world-building, and it’s yielded some pretty fantastic (see what I did there?) results. But is it the only approach? I don’t think so, and it’s not exclusive to fantasy and science fiction. World-building can be an important tool across all shelves, and it doesn’t need to be a 20,000-league dive. Cue “minimalist world-building.” It sounds like a total oxymoron, I know. Continue reading