It’s a huge task. Some writers don’t know where to begin and skimp on the world-building. Some get lost in the world-building. No matter where we fall on the spectrum, most writers struggle to some extent with creating a believable world from scratch.
We need to use every weapon in our arsenal. That includes a checklist of basic components and tools to bring our world to life. Our readers will never know the full extent of the universes we create. But as writers, we need that foundation so we can build a great story.
When adding to an existing world or creating one from scratch, we need to consider the dynamics of that world. How do they function? How do they interact with each other? Within that world, are they plausible?
Within the checklist should be a set of rules, governing each unique faction. The science must be sound and believable. The magic must follow the laws of that world. Sure, we’re dealing with the unknown here. But if it doesn’t come across as reasonable, readers won’t buy it.
When creating your world, answer these questions:
What is this world’s history?
What is the geological setting?
What races inhabit this world?
What animals and plants inhabit this world?
What are their resources?
What are their food sources?
What is the political infrastructure?
What is the technological development?
What commerce do they use?
What are their relations with outside races?
What are their basic beliefs?
What are the occupants’ religious beliefs?
What is the social structure?
What do the inhabitants do as far as work?
What is the goal of each faction of this society?
What is the family structure?
What is the criminal element?
What do they do for recreation?
What colors, sights, smells, textures, etc. do they enjoy?
While it might seem like a lot, just stop and consider the complexity of real life. Just take one question at a time. If you can nail down most of those things, you’ll have a really good grip on your world.
Just don’t go overboard with the research. Remember, a lot of this won’t appear in the story. Resist the urge to dump all of the information on the reader. (Please!) Answering those questions will just help flesh out the story and make it more believable. When we know it – really know the world well – we’ll write a believable story with depth and passion.
Beyond research, there are some really cool tools designed to build worlds:
Cartographer’s Guild – A forum for map makers.
Gimp – Graphic manipulation program.
Seventh Sanctum – Random generator of ideas from science fiction weapons to fantasy spells.
Transhuman – Continuous Thrust Travel Time Calculator .
Donjon – Random generator of names, quests, worlds, etc.
Star Gen – World generator.
Carlos Labs – Nuclear fallout maps.
Worldbuilding Stack Exchange – A question and answer site for writers/artists using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings.
Universal Sandbox - A physics-based space simulator. ($24.99)
Pro Fantasy– Campaign Cartographer software. ($44.95)
And here are some awesome world-building articles and sites:
Enderra – world building resources, tips, guidelines, etc.
Kitty’s Writing Toolbox – 52 step world building worksheet and more.
Magical World Building – guide.
The Writing Nut– large list of resources and sites.
Now, what are you waiting for? Go create a world!