"Prompt: Applying Pareto's Principle To Worldbuilding." Midjourney. Feb. 14 2024.

While the Pareto Principle has been gaining steam on YouTube, I figured that I would apply such thinking to my worldbuilding methods. It turns out that I was already making use of this principle in my worldbuilding before I made the conscious connection between the two ideas.

Who Inspired Pareto Principle?

Pareto’s Principle was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who was born to an exiled noble Genoese family in France. Because his father was a hydrological engineer, he lived in a middle-class upbringing. As such, he would receive a top-quality education in France and Italy, eventually earning a degree in engineering from a university in Turin.

After briefly getting into politics, Pareto decided to change his reputation to that of an economist. In 1893, he would become appointed as a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

What Is Pareto Principle?

Pareto’s theory derives itself from his observation that 80% of the alluvial wealth is owned by the 20% of the population. Basically, this is an economic law of distribution. It applies to any field, with business being the prime example.

When Did Pareto Principle Form?

Please keep in mind that Pareto himself did not establish Pareto’s Principle that we know. More than three decades after Pareto published his findings, a Romanian economist Joseph M. Juran applied Pareto’s logic into distribution generally. From him, we actually get the Pareto Principle we are familiar with. It can be best encapsulated in the phrase “vital few; useful many.” Since that point, many YouTubers of the productivity genre have referenced Pareto’s Principle when it comes to studying and habits.

Where Can We Apply Pareto Principle?

If this principle could be applied to any field, then worldbuilding would be no exception. In fact, I am surprised that nobody is talking about the Pareto Principle in worldbuilding. Whether on YouTube or on the search engine, there is no discussion arising from the search query “pareto principle worldbuilding.”

How Would This Type Of Worldbuilding Work?

It would involve the usage of the Pareto Principle when it comes to actually creating the world. If 20% of the input should result in the 80% of the output, it would therefore be reasonable to use that 20% to make up the basic framework of the geography, the regions, the empires, the demographics, and bodies of water without additional effort.

Another way to use the Pareto Principle in worldbuilding is by Paretizing–for lack of a better word–the themes of the world, such as the economic, linguistic, or religious aspect of the world.

Why Should You Worldbuild Like This?

You would be replacing the tedious, old-fashioned methods of worldbuilding with more mechanistic ones. It might also alleviate–but not officially diagnose–Worldbuilder’s Disease, since you would already have a basic framework of your paracosm, so you would have no worry of constantly fixing or adding details.

My Personal Example

I have been experimenting with worldbuilding even before coming across the Pareto Principle. My inspiration came from this YouTube playlist of videos going back more than one decade.

  • decoder list: I use this when creating a new conlang. I type in the sounds from the English language and then I put the outputs of sounds of the new conlang. I would then “decode” the word into the translation. I find this easier than having to come up with new conlang words on the fly.
  • randomizer list on Google Sheets: I tried doing it on Microsoft Excel, but Google Sheets is far simpler. I use this whenever I have trouble with establishing the overall aesthetic of the world, I need to randomize the sounds chart of protolanguages, character templates, and to create this article by randomizing the one word questions. With this method, I was able to make the process of creating conlangs, characters, and the feel of the world without any mental drains.
  • shredded paper: I manage to cluster together shredded paper to make unique shapes, photograph them, and use Photoshop to create an abstract image. I then determine what the image looks like, and then I make that image represent the defining feature of the world.
  • tea leaves: use the jagged outlines of every cluster to form continents; with this method, you can create the beaches, islands, and continents without having to manually draw the coasts and borders of a small part of the world when the world itself is already set for me.

Which Method Is Most Suitable?

Any method that can use 20% of the input to result in 80% of the output is suitable. It can be anything when it comes to worldbuilding, whether it involves an individually coded program or some tinkering on Google Sheets. With the methods that I used from above, I have been able to create conlangs, unique characters, world aesthetics, world geography, defining features, and unique plots–or at least the basic foundations of them that the rest of the 80% will fill.

If I were to choose among my own methods, I would say that the randomizers are incredibly important. Think about it this way, you are working within a limitation, while also achieving unique juxtapositions. The direct inspiration for this comes from the Oulipo literary movement of France, which consisted of mathematicians and poets. They achieved experimental writing through the usage of math. In the case of poet Raymond Queneau, he managed to create the possibility of 100 trillion poems through 10 sonnets, with the idea being that each sonnet has 14 lines, all of which can be juxtaposed in many ways, thus achieving many possibilities for unique poems.

Would This Principle Revolutionize Worldbuilding?

