Heya! It’s Monday! That means it’s time for another Muse!
I’d like to talk about world building today.
But, wait, C! You’ve already done a post about world building. I distinctly remember it. You’re not going to start repeating topics, are you?
No, no. I’m not. That post is all about the theory of world building… about what world building *is* and what you should think about when going in to build your own world. The hows and the whys of history, economics, politics, geography, religion, etc. The way they interact is how you create a believable world.
This is about the method.
Now, I’m all up in world building right now. In fact, beginning today, my friends and I are engaged in a world building contest that will involve answering a prompt about our world every day for ten days. In this, we explore our worlds by allowing our characters to act within them. Things like how our societies deal with death, drink, and sport. Childbirth and home. Love. Even if colors have special meaning. Basically, we write it out in word-based sketches, filling in the gaps as we answer the questions. This is one of my favorite ways of late-stage world building.
Why late stage, you may ask? Well… because you really should have a decent idea of your world before you start answering these questions. What the sketches do best is find things you might not have considered and allow you to solidify things that might be a bit fuzzy by letting your characters make that decision for you in situ. But what if you actually don’t know that much? What do you do then?
There’s a few different options, beginning with choosing whether to start at the top or the bottom. Do you want to begin with a general overview of the world or with a general area? Do you begin with continents or the town in which your main character grew up? In one, you start big and get small; in the other, you do the opposite. The first requires a lot of work beforehand, the second lets you build the world as you write. Of course, it is also easier to run into inconsistencies if you develop as you tell your story… but, then again, that’s what editing is for (if you’re prepared to possibly run into really difficult changes at an intrinsic level of your story). I am a bit of both, really, depending upon the story. Sometimes I do something really basic and then fill in the lines as the tale progresses and I need to know; this is usually for stories I have no intention of publishing. For really big worlds and my stories I hope to one day send out into the world like a proud mamma bird, I go full on Cones of Dunshire.
But what technique do I use if not sketches? I’m a dinosaur… I use note cards. Different colors for different categories. Which category I start with really depends upon the world. My most recent effort begins, literally, with “In the beginning.” I began this project with a creation myth, except it’s not myth at all; it’s really how the universe began. Gods play a huge role in my world, so much so that the very geography is shaped by it. The Creator Goddess is unbalanced, chaotic, unstable… so, too, is her world. To the point that it would break apart from the force of its instabilities (represented by earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, tsunamis, etc) if the Goddess’ elder brothers had not stepped in to stabilize it. Their efforts create this world’s geography, climate, religion, governmental structures, and even the measurement of time. OK, maybe I’m just excited about my world and wanted to talk about it, but each of those things I mentioned gets a color of its own. In this case, I wrote my creation story and then went into geography, climate, and religion. I’m still trying to decide if I want to include magic or leave that to the Watchers and the gods. Maybe the twins of the world. But when I figure it out, it’ll get its own note card.
Now, for this particular world, I have a couple of characters I already know I want, shaped by what I know of the world. Identical twins… or maybe paternal (I dunno that I want them to be the same gender), a man with dwarfism, and a blind man who pretends he can see to avoid being given to the Goddess. The Watchers. The Goddess herself, in her Chaos guise. (Yeah… no one in my life wants to hear me ramble about my world, so I’m forcing it on you.) When I get there, they’ll each get their own card. They’ll also get bios. And sketches (word sketches, not drawing… I mess up stick figures). Plot will come when I’ve figured out as much as I need to know to write… though, of course, I won’t try to figure everything out ahead of time; at that point, world building has become a stall tactic to keep me from writing.
What this amounts to is asking questions. If you start from the top, you think of your world at its biggest (in my case, a whole planet) and fill in the blanks, getting smaller and smaller until you’re thinking about what everyone is wearing, the money they’re spending, the food they’re eating, and even the slang they use. If you start from the bottom, you figure out everything about the immediate environs of your MC and then spread out as needed, answering the small questions over and over until you’ve answered the big ones, as well. For some, that means putting notes on a writing program like Scrivener, others have notebooks, online databases, different color note cards if they live in the last century like I do…
But it’s so big! (That’s what she said. *rimshot*) How on Earth do I keep track of everything? Well, there are a lot of world building tools on the internet, but I am the hugest fan of the SFWA questionnaire and AutoRealm for maps (yeah… I make maps… I’m one of those losers). Both of these have been immeasurably helpful in figuring out what I need to know. And I think they’ll be helpful for you, too.
(Note: When creating the geography for your world, it might behoove you to study the development of cities and whatnot in our world. Too many times has someone built a walled city that spans a river with huge bridges connecting the two halves. Do you know how hard that would be to defend?! Cripple the bridges and you cripple the entire town! So… think about that. But, of course, that fits into the OTHER post on world building, so… read that if you haven’t.)
Well, that’s it for me! Sorry for the length. I’ll be back on Friday with something for you to read!