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  • Writer's pictureDanny McKeever

The Art of Worldbuilding: Hard vs. Soft Approaches and Finding Your Perfect Balance


-Midjourney - The Art of Worldbuilding: Hard vs. Soft Approaches and Finding Your Perfect Balance
-Midjourney: The Art of Worldbuilding: Hard vs. Soft Approaches and Finding Your Perfect Balance

When it comes to creating fictional worlds, authors and storytellers can find themselves in a vast and sometimes overwhelming creative space. There are two major approaches to worldbuilding: hard and soft. Hard worldbuilding emphasizes plausibility and detail, while soft worldbuilding prioritizes feel and aesthetic. But how do you know which approach is right for you? In this blog post, we'll explore the pros and cons of hard and soft worldbuilding, and discover how you can strike the perfect balance to create an immersive and engaging experience for your readers.


-Tim Hickson and Ellie Gordon


Hard Worldbuilding: The Path of Detail and Plausibility

If you're the kind of storyteller who thrives on intricate details, hard worldbuilding might be the perfect fit for you. This approach demands a significant investment of time and effort but can result in a rich and believable world.


Pros:

  1. Plausibility: A well-crafted hard worldbuilding approach can create a sense of realism and immersion that draws readers in, making them feel as if they're actually part of the world.

  2. Depth: Hard worldbuilding allows you to develop intricate histories, political systems, and cultures, creating a multi-layered narrative that can keep readers engaged.

  3. Inspirational Lineage: By choosing hard worldbuilding, you'll find yourself in the esteemed company of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and Brandon Sanderson, who have built incredibly detailed and plausible worlds.

Cons:

  1. Time-consuming: Hard worldbuilding requires a significant amount of research and planning, which can be overwhelming and take years to complete.

  2. Risk of Overloading: With so much detail, it can be tempting to include everything in your story. This can lead to a dense narrative that may overwhelm or bore readers.


Soft Worldbuilding: Embracing Feel and Aesthetic

If you're more interested in controlling the overall feel and atmosphere of your world, soft worldbuilding could be the right choice. This approach focuses on creating an evocative aesthetic, sometimes at the expense of plausibility.


Pros:

  1. Flexibility: Soft worldbuilding allows you to focus on the elements that matter most to you, resulting in a world that's tailored to your story and characters.

  2. Creative Freedom: This approach enables you to create fantastical settings without being constrained by the need for complete plausibility, opening up a world of imaginative possibilities.

  3. Impressive Peers: By opting for soft worldbuilding, you'll be joining the ranks of esteemed creators like C.S. Lewis, Hayao Miyazaki, and J.K. Rowling, who have crafted unforgettable worlds with unique aesthetics.

Cons:

  1. Sacrificing Plausibility: Soft worldbuilding can sometimes lead to inconsistencies and implausible elements, which may disrupt the immersion for some readers.

  2. Lack of Depth: By prioritizing feel and aesthetic over detail, your world may lack the depth and complexity that some readers crave.


The Perfect Balance: Middle-Way Worldbuilding

My preferred method is the middle way worldbuilding. In the video above they discuss how soft world building allows the readers to immerse themselves into the world by providing atmospheres and surroundings that powerful and unique that they do not need to follow an organized set of rules or really even need to make sense. Soft world building is about developing the experiential consistency where it is all about developing emotional, phycological or thematic experiences to enable the readers to feel apart of that world. The good news with D&D is that we have been doing that for years. D&D is about immersing you players into the story and in some cases, making them the core of the story.


This is why I like the middle way of Worldbuilding for D&D campaigns. You can set your story arcs at a high level and then fold your characters backstories into those arcs. Or you can do it in reverse, and create your characters backstories first and then build from them the global arcs. Either way, it allows the players to be apart of the story which is the end goal of the game. To allow for the player character to develop their characters how they want to develop them by aligning to their archetype. I talk a lot about how I think about it here, Identifying Global Arcs. From there I can take those arcs down to the regional level that will impact the characters. Middle-way worldbuilding is a balanced approach to creating fictional universes. It requires authors to develop a comprehensive understanding of their world, much like hard worldbuilding, while carefully choosing what information to share with their audience, akin to soft worldbuilding.


Advantages of Middle-Way Worldbuilding:

  1. Wider Appeal: By combining the depth and plausibility of hard worldbuilding with the evocative aesthetic of soft worldbuilding, the middle-way approach can cater to a broader range of readers. It gives the GM more flexibility to address the different player archetypes.

  2. Flexibility: This method allows you to strike a balance between detail and feel, providing a rich and immersive experience without overwhelming your audience with information.

  3. Dynamic Storytelling: Middle-way worldbuilding enables authors to reveal their world gradually, allowing readers to discover its intricacies over time and maintaining a sense of wonder and exploration throughout the story.

Tips for Successful Middle-Way Worldbuilding

  1. Develop a Comprehensive World: Like hard worldbuilding, invest time in creating a detailed and well-thought-out world. Consider its history, politics, geography, culture, and more.

  2. Focus on the Essentials: Be selective in what information you present to your audience. Share only the most relevant details that enhance your story and characters, while keeping the rest in reserve.

  3. Show, Don't Tell: Rely on your characters' experiences and interactions to reveal your world to your readers. This allows for a more organic and engaging storytelling experience.

  4. Maintain Consistency: Ensure that your world's rules and systems are consistent throughout your story. This will help maintain the sense of plausibility and immersion for your readers.

  5. Keep the Mystery Alive: Allow your audience to uncover the secrets of your world gradually, creating a sense of wonder and discovery that keeps them engaged and eager for more.

Worldbuilding is an art form, and whether you choose hard, soft, or a blend of both approaches, the most important aspect is to create a world that serves your story and resonates with your readers.


The middle-way worldbuilding approach offers a powerful blend of detail and aesthetic, creating an immersive and captivating experience for your readers. By developing a rich and intricate world while carefully curating the information you share, you can craft a unique and engaging fictional universe that resonates with a wide audience. So, take inspiration from authors like Neil Gaiman and embark on the rewarding journey of middle-way worldbuilding, where you can have your cake and eat it, too!

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