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The building blocks of world building

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, Nov. 6, 2020
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World building is a cornerstone of any story. From your neighbourhood slice-of-life to an out-of-this world space opera the world in which the characters inhabit draws the reader and keeps them invested in the character’s struggles. Here are some questions to consider when constructing your new universe.

What is your world?
Is it a world surrounded by air, space or sea? Is there a breathable atmosphere with extensive fauna, or a barren asteroid orbiting a hostile planet? Consider the big picture of your world as it is the foundation the rest of it will be built on.

What type of dwellings do people live in?
Where do you people live? What do their houses look like? The architecture of your world informs the type of society your character belongs to and how they interact with the world. Consider their position in that society as that will influence the type of buildings they’ll have access to and/or visit.

What is the common history/culture?
Focus on the history that is needed to tell your story such as if there’s a government, how did it come into power? How did the towns/cities come to be established? Keep your history relevant to the character. Remember there’s always time to flesh out the history…later.

Another aspect of history is the culture of the land. Is there a religion and, if so, are there multiple gods or a single one? Explore the mythologies present in the culture and what values do they teach the society. If your culture’s history is warlike they might value strength and honour. Your world’s belief system (or lack thereof) affects art, music, literature, science or magic, holidays and customs. These are all important aspects to address.

What is their society?
This will have the greatest impact on your characters and their development. Their class, racial group and sexual identity as well as gender norms and expectations go on to dictate the decisions they make. Research past and current societies to see how they operated to gain a better understanding of its impact on the world.

What are some more important aspects of world building worth considering? Let us know in the comment section below! And join us on Sunday evening for our Quackchat at 5:30PM(EST)!

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anonymous?

Corruption at 2:15PM, Nov. 6, 2020

There is another aspect to world building: abilities and any key factors. For example, in the first Harry Potter book, Dumbledore flew a broom to London to answer a summons, but latter books had the Floo, Aparition, and Portkeys. This makes him flying there very suspect in many HP fanfic. Another example is the Oatherbreakers in the Lord of the Rings. They were introduced in one book simple as a sollution to the fleet of raider ships and to let the heros pass a mountain area that was otherwise blocked. When elements like these are not planned in advance and introduced properly, things seem forced and wrong. Oh, and HPverse? Couldn't Albus have gotten Sirus a trial as Cheif Warlock? Another fact retroconned in that fitted badly

bravo1102 at 6:52AM, Nov. 6, 2020

@KAM that's how the epic fantasy Sword of Kings ties into the science fiction of the Aordians. It's that semi muthical past that for most is just a collection of names given to children. Though a couple pf characters are descendants of the originals like Searsha and Jennessia so have a certain awareness of the past. But these days how many folks still refer to Homer like in ancient Rome or the 19th Century. But those myths are akways shifting so one generation venerated Homer another goes for George Washington.

KAM at 5:23AM, Nov. 6, 2020

Usually I just make it up as I go along. Although once, after reading an Asimov story where the characters referred to events of a previous story (Liar) including parts that only two people would have known, one of which wouldn't tell and one which couldn't. Also that story was set hundreds of years in the past and as stories get told and retold they change. Which gave me an idea to set a bunch of stories on a world where earlier stories would be the basis of later myths and legends. So I started creating different parts of the world, myths and the true stories they sprang from, at one point I created a form of theatre that led to other forms of theatre... Problem was I was creating all this gobbledygook as a background, but not working on the actual stories. D'oh!

bravo1102 at 5:20AM, Nov. 6, 2020

As a student of history, I have a lot of background to draw on as needed. I know this happened and that culture was like that and how and why they believed it. I work from that to set up worlds. But never walls of text. I'll throw in a filler page about some detail for the readers who want it. Otherwise if it matters someone will mention it to someone who wouldn't necessarily know as opposed to two characters who would know discussing it endlessly. Maybe a debate about different viewpoints on it because maybe not everyone believes in it the same way.

bravo1102 at 5:12AM, Nov. 6, 2020

Whereas I make up the story, people it with the characters and let them define the world. However, for the most part I've already created a VERY large detailed world with lots of room for expansion. So whatever I do gets woven into what has already been done and my readers tell me that I'm really good at it and that it makes sense, is comprehensive and consistent. Some even say what I've done is inspiring. But it's spread out over many comics but it all ties in together. When I did a what-if timeline story I workec from what wiuld have to happen in history to set up the circumstances in the story and then only filled in what needed to be filled in as it became relevant to the story. If the world is set up right, the unexplained won't matter because the reader will buy into the world because it is believable and will accept the world the way the characters do.

usedbooks at 5:09AM, Nov. 6, 2020

As a reader, I would caution fantasy/sci-fi writers to avoid explaining those world details outright. They are best revealed through characters' natural interactions with the world. For a bad example, read the first chapter of The Princess Bride, a wall of text that lays out the entire history of the kingdom. For a GOOD example, watch the beginning of The Fifth Element, as Corbin Dallas wakes up to start his day.

usedbooks at 5:04AM, Nov. 6, 2020

I tend to write settings I've lived in or know (but fictionalized). Modern town or city or countryside. I've never been good at fantasy. The setting is important but, just like using archetype characters, picking "the known" shortcuts your explanations to the readers and prevents over-exposition. I don't need to figure out how to explain the justice system or the holidays or the way technology works. Those are set by reader experience. I can stick to how individual characters interact with the world, where they work, how they commute, whether they leave their doors unlocked, the atmosphere of the favorite coffee shop, etc.

marcorossi at 1:14AM, Nov. 6, 2020

I generally tend to start from the carachters and then build the world retrospectively to justify the, E.g.: suppose that that I write a sci-fi story, and I want a spaceship with a warrior nun with superpowers, a nerdish captain who is allways at odds with the warrior nun, and a brutish-but-honest lizardmen: then I create a world where there is a space federation, with an official state religion that mandates a warrior nun on every ship, and they colonized a planet with lizardmen who were at a "barbarian" technology level. On the other hand, doing the opposite (first create the world and then the carachters) would be crazy because I would have to create an enormous quantity of details, many of which would be irrelevant for the story.


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