One of the most exciting and most frustrating tasks of starting a book series is world building. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is something writers have to do when they write a book that’s set in their own world. They have to create everything about the world, from the appearance and agriculture to the politics and government. Maybe you have a race you want to create, or a brand new religion. Sounds simple, right? I’ve read on blogs before that non-fiction writers believe that fiction writers have it easier because we don’t have to look up historical facts to back up our literature or world. Quite honestly, I think fiction writers have it the hardest. At least non-fiction artists have a base point from which they can start. They have a timeline and a culture already created for them from which they can draw history. And in truth, many fiction/fantasy writers do a ton of research to create their books. Right now I’m looking at a huge shelf of books about medieval history including blacksmithing, herbal medicinal uses, the medieval city/castle/town, and even ship facts. Some of us writers do try to keep our stories somewhat historically accurate so that there is some truth in our craft.
Outside of researching, we also have both the pleasure and burden of creating our own world. When I was little, the facts that truly concerned me about world building were: what color is my sky? What color is the grass? What kind of creatures will I have? Will there be different food? And that was it. Today, I realize just how much more in depth you have to get to accurately create your own world. This will actually result in reconstructing an entire series I’ve been writing.
But I digress.
World building can be as simple and as complicated as you want to make it. For the medieval books I’m writing, I’ve tried to create a map of what my world looks like. Where are the provinces located? What kind of agriculture is in that area? What marketing can they do and what is their main import and export? What are their political standings? Do they have natural enemies and allies? What is the landscape like? What kind of powers do mages possess? Can they control water? Are there rivers, or streams, or oceans? It’s always fun when you have a character try to cross a river in one chapter, and then you have a group of characters jaunt merrily across the land without the fear of a river…because their belligerent author forgot all about it.
World building can get even more confusing and complicated when you take myths from around the world and try to bastardize them to your own liking. My friend and I have been writing a series that includes multiple mythologies included, but not limited to, Greek, Arthurian legends, and various other beliefs and cultures. Now, we could stick strictly to what we know is “historically” accurate, but we’ve twisted the tales to make them all match what we want our story to be. Of course doing this, we realize, we have to create a brand new timeline to make sure we stay somewhat true to the old myths, but so we can tie them together with our own stories. Likewise, something as simple as writing about werewolves and vampires can become even more tedious when you get into the questions of, “species vs race, what are they?” Follow this with what bites can do and how likely it is for hybrid children to be born followed by the percentage of whether a child would be more vampire or werewolf if the two were to mate, and you’ve got a headache waiting to happen.
Needless to say, I keep Tylenol, chocolate, and tissues close at hand. One of these days I think I’ll need to add a pillow to my arsenal so I stop putting dents in my wall with the Tylenol bottle.
As painful as world building can be, it’s exciting and entertaining at the same time. There’s something very special about watching this world come to life and realizing you created it, or twisted it in such a way that you can call it your own. You can add as much color and flare as you want, or make it as murky and dark as you please. It’s not as simple as saying the sky is green and the grass is yellow, it’s so much more than that. Some writers go even into the scientific possibilities of how their world could actually be possible. Honestly, some of the science fiction theories people have come up with during their world building experiences have actually lead to the possibility of “science fiction” technologies becoming real.
There are a plethora of templates out there that people follow to help themselves create their own worlds. I’ve used some myself, and I’ve gotten half-way through and realized I had no idea what in the world I was trying to write about. That’s what happened with the first series I wrote. Fortunately, I don’t seem to have the same dilemma with my current series otherwise I’d be chucking more than a Tylenol bottle at the wall.
The advice I give you is make your world your own. Make it as amazing or as simple as you want it to be and then let it grow. Sometimes if you confine the world you’re building to one set of laws, it will crash and burn and leave you with a smoldering pile of charred dreams. But if you allow yourself to question your world and let people throw more and more questions or ideas at you, you may create something beautiful and wonderful that you can be proud to call your own.
Start small and work your way up. Make sure you actually know your world to some degree before you write your book. It’ll help you to better describe what’s going on and will help make the readers feel at home in your world. Now, as you write, you’ll find parts of your world you’ll need to revise or take out. You may find halfway through that the world you’ve created has completely evolved to something new. This isn’t a bad thing; it just means that you’re becoming more familiar with your world. Some people ask, why create the world before I start writing if I’m going to change it anyway?
Well, you have to start somewhere. Walking blindly into a story is easy for some writers, but for a person like me, I need to know what to expect before I begin, otherwise I’ll get lost…and if a writer gets lost in her own universe, how can she expect her readers to keep up?
For those of you interested in some templates, here are a couple you can try out:
That’s all for today. If you have any questions or writing ideas you’d like me to address, let me know below.