First of all, let’s define world building. The way I see it there are two different aspects.
One is the creation of the world, the background information, etc.
The other is showing it to the reader.
Let’s start with the creation of the world and background information. We’ll come back to showing it to the reader another time.
As I mentioned on Monday, I tend to do more world building for things set in the “real” world, like the novel I’m going to be trying to finish during Camp NaNoWriMo next month. You would think that I would do more of it with my more fantasy oriented stuff. I mean, after all, I’m creating a whole world from scratch for that. But no one can actually fact check a world I create, so there’s less research involved.
For instance, this book is set in a small town in Pennsylvania because… Well, because I know small towns in Pennsylvania. I grew up in them and I live in one now. My main character, Cara, is a lawyer, and at the start of the book she lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Why? Because Oklahoma and Pennsylvania have a reciprocal agreement about law licenses so she doesn’t have to take the bar exam again to practice in Pennsylvania. Before I decided on where she lived, I Googled for information about lawyers practicing in more than one state and found the Oklahoma thing. (The fact that I know someone in Tulsa that I can pester with questions helped cement the choice.)
And having never dealt with arranging a funeral or cremation, or settling an estate/inheritance, my search history is a little… interesting… at the moment.
Most of the paranormal stuff in the book comes from general background knowledge that I already have. Some of it came from asking questions in a Face Book group I’m in (my knowledge of herbs can be a little lacking) which actually prompted some people to experiment with different herbal incense combinations.
(I’ll be turning to them again soon with some questions about the Fey and agreements with them.)
For something more strictly and fully in the fantasy genre I wouldn’t need to do all of that.
So what do you need to do for stories that lie outside the “real” world?
Well, there’s a lot more naming involved. Planets (for science fiction), countries, oceans, towns, rivers, etc.
And maps. For fantasy especially you should have a map. (Says the writer with about seventeen thousand notes in various places in her series to “draw a map” or “a map would be nice” or “check the map if you ever get around to drawing one.”) Now, this doesn’t have to be a really pretty map that you would show to someone else. It just has to be something that shows the relative positions of towns in relation to each other and any major geographic features so that when you have your characters travel from Town A to City B they go in the same direction every time.
And it’s probably a good idea to make the map as you go – or even before hand – instead of getting stuck where I am now with my series. I have a rough idea where most stuff is but there are one or two things that don’t want to fit in. For instance, the Fortress is east and south of the Academy. And there’s a town that is south and west of the Academy. And that’s fine. Except it makes the town too far from the Fortress. (Well, it makes it farther away than I want it to be.)
But that’s okay. I can work around that. My real problem lies with a couple forests that need to be… somewhere. Somewhere south of the Academy, but east of that town, but not near the Fortress.
So, yeah. I really should draw a map.
Another thing about non-reality based writing is government and religion. Not something you have to think about for books set in our world, but for fantasy and science fiction?
And those are both things that I tend to gloss over, usually falling back on a traditional monarchy and not mentioning religion (or even government) unless it becomes an issue in the book. (Or is central to it, like a couple of trilogies that I’m ignoring, one of which probably wouldn’t take too much to finish…)
And I think I’ve rambled long enough for one blog post. On Monday we’ll tackle some other aspect of world-building.