Features and Columns · Movies

The Difference Between Hard and Soft Worldbuilding

From deeply detailed worlds to imaginative gaps, here’s a video that looks at how filmmakers construct different kinds of narrative depth.
Hard And Soft Worldbuilding
By  · Published on April 7th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the difference between hard and soft worldbuilding.

You might be unfamiliar with the terms “hard worldbuilding” and “soft worldbuilding.” But there’s a very good chance that you do, in fact, know the details of their difference. You’ve likely seen examples of each and simply need to connect the dots to bring the definitions into focus.

There’s a greater chance you’ve heard of “hard science fiction,” which describes a category within the genre chiefly concerned with logic, rules, and scientific accuracy. Think: the eugenics in Gattaca, the potato-growing in The Martian, or the way time accelerates in Interstellar.

Soft science fiction,” on the other hand, cares less about plausibility and more about engaging viewers through character, culture, and relationships. Frankenstein, for instance, is less interested in the specificities of re-animation than the consequences of violating the natural order of things.

This is, effectively, also the difference between hard worldbuilding and soft worldbuilding. The former crafts immersion through concrete, consistent rules. The latter operates independently of logic, with flexibility and fantasy. It is, as the video essay below explains, a difference between explicit and imagined depth. And neither approach is better or worse than the other, merely different.

Watch “Hard Worldbuilding vs. Soft Worldbuilding | A Study of Studio Ghibli“:

Who made this?

This video essay is by Tim Hickson, the New Zealand-based creator of  Hello Future Me. It was co-written by Ellie Gordon. Hickson has quite literally written the book on worldbuilding, the subject of the above video. Hickson’s book is on Amazon (though we’d encourage you to seek out a local retailer, if possible), here. You can follow Hickson on Twitter, here. And you can subscribe to Hello Future Me, here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).