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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Worldbuilding: The Most Epic DIY You Will Ever Do (Part 1)

Let's say you're writing a book.  A book that doesn't take place in our own, modern world.  A book set in either a made-up land, a future version of Earth, or an alternate version of Earth.  To do this, you're going to have to create (or recreate) an entire world.

That's right.  The whole entire world.

You need to know everything about it.  You need to know what kind of government your fictional place has, what they eat, how they celebrate birthdays.  You need to know everything from how their seasons work to how they conduct funerals and what kind of folklore they have and how they greet each other and how they name children and what their life expectancy is and if there's a magic system and what the landscape looks like and what kind of technology they have and what kind of jobs people do and what currency they use.  And on and on.

You need to build an entire world from scratch.  That, my friends, is what we call worldbuilding

So forget all those other do-it-yourselves on Pinterest.  Forget crocheting blankets and bookmark-making and whatever you do with mason jars.  All of that pales in comparison to worldbuilding, which is officially the most impressive, epic, large-scale DIY that exists.

The thing about worldbuilding is that it's a tip-of-the-iceberg thing.  You want to have an intimate knowledge of your world.  You want to know it inside and out.  In a sense, you need to be God for your own little corner of the fictionverse.  And yet, not every detail will be incorporated into your story.  Not every detail should be incorporated into your story, and that's okay.  We don't need to know everything.  But the more you know about your setting, the more you'll be able to use these bits and pieces of knowledge to bring it to life.

I'm about to tell you how to create an entire world and everything about it from the ground up (pun kind-of-not-really intended).  But first, recognize this: you may not have to do all this worldbuilding.  Maybe you're a build-as-you-go kind of writer, which I respect but don't really understand.  Some things might be totally irrelevant to your story, and you might not need to know them.  However, the more aspects of your world that you plan and design, the more you'll be able to make the setting come alive.  There's no required amount of worldbuilding that's needed to make an awesome setting, but I'd recommend that you err on the side of over-planning.

The first step is to lay down the basis for your world.  Is it a fantasy world?  Another planet?  Another version of our own world?  Note: from here on, I'll be talking about worldbuilding as if we're creating an entirely new world from scratch.  If you're creating a future version or alternate version of our own world, some of these steps will already be done for you.  For example, you won't have to figure out how the lay of the land looks.

Where was Gondor when I tried to create an entire world from nothing?

I highly recommend drawing a map (or maps) of your world.  I drew a map of the fictional kingdom I created for my past novel.  The map doesn't have to be artistic (mine wasn't *cringes*)--it just has to show what the land looks like.  All I did for my map was outline the country, draw some rough "mountains" (okay fine, they were just triangles), add some trees to indicate forests, and added a dot for each major city or landmark.  You might also want a map or diagram, at some point, of any important building or city, just to keep things straight in your head while writing.

Mapmaking links:
Drawing a Fantasy Map For Your Short Story or Novel
Mapmaking for Fantasy Authors
The Four Secrets of Fantasy Map Making (This one is by far my favorite.  It's geared toward people who can't draw, and it made me laugh.)

Then you'll need to think about the physical aspects of your world.  What kind of terrain does it have?  Is it mountainous, covered with desert, or a little of both?  (Don't forget water sources!)  Are the seasons like Earth's seasons, or are they different?  You have loads of creative freedom here, but keep in mind things like the fact that lone mountains don't tend to rise up in the middle of the desert.  Unless there's a magical or other explanation for it. 

Then, it's time to figure out where the people are.  Think back to middle school geography--people don't build cities randomly.  People congregate and build things in strategic places.  Near a river, at an important crossroads, on a bay, by a lake.  Who lives where, and why?  What kind of society is it?  Are most people peasants?  Are they educated?  Is the ruling class rich while everyone else starves?  Does the average person farm?  Which brings you to culture.  What kind of culture do these people have?  Weather, seasons, landscape, and means of living have a huge impact on culture.  Mythology, legends, celebrations, rituals, music, clothing, food, even aspects of daily life are impacted and shaped by the world around the people.  (See a more in-depth checklist if you want to make sure you have everything covered.  I've posted a few links later in this post.)

Are you feeling slightly overwhelmed yet?  How about very much overwhelmed?  And we're not even done yet. 

You have to consider your world's history.  How did it become what it is today?  Does it have centuries or millennia of history, or does its history only span the last few hundred years? 

Rohan is an awesome fictional place.

Don't forget the government.  Government is essential; is it a monarchy, a dictatorship, a democracy?  You also have to decide how the people feel about it, and how much direct impact it has on people's daily lives.

There are still so many things to think about--so many things, in fact, that there's probably something important that I've forgotten to mention.  I've only touched on the broader aspects of worldbuilding, and there are still so many details left to consider.

For more exhaustive and complete worldbuilding checklists, try these:
Cruinne's D&D Reading Room: The Worldbuilding Checklist (detailed checklist)
Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede (detailed checklist)
13 Worldbuilding Questions (not as detailed, but provides broader questions to kickstart your worldbuilding)
Worldbuilding Links (a list with more links than I've posted here)

There's so much more to say about worldbuilding, so I broke this post into two sections so it wasn't some huge wall of text staring you down.  In the second half I'll talk about how to organize your worldbuilding, how to use details to make your setting come alive, and how NOT to use those details to infodump on your reader.

This isn't all I have to say about worldbuilding--come back in a few days for the rest of the "DIY"!  Part 2 is live right here!
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