There are probably worldbuilders who already use the Pareto Principle even if they never heard of it. The reality is that worldbuilders are very experimental and multidisciplinary in nature. It might pick up steam long after this article was written. I can never be sure.

What Would I Not Concede To?

Using the methods I referenced dogmatically. The reality is that those methods help a lot, but they can be limiting sometimes. They help me when I have a creative block, but they disadvantage me when they become repetitive and blatantly obvious.

But, I Would Agree With Some Dogma?

The only dogma that is a part of Ynkawenian worldbuilding has to do with the usage of the Pareto Principle. Without it, I would just be stuck in the same rut for years or even decades. It is dogma, but one that can be easily understood and followed.

When Did I Connect The Pareto Principle With Worldbuilding?

Early in February 2024, so around the time I started writing this article. As mentioned before, I had been experimenting with worldbuilding and was already familiar with the Pareto Principle. I made the connection, because I wanted to be clear that I was not taking shortcuts, rather filling in the gaps that a worldbuilder might miss. Those gaps would be filled through dispersal of a vital few features into a myriad useful features. There were people who already had this idea before Vilfredo Pareto was even born. An example is Musashi Miyamoto who, in Book of the Five Rings, described strategy as knowing 10,000 things from 1 thing.

As such, the Pareto Principle would give worldbuilding–at least my variant of worldbuilding–the mathematical, economic legitimacy that is in plain sight.

Who Would Benefit From Pareto Principle Worldbuilding?

The people who would definitely benefit from this type of worldbuilding would have to be professionals of any field, who have spent years working in that field. After becoming disillusioned, they turned to fantasy writing. There are plenty of examples of this, such as Mark Lawrence. All they would have to do is apply their ethos to the Pareto Principle and they would be able to effortlessly materialize a fictional world.

I will say that George R. R. Martin would definitely benefit from the Pareto Principle. Even a Planter writer such as him would benefit, since it would clear up a lot of inconsistencies. To be honest, I was already becoming disillusioned by the Song of Ice and Fire series before the television show outpaced the books. Martin has stated that he is not heavy on linguistics. I do think that Pareto Principle worldbuilding would expand the languages of Westeros and Essos beyond exotic-looking letters like “q” or “qh” and actually have a well-grounded body of language families.

Another group of people who would benefit would include young worldbuilders who continuously scrap their worldbuilding projects. They can always log the components of their past worldbuilding projects into the Pareto Principle where they can expand their experimental project into a world that can be materialized.

Which Field Would Be Important Along With The Pareto Principle?

If there was one thing I learned after reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, it’s that the book might either completely disenchant you or it could liberate you into thinking that everything in this world is explainable. The same should be said about numbers. Instead of numbers being tedious, we should view them as liberating. We know what to expect when we look at them, so we are no longer bound by the darkness of ignorance. Worldbuilders especially should note this, even if they are not STEM majors.

It also helps connect us to the real world. Think about the numbers of the real world below:

  • 7139 languages
  • 406 language families
  • 7 Continents
  • 1.5 Million Years of Human Evolution
  • 1.5 Million living animal species
  • 4 Billion years since the Earth was created
  • 102 Elements on the Periodic Table
  • 10,000 distinct religions around the world
  • 11,095 Volumes in the Yongle Encyclopedia of 8,000 texts in 370 million Mandarin characters

Now, incorporate those varying numbers into a fictional world:

  • 5000-8000 tongues
  • 300-500 tongue-tribes
  • 4-8 Greatlands
  • 1.5 Million Years since the First People
  • 1.5 Million living animal species
  • 1-4 Billion years since Dlrowomund was created
  • Around 100 Buildingblocks of Dlrowomund
  • 10,000 Hopefindings around the world
  • 8,000 Volumes in the Youngledge Encyclopedia in 370 million characters.

To the worldbuilder, this collection of numbers might either appear intimidating or a challenge worth undertaking. If they can figure out how to make use of the Pareto Principle, then these numbers will not be a problem for them.

Where In Dlrowomund Would You Even Start?

I would not think where in terms of location, rather in scope. I would want to do this before applying the Pareto Principle, since worldbuilding does require creative input which can be difficult to start with. I tend to be a top-down worldbuilder, meaning I focus on the larger details first before proceeding to the individual details. When it comes to all the other themes of the paracosm, I would also need to determine whether I want to start with the smaller details, or the larger details.

In my case, as far as I have done it, I rely on these modes of worldbuilding scope:

  • Biosphere: Top-To-Down
  • History: Down-To-Top
  • Language: Front-To-Back
  • World Geography: Top-Down
  • Architect/Planter: 75%/25%

Why Should I Follow This Logic?

