Worldbuilding, a wonderful excuse to spend hours upon hours of daydreaming. Creating societies, themes and visual wonders that will challenge us when we finally put it all into words. Of course, any aspect of writing can be a challenge, so here’s how you can make it easy and fun!
Here are my 10 best tips for world-building!
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1. Start with the Names
One of the first things you need to establish when building a world from the ground up is the names.
It really comes down to simply starting big and working down. For example, what is the name of the planet? In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien opted to call the planet Middle-Earth over Earth. Once you have decided on a planet name, work down towards the location you takes place in. The country, the city, even the cafe/tavern/safe place your characters hang out in.
Naming these places becomes especially important if your story takes place in more than one location, let alone several planets. You don’t want to be referring to these places by number throughout your world-building!
2. Set a Time Period
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s now establish another overall theme. What time period would you place your story in?
If your story takes place in an alternate reality to our own, where technology is beyond imagination, then simply put near-future or far-future depending on the level of complexity. In addition to this point, choosing a time-period in our reality is only there to help you better develop the world space, you can still use your own timeline.
You can even take it a step further, coming up with your own way of tracking time. Create your own names for days, months and even years!
3. Develop Societies and Factions
Now, let’s talk about the factions at play.
Inmost complex worlds, there are more than two defined groups that feature in the story. Off the top of my head, you could have a group of bloodthirsty pirates, a group of vigilantes, a government faction and even normal civilians would make up their own group.
Decide who is involved in your story and give them names as well. You can separate them on ideas, on race, on culture. Each faction has its own strengths and weakness, making them all different in some respects, but similar in others. Now, factions might not have a place in your story, in which case, you will simply list major characters!
4. Establish Relations
With your factions or major characters established, you need to develop a network of relations.
Take one faction at a time and establish what that faction feels about the other factions. For example, a vigilante faction has poor relations with the government and the pirates but has great relations with the people. The people have neutral relations with the government and poor relations with the pirates. The pirates have poor relations with everyone.
Establishing these relations will help you develop your plot as well. If writing from the perspective of a government character in search of aid, then you would have them seek aid from civilians and or at least the vigilantes. These relations play a major role in the conflict as well, so organising them will help the story and character development as well.
5. Map it Out
Moving from the more serious tips, for now, let’s grab some pencils and pens and map things out.
From large worlds and planets to a single city, mapping out where all the important locations in your story is a great method for getting a feel for your world space. You can’t simply cluster everything together, add a sense of depth and distance. Even if your reader doesn’t see such a map, establishing where everything is in your mind will help you better describe the world space and develop scenes.
After all, the hero doesn’t simply step out their own home to stand before the evil wizard’s castle?
Mapping things out is also a great method when working with a large building. Establish floors, the rooms, the important objects and characters. With proper descriptions and cutting out the unnecessary, a reader can easily place themselves in the most complex of buildings.
6. Establish a Hierarchy
Returning to the more intense aspects of your world-building, we need now establish a hierarchy in your factions and the world overall.
In each faction, decide who holds the most power. Develop a chain-of-command, place major characters in charge. Having a sense of who is in charge and who takes orders will also help you develop these characters and their faction’s place in the world hierarchy.
For example, a band of pirates led by clueless captain falls pretty low in the world hierarchy.
It may seem grip, but the best way to establish hierarchy is to figure out how much power the factions hold over each other. A pirate has more power over the average civilian with their weapons and lack of morals. Yet, with their own weapons and convictions, civilians can become more powerful as vigilantes and stand above the pirates. Taking this example further, the government holds the most control, with guards and soldiers, who are all well-trained and better equipped.
Hierarchy helps establish fear, respect and hatred between factions, which in turn, affects the major characters and their actions in the story.
7. Establish Ambitions and Faiths
Ambitions and faiths; another detail in your worldbuilding that might be more important in certain stories.
To add further depth to your world, establish what is important to many people. It can be wealth, it can be survival, it can be religion or it can be power. Establishing what matters to the people can also help establish their motives for their actions. For example, can the average person be trusted in your world? Would they share a coffee with a stranger, rob them on sight, find a way to use them, or attack them depending on their beliefs?
Whatever you decide, I recommend you make detail’s importance affect the world visually as well. If greed consumes the people, then show it. Describe crumbling shacks and glorious mansions. Talk about corruption and muggings, let the reader know the importance of wealth in your world.
8. List Technologies and Innovations
Whether you set your novel in a medieval or futuristic world, there are also limits.
For example, a medieval world is filled with swords, arrows and perhaps magic, while a futuristic world has teleportation, space ships and laser rifles. Take note of all that is included in your story. Are people using horses, cars, or hovercars? Do they have mail, e-mail or holographic messages?
A great way to find these innovations and limits is by looking at a novel or other form of media that is set in a similar world to your own.
9. Create Doodles or Make a Pinterest Board
Having a form of visual reminder or inspiration is invaluable.
We live in an age where finding inspiration is easy. Surrounded by all forms of media that we can use to create concepts and stories. If you are an artistic type, you can doodle, draw or paint what you imagine for your book. It can be very inspiring to have a piece which visually captures what you have in mind.
Of course, if you wish to save time or are not so artistically inclined, creating an account on Pinterest and pinning all the images that inspire works as well. Have a collection of media, not only in the form of images but in songs, books, movies and comics can help you develop and write your story better.
I often make use of a Pinterest board to inspire more visual works, but having a board of concept art and characters designs have certainly influenced my imagination and inspired many stories.
10. Place Yourself in the World
The final piece of advice I give is to place yourself in the world.
I don’t mean picture yourself in your character’s shoes, making decisions that you feel are right in each scene. That is a method best suited for writing your story. However, if you want to get a better feel for the world you are creating, imagine yourself standing there. Look around, describe what you see.
How are the buildings constructed? Describe the lighting, the colours, the people you see. What do you smell? Spices, perfumes or a cold, sterilized aroma? What do you hear? An electronic hum, the crashing of waves, the chatter of the people?
Practising this will not only help you write these world spaces better but help you develop them as well. If you feel a scene is missing something, place yourself there, question your senses. Describe what you see to what you feel and you will have all you need and more.
I hope you enjoyed this article and may it help you create the most wonderful of worlds.
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!
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Thank you for reading!
Matthew Dewey, Writer