Tag Archives: world building

I’m Building a World!

(Man, if those words don’t give you a god complex I don’t know what will!)

So, anyhow, I did some world-building this weekend. (See what this series of blog posts is doing to me?)

Not for my Camp NaNoWriMo project, mind you, (although I did work on its outline a little) but for an idea that’s been kind of kicking around on a back burner for a while now.

Settings are usually my weak point, but that’s what this one started as – just a setting. No people, no plot, just a place.

The place now has some people (well, two named people) and a history and a (main) religion. And the start of a story line. (There are people in the story line, too, but they don’t have names yet.)

Unfortunately, the story line probably isn’t enough for a novel so I’m still not sure what’s happening with the whole idea, but at least it’s a start.

And even more unfortunately I think there are two novels set there – one back when the place was new and one later, after things got codified a bit more. And, actually, it would lend itself well to a series of short stories.

(No, it doesn’t have a name. The working title is Sanctuary. (Or Haven or Refuge or Oasis. Apparently I can’t make up my mind.)

As much as I want to start working on this story (because it’s shiny and sparkly and oh, look, a squirrel!) I don’t think I’ll start writing it yet. It needs some pretty intense world building.

The city (or whatever it is) is a melting pot of different races and nationalities and cultures and religions and what-have-you, and I need to know about all of them.

Will the reader know about all of them? Probably not. At least, not all at once.

But I need to know.

And for once I would like to have everything settled and sorted before I start writing.

Just to see what it’s like.


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World Building — Background Info

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.

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What’s in a World?

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?

A lot!


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