During the initial phase of the worldbuilding process, it is very common to start brainstorming and coming up with a bunch of ideas that you want to add to your world. After all, as a worldbuilder you’re really creative and imaginative! Other times these ideas can pile up gradually as you worldbuild and get inspired. This mess of ideas is often called “kitchen sink”—is it good, or something you should avoid? We sat down with Peter Chiykowski, to discuss more about this phenomenon!

Listen to the interview on Spotify or Youtube!

What is Kitchen Sink Worldbuilding?

Let’s first talk more about what this term refers to. Fantasy kitchen sink worldbuilding is the first phase of worldbuilding, where you don’t say no to any ideas that you like. So you end up throwing all of them to the sink—even if you still don’t know how everything fits. Rather than worldbuilding, it’s like stocking your world with ingredients you can use later. Instead of having one or two main things in your world, you have everything.

Peter gave us a couple of examples to understand it better: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as Doctor Who, are prime examples that do it right. The diversity and breadth of the universe is a distinctive theme in both of these stories, and something they embrace. Kitchen sink worldbuilding tends to happen a lot with multi-writer projects, like Doctor Who, and shared universes, like the superhero genre. Speaking of which…

Monster of the week-style stories, much like the superhero genre, tend to be kitchen sink too. Gulliver’s Travels is a great example of this! It’s a journey with a lot of different bizarre shenanigans. The only purpose is being bizarre. In these cases, you’re not trying to present a cohesive setting. You’re trying to present a new thing every week/episode. Another example is One Piece: every time there’s a new thing, it tries to make sure it makes sense retroactively too. And there are new things introduced constantly. But because there’s a single creator behind it, he can get away with it.

We also see kitchen sink fantasy happen a lot with published campaign settings as well, like Forgotten Realms (D&D) or Golarion (Pathfinder). Their goal is for players to have fun—but everyone has different ways to have fun. So this diversity is an important part of the setting. This way you can jump genres within the same world!

Is a fantasy kitchen sink good or bad?

A kitchen sink is a tool, appropriate in some contexts while not in others. As a process, the part where you “stock your world with ingredients”, is great. However, you would never just serve the ingredients to someone as a meal. You need to decide which exact ingredients you will use and how. If you can manage to have a consistent theme and mood in your story, you’ll have succeeded with your kitchen sink. Terry Pratchett is a great example of that. His world has all sorts of wildly different stuff. However, the theme and mood of each area are clearly defined so you never feel lost.

It can also be great as an improvisation tool! If you’re GMing and your players go somewhere you didn’t prepare for, you can draw from the kitchen sink for ideas. Be careful about what you pull out from the kitchen sink though—try to stay consistent with your lore!

The dangers of fantasy kitchen sinks

While kitchen sinks can be a good thing, you should always make sure it’s done right. Think of it as making a “contract” with your readers or players. If you don’t intend to be consistent with your world, make sure your audience is aware of it from the very beginning.

If you’re not careful with a kitchen sink fantasy world, your setting could end up wider rather than deeper. The more things you introduce, the less meaningful they will be. The world may seem more superficial as a whole. This can evoke the feeling that things only happen when the main character is there, which weakens the setting.

Another danger of kitchen sinks is that actions can stop having consequences. What happens in the next episode is decided by the writers, not by the characters. Since you never know what will come next, this lowers the stakes of the world. And this can make for very episodic storytelling. Which can work depending on the project—definitely something to keep in mind!

How to avoid and fix kitchen sink worlds

It can be quite tricky to resist the urge to kitchen sink, but there are ways to avoid it… if you want to! As you introduce new elements, think of how they tie into what you already have and keep everything inter-connected. You can have multiple projects, so you can fit different ideas into their proper places rather than forcing them into a world they don’t belong to. Have a document or place to save ideas that don’t quite fit. Then, when you can’t find ideas, go to that document and something will click.

But perhaps you already have a kitchen sink world in your hands. Here are some things you could do.

  • Make an inventory by pulling everything out and reviewing what you’ve worldbuilt for your setting.
  • Cut redundancies. If you have many examples of a single concept, consider removing all of them except one. For example, if you have five taverns that are places for your players to socialize and get quests, remove four of them.
  • Make an inventory of connections. If something can be connected to three other elements, then it’s a solid part of the world—even if it’s a background detail. There are things that might not be very connected but could still stay if they are set up for future plots. If your players or readers haven’t seen something, you can remove or change it! Remember, things aren’t canon until they’re published!

Listen to the full interview!

Want to learn more about kitchen sink fantasy worldbuilding and how to make it work? Check out the full interview on YouTube and Spotify!

Who is Peter Chiykowski?

Peter Chiykowski (he/him) is the creator of the award-winning webcomic Rock Paper Cynic, the crowdfunding sensation The Story Engine Deck of writing prompts, and six books of comics and short stories.

He has twice won the Aurora Award for “Best Graphic Novel” from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. His fiction, game writing, and poetry have appeared in the award-winning tabletop RPG EMBERWIND, the video game FRACTER (nominated for the IMGA Best Mobile Game Award, SXSW Game’s Voice Award), and publications like Best Canadian Poetry, Best Canadian Speculative Writing, Globe & Mail, Asimov’s Science Fiction and more. Check out his website!

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