Normally I write fantasy (sometimes science fiction) and they are not set in our modern world, which means I get to create the world pretty much from scratch.
I wish I could tell you that I have a logical systematic approach to world building.
(Actually, I wish I had a logical systematic approach to world building.)
But I can’t, because I don’t.
I tend to be very character-driven when I write, which means that I create the characters, let them talk to each other and interact with each other and just generally do stuff, and the story flows out of that.
And along with the story comes the world that it happens in.
The positive part of this method is that the world doesn’t restrict me in any way, since it’s being created as needed.
However, it does also tend to have some drawbacks. For instance, I find myself with names for places so I end up with things like “[BRY’S HOMETOWN]” scattered through the narrative of the rough draft. Or, worse: “[HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET FROM WIDNA TO CLAIMACH?]” Or even worse: “[REALLY NEED TO FIGURE OUT HOW THIS WORKS AND STICK WITH IT.]”
So, for my NaNoWriMo novel this year (What? You’re not planning yours yet? It’s only two months away!) I’m actually creating the world in advance, as I do the outline.
This novel is set in the “real” world and in modern times, although in a fictional town.
In a way, this is easier – I don’t have to figure out how things work or how long it takes to get from one place to another, etc.
In another, I’m somewhat limited by the setting. There are still a lot of elements of fantasy/paranormal in it, but I am caught in the mesh of reality.
I’d like to say that setting it in the modern world requires less world-building, but I’m not finding it to be so. I may not be creating an entire world, but I am creating an entire fictional small town, and since all of the story is set in this town (as opposed to everything else I’ve written in which the characters wander around quite a bit) I need to make the town be a living breathing thing all its own.
Have you ever stopped and looked at all the things that are in a town?
Streets, stores, restaurants, businesses (like a notary public or insurance agents or car dealerships), bars, churches, people, parks, schools, playgrounds, fire companies, town government and maintenance, utility companies, police, library…
And then towns – even small ones – have sections with locally known names.
And there are surrounding towns and stuff on the outskirts of towns, and…
And it’s really a lot more involved when you’re creating on a smaller scale (one town/local area) than when you’re creating on a grand scale (an entire world).
So, what’s in a world?