I follow this logic because it is a much easier form of worldbuilding in my individual case. In the case of many other worldbuilders, they would probably have different distributions than mine. If I focus on one conlang, I am able to get a perspective on the multiple conlangs and proto-conlangs throughout the world. Just as well, if I am able to map out an entire world, I would not have to worry about interconnecting the various parts. While I spend more time developing the world than writing the story within it, I do so to an extent to where I can provide enough flexibility in case I need to make consistency changes.

This type of logic also helps me get started so I don’t feel overwhelmed before I even start. Order can grant you security in yourself so you can get things down without effort.

What Connects This Logic To The Pareto Principle?

This logic provides the basic framework before I can apply the Pareto Principle. In order to get the 20% input, it would have to rest within this framework. As such, if I can start with the world geography itself, I would be able to make use of the tea leaves that I mentioned before. In fact, every method I outlined using would be applied to the 20% input. They would then create this process where the 80% output would result.

This is what ultimately connects the vital inputs to the useful outputs.

In my case, I will go back to the intimidating numbers of Dlrowomund to discover the 20% input process:

  • 5000-8000 tongues
  • 300-500 tongue-tribes
  • 4-8 Greatlands
  • 1.5 Million Years since the First People
  • 1.5 Million living animal species
  • 1-4 Billion years since Dlrowomund was created
  • Around 100 Buildingblocks of Dlrowomund
  • 10,000 Hopefindings around the world

I will then outline them all in a chart as they pertain to the vital inputs:

Vital InputsIncremental BlockUseful Outputs
decoder systemrandom sounds5000-8000 Tongues
basic Nostratic proto-language
sound chart
Randomizing lists300-500 Tongue-Tribes
Tea leavesPhotoshop4-8 Greatlands
1.5 Million Years since the First People
(specifically migrations through the landmasses)
1.5 Million living animal species
(which locations would have animals with
more fibers or less fibers?)
1-4 Billion years since Dlrowomund was created
(what are the Tectonic shifts?)
Many notable cities (specifically with the
automatically included estuaries)
Many trade routes (whether at sea or on land)
Periodic TableWhat would the people in
Dlworomund call elements?
Around 100 Buildingblocks of Dlrowomund
Hellhound-esque Myth?10,000 Hopefindings around the world

What If Someone Does Not Want To Use The Pareto Principle?

Worldbuilding is not a high-stakes field, so I would not put it past anyone to not employ the Pareto Principle into their paracosm. However, if you want a fully realized world without hassle or Worldbuilder’s Disease, then the Pareto Principle would help you rethink worldbuilding as a whole, but also thinking about the real-world in general.

As I mentioned in the chart, the real-world theories about the origin of many religions and languages continue to percolate and evolve with time. It could very well be possible that all of the mythologies in the real-world about a dog that guards the afterlife could have a common origin, or that every language in the world has a common ancestor from the Wood Age. However, they are theories in this world, filled with uncertainty, while they can easily be used to generate many languages and religions in this world.

Any More Vital Input Examples From Real World History?

Perhaps the concept of the coffeehouse would be an example. It might not appear like it is a substantial topic to discuss, but you would be surprised to find that coffeehouses were once called penny universities in Restoration era England for a very good reason. It’s like this, everybody loves having a good cup of java, whether you want creams or just regular plant milk, whether you want regular Joe or an espresso shot. The commoners and nobility of both Europe and the Middle East were no exception to this.

The most vital parts of history, such as the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the stock exchange, the Royal Society, and Lloyd’s. There were also prominent writers who begun their start in coffeehouses, such as J. K. Rowling, Steven Erikson, J. R. R. Tolkien (somewhat, it was a pub where he and fellow writers shared poems), and the Oulipo literary movement.

Keep in mind that those concepts were not invented within a coffeehouse, rather they were traded and experimented with, as though the coffeehouse was an intellectual laboratory. Nonetheless, it should really make you think about how much contribution the coffeehouses have done for society. It would just as easily apply to your world as well.

How Can I Find More Vital Input Examples?

The unspoken goal of every worldbuilder is to be as well-read as possible, whether in history, geography, religion, or any other field. If you are well-read on any topic, especially history, then you would be able to find those vital inputs needed for your worldbuilding project. All of the vital inputs that I discovered came directly from research, either on my own time or through my undergraduate curriculum. I would not have been able to find those theories and connections that help shape our world already–much less one that would shape a fictional world.

I would best say that to find vital inputs for Pareto Principle worldbuilding is to be super-observant of information. Everything in this world has a lineage traceable to a common source. If you can understand that, then you can apply those common sources to the 20% input.


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