Worldbuilding – It begins with nothingness and becomes nothing

Notice: All articles under the worldbuilding will be ever evolving. What you're reading right now is an early version. There's always more to learn, and better ways to go about the design process are discovered.

In March 2017 I took part in a design workshop that changed the way I think about design. I could go on and write an entirely new blog post on great lessons from it, but for this blog, I’ll focus on two of the strongest aspects that I learned and I hold in my mind ever since.

I’ve touched one aspect in the “How to Design Almost Anything” post, that deals with how to design in a way, that we find pleasing. This post will deal with principles on the evolution of the reality you’re designing. Before there was anything, there were the rules. Your rules. And just before there were rules, there was a decision, that something should happen. You start with the decision.

It sounds a bit philosophical, but the process of developing an imaginary universe starts with a decision. The decision, that your universe should exist. Of course it should, so many stories are hidden in there! There are trees and animals and landscapes, and continents, and planets and star systems and … it just doesn’t end. Like our universe, and imagination, this new universe is full of possibilities. And only we can make this universe happen.

Now that you decided that your universe just started to take place, you realise, that the rules that work in our universe – or any other universe that might exist, or that has yet to exist – don’t need to work in your universe, hell, they don’t even matter. What are the rules? How gravity works? Time? Physics? All of these, and more. Truth be told, for most of us, sticking to the familiar pattern amongst these will be the default choice. For our consumers, those will be the best choices of digestion, too. However, it’s good to know that we can bend those rules to our needs. The tricky part is to stay true to them. After all there is one cardinal rule of the rules: Rules are not meant to be broken. They’re meant to be exploited. Whenever the rule gets broken, your universe starts to fall apart and that’s never a good thing. The rules hold your universe together, and when there’s a leak in reality, the universe starts to disappear, like a hole in the hull of a vessel. Be good to your vessel.

We learned now that the rules are important, but why? We, humans (probably majority of the species that will enjoy our universe), are much more delicate creatures, than what we want to believe. We don’t notice mistakes, not to a degree that we could point them out. But we do feel them. When we see a film with plot holes, most of us never say “it’s full of plot holes”, we just don’t like the film and we don’t know why. Many of those plot holes in the mainstream media are a direct consequence of design flaws.

Making a universe is an extensive process that results in extensive list of rules and consequences. We’re making an evolution two-fold. One is the evolution of our universe (through our imagination) and evolution that happens within our universe. If that is the case, it would be very helpful to write down the process we’re essentially following.

  1. – Strategy
  2. – Development
  3. – Design
  4. – Definition
  5. – Presentation

We could say there’s another bullet point: 0 – Initiation. These are basically the steps we already undertook to this point: the decision, that we’re going to do it, that we will respect our process and that we are, in fact, in service of our project. Now that we pledged our sword and our shield – I mean, our pen and paper – to the project, let’s see what each of the phases represent.


The purpose of the Strategy is to lay the foundation for the rest of the process. We will be eager to start thinking up the planets, creatures and nature, for these are the more “interesting” things to both think about and look at. We can do that, but the results will be much more rewarding, fresh, and coherent, if we first produce ourselves a strategy. We will make the strategy based on any pre-existing matters, we will design a framework for the universe and develop the logic on top of it.


When we are finished with the strategy, we’re ready to develop some of the backbone of our universe. That means we will define certain modifiers that hold true for each order of magnitude within our project. Those will vary, depending on where we will look. There will be circumstances on each of the habitats, for example, that we will set. There will be building blocks we will use throughout the development. We will think up the features and functions for each element we will provide.


Our idea is slowly, but firmly taking shape now. We could say that if everything was hypothetical to this point, now it’s becoming incarnated. We’ve breathed the life in our world. We’ve kept all the good ideas behind the floodgates to this point, for the purpose of keeping our options open. The features we’ve thought up will now manifest. We will evolve the results and we will repeatedly call back to the previous phases to make sure our ideas are true to the development and strategy.


The universe is getting populated. There’s a plethora of option we can choose from and we can’t decide where to go next. This gets cleared up in this phase. The definition is making a mess and then clearing it up. When we do this for long enough, good option will appear. We will combine them into the best possible manifestation of them, and to it all over again. The process we’re using now is the next step of design – knowing that there are plenty of good options to chose from, but only keeping the right ones.


We could be stuck in the loop forever, making up better material, but we have to wrap it up. The biggest enemy to our progress is sticking through and finishing our work. There are some final decisions to be made. In this phase, we refine the idea and review it, to see everything is coherent and consistent. We make sure that our presentation level is made to a standard that everyone can consume and enjoy.

If we managed to power through all those phases, we’ve ended up with something truly magical. We gave birth to a wonderful new universe, full of life and stories. What’s even more magical than this is, that we can share it with the world.

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