New? Begin with lesson one.
Once you have a general idea of your story and characters, it's time to think about setting. If your characters are modern, the genre's general, and you're using a real place as the setting, you might be able to skip this step. However, it is an essential one, to one degree or another, for most stories.
World building is a phrase that can sound much bigger and more complicated than it needs. It can be as simple as designing a unique family setup to as expansive as creating numerous worlds, species, and cultures within a galactic republic. However, when the story requires the creation of an entire universe, it's usually broken into a series of books. In that kind of case, it doesn't have to be done all at once. Titanic, complex universes tend to grow organically with the series as the author or authors build the series.
Don't let the exercise's name intimidate you. It can be frustrating or challenging at times, but it can also be a lot of fun. In fact, world building is one of my favorite parts of writing science fiction and fantasy.
Like just about everything to do with writing, world building can be different for each writer. Since I can only guess what went on in the minds of other authors, I'll use my two active "universes" as examples since I can explain the thought processes behind them.
Start by asking two important questions. When does my story take place? Where is it set?
For Right of Succession, the answers are in the 3000s A.D. and on the third planet of a binary system roughly 400 light-years from Earth. Then you have my current work-in-progress, The Icarus Project, which begins in October 2083 A.D. and takes place inside a series of biodomes in the Atlantic Ocean.
Because of their settings, each took a different level of world building. Icarus was relatively simple. It's set just a few decades in the future, so it's still closely connected to the cultures of today. I just needed to fill in what happened in the gap and figure out how that would shape their society. Succession is over a thousand years in the future and on a whole different planet. For that one, I had to almost start from the ground up.
The degree of separation from your place and time to where your story is set determines how extensive your world building should be.
Determine the scope of your story within its setting.
Where exactly will your story happen? Is your protagonist a homebody? Will they travel or be in contact with people just inside their hometown? Will they hear about what's going on regionally, nationally, or internationally? Asking these questions will further narrow down what elements you need to build, and knowing those elements can reveal areas where you will need to conduct research.
In Right of Succession, different sections are told from the points of view of characters from different regions and even species. To pull this off in a believable way, I had to have at least a vague idea the history of those regions, the make up of their populations, and how those things would influence the cultures of each region.
Adding another sentient species to the mix further complicates things since you not only have to create their culture from scratch, but you need to determine certain elements of their biology. The Yekarans, also known as dragons because of the mythological creatures they resemble, are a flighted quadrupedal species capable of bipedal movement in only short, limited bursts. They mature within two planetary years before their aging process slows, and they have a biological imperative to hibernate from the middle of autumn until mid-spring. All these things affect their culture.
Whether or not your characters have any contact or news of this other species or culture determines the degree to which you must develop them. Had the whole novel taken place within the walls of Tembar Castle instead of half the country, the Yekarans would have just been a footnote instead of an integral part of the story.
Considering I'm still in the drafting stage, these notes may change, but little will be seen of the surface world within The Icarus Project. The communication network amid the Atlantic Coalition is center stage, but with the exception of limited contact, readers won't see much of the survivors living on land in this first novel. Therefore, building the culture of each dome used as a setting is my top priority. This is followed by the coalition as a whole, and the various surface cultures aren't much of a concern at this point.
Don't let yourself get lost in the process.
As I've mentioned before, world building can make this process seem bigger than it needs to be at times, and it can also be a lot of fun. Sometimes these two facts can make world building become a road block to actually writing the story. Don't let yourself get so lost in the process that you never get started.
Ask yourself questions about your characters and the place and time where they live. Write down the answers. Do research where you feel the need, and keep notes and links to the articles you found somewhere handy. A file folder on your desktop is a good place, but keeping a notebook works well too.
However, keep in mind that you don't have to do all of this at once. Even if you spend months world building, new ideas and insights will come to you while drafting. They'll come when your rewriting. You'll also probably come up with a lot of information you never actually include in the writing itself but that influences how you word the story just by being present in your mind's eye.
Take the next two weeks to revisit your brainstorming notes and start asking yourself questions about your setting and how it influences your characters. Often one question will lead to another, just like ideas will feed off one another. Take notes, and do research.
Today's lesson was just an overview of this broad and sometimes complex topic. It took well over a decade of reading and speaking with other writers to learn as much about it as I have, and there's still room to learn. We will likely spend both February lessons delving into it deeper along with touching on researching as we go.
Please join me again on February 2 for a closer look at the sciences in world building.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
Yekara Series Book 2
The Icarus Project
Rough Draft Progress
70566 / 75000
Myth & Science Collection
Icarus Trilogy Book 2
Yekara Series Book 3
Myth & Science Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Icarus Trilogy Book 3
Supers Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Yekara Series Book 4