Today we’re talking about World Building. That elusive, beautiful, wonderful, sometimes distracting piece of your story that is absolutely necessary.
The motivation for this week’s post is that I am currently in the middle of this phase myself. I find myself distracted, imagining places locations and buildings. Villages, towns, and clothing. I bump into random objects and my Husband constantly asks “Are you listening to me?” Uhm, no, sorry, I was thinking about (insert my fictional world here).
This is a problem. And one I’m sure I am not the only one to experience. Not all stories require extensive world building, but some, some require an entire universe, planet, continents, and places. Which is where I fall into on this spectrum. For my current work in progress I have to come up with an entire fictional world, customs, cultures, and people. I have gone down the rabbit hole.
So, here are some tips so you don’t fall into the same traps I have found myself blindly walking into, when building your fictional world.
World Building, and What NOT to do:
- Wing it.
Just start writing, not knowing anything about your world, its inhabitants, beliefs, and history. Yeah, don’t do this. I did at first. I had my main character, my antagonist, and a few supporting characters and just started writing. The problem I kept hitting was, “Wait, why do they believe that?”, “Why did they just do this thing?”, “Why did those villagers just think that sort of thing was normal?” All questions that could have been avoided and my writing smoother had I done some world building to begin with.
- Spend all your time drawing your maps.
Draw the world itself, then each city, town, village, kingdom. Then road maps for each. Yeah, again, another trap I fell into. Look, I love maps. I love maps with every fantasy novel. It helps me really visualize travel time and layout. But don’t think this is absolutely necessary before you start. It’s perfectly acceptable to draw a rough map that contains your major places, if it helps you. But don’t think you need to have mas so detailed that you’re actually stalling your writing.
- Freak out. Breathe. Freak out again.
So you’ve started your world building and you are finding the more research and world building you do the more your original story changes. And you subsequently, freak out and trash all the world building you did. Ok, I can admit I did this. More than once. But really, I shouldn’t have.
While I was world building, laying out the history and the culture, I found that my original story line would not have fit into this world. But, it did give me another ide for the story. I did freak out, as I was very attached to my original story line, but I continued. I loved the world more than the story in the end. So don’t freak out. Create a story that will fit in the world you just created. It will be better.
- Tumble through the rabbit hole that is culture research.
You want your story to make sense, so you research hundreds, thousands of different cultures over the span of a few decades to mix and match to fit in your world. You create an answer for everything, anything that could happen has an explanation as to why. And before you know it, it’s been a year and you haven’t moved past this point.
I get it. I really do. I want my inhabitants and cultures to make sense for my world. I don’t want them to stick out as out of place or not believable. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect. Accept that now. A few different cultures, histories, is all you need. You don’t need a history and culture for the farm boy two towns over that has one line in passing when your main character stops for an apple. Really, you don’t. Don’t get sucked in.
- Focus all your time and energy on your main location, ignore all others.
Of course you want your main location to be rich and detailed. You want to know all about it and you want your readers to know everything there is to know about it. To the detriment that you ignore all the other locations that your character’s travel to. (Obviously, if your story only takes place in one location and they never go anywhere else, ignore this.)
This leaves all your other locations flat and disposable. Your readers will notice this. They will notice all the detail in one and the incredible lack of said detail in other locations. Don’t focus all your time and energy on one location only. You are world building, not just location building.
So there you have it. What not to do when world building. I am also including some links to incredibly helpful world building posts, and what you SHOULD be doing. All of which have helped me.
SFWA – That site is so comprehensive, and if you write Fantasy or SciFi, you should definitely be reading it.
Writers Edit – The Ultimate Guide to World Building
Arcadia – While this is for D&D, it has a great checklist for world building.