I’m so excited to talk about world-building this week. There is just so much potential when you’re creating your fictional world. You can make mountains bright red or create people who spend half of their time in the skies. Just look at stories like the Wheel of Time or even simply Lord of the Rings to see what potential a new story has in the way of its settings.
It can get a little overwhelming, though, which is why, when you’re building your plot, crafting your world is going to have to be put on the back-burner. It’s why we’re talking about it in part three, after we discuss the overall plot and the characters. It’s kind of like how, when you’re in the process of producing a play, your first step is not to paint the set because you don’t know what specific sets you might end up needing.
During the plotting process, you’re going to want to focus simply on whatever information you need. As you plot, you’re going to run into spots where you don’t really know what can happen next because it depends on how your world runs. Or when you’re developing your characters, you may need to pause for a moment to determine place names for locations they lived, or take a second to consider the culture, so as to explain why your character will act the way that they do. When that happens, build your world up a little bit, then go back to what you were working on.
Doing it this way can help you find ways to explain why something happens with the plot, rather than feeling like you have to deux ex machina your characters out of whatever situation they’re stuck in. Figure out their limits. Know them by heart. Then consider what could, based on the world you’re making, realistically help your characters get out of those situations.
Two particular subsections will sprout from your world-planning: you’re going to want to know “world-specific” information as well as “year-specific” information. Year-specific is the most focused of the two. Essentially, there’s information about your world that is dependent on whatever is happening at the current moment, or recent past. Consider the “Why Now” section from your abstract. Is a war brewing? You can use this heading to explain what exactly started the conflict. Or say who has the most power and how they got it. That sort of thing.
Compare it to your world-specific information, which is more general and doesn’t quite depend on what year it is. Things to include would be something like how the magic works, a description of the geography, how many countries there are, or what kinds of magical creatures exist in this setting.
If you’re not really sure how to differentiate the two and would much rather divide the information in another way, though, go for it.
Either way, if you haven’t done so yet, now is the time to use this information to fully flesh out your characters. Go back to your MC quick sketches and build on them. What kind of person is your MC? What people are they closest to? What kind of childhood did they have (note: it doesn’t have to be another emotionally scarred MC. Please refrain. I beg of you.)
Once you know what your story is going to be about, if you want to delve further into the realm of what if, go for it. I want my stories to be as fleshed out as ones like in Wheel of Time or Lord of the Rings or even, to perhaps a slightly lesser extent, the likes of Game of Thrones. Below is a list of things to consider as you work towards completing your setting, especially if you have more than one country involved.
Language. Tolkien set the bar pretty high when he made all those languages for Middle Earth. Luckily for us, the fantasy genre is a bit forgiving if we’re not a gifted linguists like he was. If we want to focus on a few key terms, perhaps concepts that would not be easily defined in English, then that’s fine. If we want to go all-out and have a whole language to fall back on, go for it. Just know that, if you go that route, you’ll have to take differences in grammar, spelling, alphabetical symbols, and so forth into consideration.
Economy. This is going to depend heavily on the resources available in that area. A coastal country will probably be more reliant on fish than farmland. A country with a lot of mountains will probably get most of their money from mining. This will, in turn, determine what occupations you can give your characters. Some can be farmers, sure. Even a mountainous country needs food to feed its citizens. However, they’re more likely to have a job in a mine, or in smithing, or other occupations dealing with whatever ore is extracted. It may also help determine what is used for currency, and how much any piece of currency can actually buy.
Government. Fantasy novels tend to create their settings with the traditional monarchy as its form of government. Of course, you can stick with this, but there are other options. You can have an oligarchy, a republic, a democracy, you name it. You can have it ruled by men, by women, by a child even. If you have more than one country as your setting, feel free to explore different political possibilities by giving different types of governments to different countries, and consider how their differences change the culture of the people living inside of it.
Fashion. This may seem a bit pointless, but there are actually so many different possibilities for fashion, too. Depending on the kinds of resources available, people might wear wool, silk, satin, or some world-specific material. They might keep to drab colors or make their clothes a little more bold. Clothing usually denotes social rank, so don’t skimp on this just because you think it doesn’t serve a function.
Morality. A recent study found that there are seven morals that every culture shares, and the only difference is the priority and presentation of those virtues. You can read more about it on News Atlas, which conveniently lists the seven different values. Then get creative with the moral codes of the civilizations you are crafting. Use them as a base code, and make something beautiful.
Religion. This may be tied up pretty closely with your morality section, especially since our religion can greatly influence our morals. However, with this section, you can think up things like how gods your culture worships, what that god/those gods are gods of, what superstitions and folklore comes out of those beliefs, and so forth.
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Is there a point where you usually feel like you’ve done enough world-building to write your story, or do you like to get swept away in the creation of a new world like I do?