World creation is, by far, my favorite part of writing. I could spent hours compiling artwork and writing snippets – poetry and mood boards. And all the time spent penning up the little details? Unf.
That being said, it can be a rather daunting task – even for someone like me whose appreciation of it borders on inappropriate. Especially if you’re one of the brave few who concocts an entirely new world with all new creatures and different classes of people.
The world is like the foundation of your house. If it isn’t perfectly set, everything can collapse.
However, it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. There are ways to approach it – to break it down and triage the most important information. Remember, you can always add things as you’re writing. You can even scrap some things if it doesn’t work out the way you want to! I’ve compiled some tips and tricks to help you get started with creating your own world!
Please bear in mind that this list is, by no means, comprehensive. Each setting requires something different – it’s just as unique as the world you’re creating.
Let’s start off with the basics.
This seems like a total no-brainer, right? Of course you need to know the setting of your world. How else are you going to write a whole story in it? But let’s push past the obviousness of our starting point. What goes into a setting?
The place? Sure. The time or the era? Absolutely! Location? You bet your bippy!
But, more specifically, where?
The Place: What world is it in? Is it in ours? An alternate universe? Or alternative reality? Is it on another planet? Or a fictional realm?
The Time/Era: Medieval, Tudor, Modern, Civil War, Futuristic, etc. Even if your world is set in a completely made-up realm what would the era be comparable to?
Location: When in the world is it happening? (If creating your own, it might be worth it to look into creating your own map)
Now that the most basic of base fundamentals are decided, let’s really dig in.
Tell me about the climates. Yes, I mean multiple climates. You didn’t think I’d take it easy on you, did you?
Sure, let’s take it literally while we’re still thinking about our world’s geography. Tell me about the weather systems of the primary setting (and if you’re feeling froggy, about the neighboring landscapes). Is it often foggy and rainy? Is it cold and prone to frost? Is it hot and humid? Hot and dry? Tell me about its geography while you’re at it – is it mountainous? Does it have a view of the ocean? The desert?
Next, lets move on to something a bit more controversial. The political, socioeconomic and religious climate. I know! There are some things you just shouldn’t talk about at the dinner table and that’s politics and religion – so, please, during this next section, be away from the kitchen table.
In the past, I have researched different kinds of political structures. I can now tell you the difference between an oligarchy and an aristocracy. I’ve also developed a keen understanding on non-Western and Pagan religions. I’ve heard stories from people who’ve lived wildly different lifestyles than myself – there’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from just listening.
As a writer, one of your most powerful tools is research. Get curious, exercise your Google-fu and get to stepping. You’ll be surprised where inspiration strikes.
A little “formula” I like to consider while building a world goes a little something like this:
- The Haves: The powers-that-be, the upperclass, the wealthy, the famous
- The Have Nots: The poor, the impoverished or otherwise marginalized
- The Oppressed: Not necessarily the ‘have-nots’, though they are ostracized in their culture for x, y, or z
- The Privileged: Those who reap the benefits of the oppressed, and the favoritism of The Haves, even if they too are seen as lesser
- The Enforcers: Those who uphold the laws/enforce them, whether they be military, police or another kind of agency.
The history of the world is a broad, overwhelming subject. I often focus on only a few small things that would play a hand in how the world came to be in its current form. A few world wars, social-liberation movements, etc.
Focus on what you feel is important to explain how it got to the point it is now. The rest can be filled in when inspiration or necessity strikes.
The want to have multi-layered, thoroughly established lore for your world is completely understandable. However, speaking from experience, you’re very unlikely to squeeze all 500 pages of your custom lore into your novel. At least, not without several pages of eye-crossing exposition.
The Extras and the Inspiration
World building is seldom something that happens in one sit-down writing session. In my experience, it has taken about a week of a few hours sat down at the computer to compile everything.
It’s rather easy to lose steam, or motivation to get everything written down. It can certainly cut into productivity. I’ve found what works best for me is to focus on finding things that bring me right back to my inspiration. My muse, as it were.
I’ve found that creating moodboards on sites like Pinterest help. Creating Spotify playlists also seems to do the trick to transport me to the world I’ve been dreaming of. If you’re one of the lucky people to be skilled at drawing, maybe channel some of that inspiration into sketches!
Do you remember how I had you outline The Haves? The Have Nots? That was all in preparation for this, admittedly, rather daunting section!
Now that you have the fundamentals in mind, we can really start thinking about the finer details. It’s time to fill this beautiful world you’ve created. Not just with your main characters and your minor personalities. I mean, it’s time to fill it with a people. A culture.
Who are the good guys? Who fights for the betterment of your world? Preserves history and/or culture? Who are the paragons? The light-bringers? The virtuous?
Who are the bad guys? Who are the blight upon the land? The villains, the greedy? The rich and the cruel? Are they leaders, or corporations? Criminals or false-prophets?
And what about those neutral parties? Are they rebels? Are they indifferent to the plights of the world, focusing instead on their own missions?
Of course, beyond the moral binary there are other things to consider. If you’re writing in fantasy or sci-fi, what about other species?
My Must Haves
As I mentioned earlier in this blog post, this list is really just the fundamentals to get your started. On top of all of this, I like to have the following information outlined:
- Bestiary: A list of the unique creatures in the world with their physical descriptions/artist renditions
- Misc. Important Items: A list of important items like weapons, herbs, jewels, etc. Specifically, items that come into play during the story I’m planning/have some kind of significance to the world.
- Dictionary: A list of all the words/phrases I use that are canonically important/not in the typical lexicon.
- Historical Figures: Fictional/real people who are important to the story line, including prevalent information that will tie into the story
- Important Writings: Fictional/real writings that are important to the story line, including prevalent information that will tie into the story
- Lore/Legends: Lores or legends tied into the area(s) featured in the story.
- Important Locations/Businesses: Places that are visited/referenced frequently throughout the text.
These ‘reference’ sheets save me a lot of time during the writing process. Without this information on hand, I imagine I would be lost and destined for many plot holes in my stories. It’s nice to be able to find crucial information without frantically CTRL+F’ing my way through my manuscript.
World-building is, hands down, one of the hardest (but most rewarding) parts of planning a novel/series. It can sometimes seem like the process that never ends. One task is completed, only to then be replaced by something else. It can be intimidating, but, by breaking things down into tinier ‘bite sized’ pieces, it can be easier to approach!
Never underestimate the benefits of being thorough!
I’d love to hear more about your own world-building techniques. What are your must haves?
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