You know great worldbuilding when you see it. Concepts and ideas mesh in a way you’ve never seen before, the conflict has an air of inevitability about it, nothing seems out of place, and everything makes sense. It clicks.

I’ll show you how you can achieve that effect in your stories by taking a single, rather mediocre, idea and turning it into a world worth telling stories about. All by digging deeper, and deeper, and deeper still, until you’re satisfied.

Please note that what follows, I left mostly unedited. It’s messy, but it allows you to follow a thinking process so you can compare it with your own.

Sci-Fi Worldbuilding From Scratch

You were doodling, when one of your doodles took on a shape of a spaceship, an obelisk with a big round hole at the base. You added a line that runs the length of the ship, making it effectively two halves, held together by… ooh a black hole!

Here’s the doodle in question:

So the ship doesn’t do too much, but you kind of like it. Now it’s time to take a shovel and start digging deeper.

First of all, is this a human spaceship, or some dead relict we found drifting through the big empty space between the stars? I like the latter option better.

Relicts of some super-advanced alien civilization that vanished without a trace is a cliche of the genre, so let’s turn it on its head. What if the ship is filled with dead aliens? Better yet, what if some of the crew survived? What if they’re locked in some conflict comprehensible only to them? An alien civilization waging war against their own kin onboard a monolithic spaceship. I love it. But what about a smaller scale conflict? What if there’s only a handful of blood-crazed aliens left? What if they’ve all gone mad?

I can practically see that messed up first contact scenario unfolding.

We can’t stop digging yet, that doodle needs to earn its keep.

A black hole, eh? What is its purpose? How did it get there? Is it a power source or some cool alien construction technique? A glue that holds both halves of the obelisk together. Why, tho? Maybe the ship was too big to construct anywhere near a gravity well (meaning in orbit), so the halves had to be constructed separately? That way the black hole could serve as both the source of power, artificial gravity, and the glue that holds the ship together.

Good, but that’s just technicalities. We need to go deeper.

Where would they get a black hole? Anyone can create one in the lab, but we’re talking about something massive. Where would they get the necessary matter?

What if this technology required collapsing one of their planets? Wicked. Is that why they created only one of these ships? To go out in space and harvest more matter? Oh, but what if they collapsed all of the planets in their home system to transition into a true spacefaring civilization?

Why would they do such a thing? Well, what if their sun was about to go nova anyway? These aliens were forced to abandon their home system. They had no other choice.

Why the war on-board though? (This gave me a solid 2-minute pause.)

Ooh! What if some of the aliens wanted to stay on their homeworld and perish with their star, but General Command insisted that their home had to be turned into a spaceship too in order to maximize the chances for survival of their species?

This ship that humans found, is all these aliens have left of their home planet. The war amongst the crew is the result of a mutiny gone bad.

The ship’s technology is, as is the custom, more advanced than anything we’ve seen before, meaning we need the help of the deeply conflicted alien crew to make sense of it all. Especially after we find out one such ship is headed towards the Solar System. How far will humanity go to disarm the threat? After all, we’re talking about an enemy capable of collapsing whole planets.

What remains of the alien crew is at our mercy, while our homes are at the mercy of some other offshoot of their kind.

An excellent premise for a story if I ever saw one, and a world that’s bound to test the mettle of your cast of characters. All from a single doodle, and owing to the fact we didn’t stop digging until we found something worth unearthing.

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