How To Craft A World

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Writing isn’t easy. World building is even harder.

It’s been nearly a year since I made the decision to go the self publishing route and one of the main reasons why I wanted to do so was the ability to control your own creative. The only person making decisions on what I will and won’t write is myself. That is such a liberating and freeing experience.

However, that also comes with my large imagination.

Since I can remember I’ve always been a fan of large stories with many characters and various plotlines running throughout the entire story. From Lord of the Rings to Imajica to Star Wars to The Dark Tower series, epics have always intrigued me. They also require an extensive amount of world building and if the creator of such a tale does not have all of her or his ducks in a row, so to speak, it can wind up being a muddled mess.

Use What You Know

When crafting the world of The Dea (the fictional universe that was introduced in The Brothers Locke and will continue in the Dorian Delmontez series) I had a hard time knowing where to start. I knew the world in which all of these characters and stories would exist had to be massive but it had to make sense within its own confines.

How do you get such a massive undertaking mapped out.

oil paintingsWell, I used what I knew, which was painting and outlines. Now, outlines are more common with authors. Some even construct outlines that are over 5,000 words in length. I prefer to use bullet points and continue from there.

But that wasn’t enough. I needed something tangible, something that I could point to and go back to when I hit a dry spot in the story or want to know where to go next. So, I turned to oil painting, a hobby that has come and gone from my life multiple times.

Using what I knew – a brush, canvas, and paint – I was able to start creating over three dozen landscapes, portraits, and scenes that to this day I reference when thinking about and writing future stories in that fictional world.

Of course, if you’re not an illustrator or a painter this may not be the technique for you. However, it does illustrate that using something outside of the realm of pen-to-paper (or keyboard-to-screen as it is now) can be just as helpful, and sometimes more helpful, than banging your head against the desk looking at a blank piece of paper wondering “what do I do?”.

There are many other techniques that can be used from building family trees to writing entire histories and backstories to your various characters to chronicling a fictional historical document about places and landmarks within your world. In the long run, it can take the guessing out of the process of writing when you can pull up a picture or a chart or a graph and know where everything fits.

The main thing is to have fun and let your imagination lead the way. Don’t confine it, let it sprout and grow in any way possible beyond just writing the story. The world will grow with whatever mechanism you use to define it.

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One Reply to “How To Craft A World”

  1. World building is so fun, but I too find it harder than just writing out the plot, because of its value. The important thing is that it’s like having icebergs in arctic waters. What people see will help them imagine the vast amount that they don’t see, which makes the world feel real, not just a set of cardboard backgrounds like they’re watching a stage-play.

    For me, world building comes down to a few critical sociological questions. What is this place’s, well, place, in the grand scheme of the world? Who lives here and who comes and goes? What do people eat (always a fun one for me)? What can’t they eat due to climate, or won’t due to culture? Science fiction allows wilder questions, like what a planet is like, how long its days are, what its seasons are like, etc.

    Around things like this, I’ll discover more interesting cultural concepts, like traditions, delicacies, faiths, folklore, legends, political camps, and economic cornerstones. Where do the people of this place go to have fun? How do they raise their children? So many things you can answer, and the important thing is to choose ones that resonate with your story the most. As you say, you world grows with the mechanism of your choice. You can’t choose everything, or else your writing will feel bloated and self-indulgent.

    I think one important thing to remember is that almost any setting can be a built world. It’s not limited to fantasy and sci-fi. Even a little Scottish hamlet with twenty people in it should be fleshed out and filled with logical detail, so that the cozy mystery or light coming of age tale told within it feels that much more like it could have really happened.

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