Monday, June 20, 2016

World-Building Tips and Tools

World-building is important in any genre. The place our characters inhabit must feel real. The pressure is really on when writing speculative fiction. Portions of the world or its entirety must be created from scratch.

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.

The Checklist:

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 are their energy 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.

Impact Earth – Asteroid impact on Earth .

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!


Heather R. Holden said...

Great tips! Will have to remember this checklist for some of my projects. And I agree, it can be way too easy to go overboard with research. (I always have to make sure I don't get lost in world-building to the point where it detracts from the story...)

Michelle Wallace said...

Great tips, Alex!
World-building is the aspect of speculative fiction that ALWAYS amazes me.
I'm wondering if providing thorough, detailed answers to all those questions will mean I have a good structure/outline for a speculative fiction story...

Tamara Narayan said...

The advice not to include all of your research is key and can be applied to any novel. Easier said than done though. I had to force myself to cut out several passages in a historical novel that I found fascinating, but didn't actually move the story forward.

Juneta key said...

Great post, tips and helpful links. I bookmarked for reference. Thanks.
Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Pat Hatt said...

I loosely base any sci fi or fantasy on earth so far, so haven't had to create any super world building. Great tips though.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think that list included everything. It's worth printing out and saving.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad this is helpful!

Bish Denham said...

I can get so lost in world building... I've been a map maker since I was a kid, loving making maps of my story places.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a good checklist for world building.

cleemckenzie said...

There's so much to know before you even start, and then you have to be consistent! I really admire those who can build worlds and do it so well.

Karen Lange said...

This is great info, Alex. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

Nilanjana Bose said...

Brilliant checklist. A comprehensive tool. The map maker sounds fascinating too.

Lynda Dietz said...

Thanks for such a great bunch of information and reference links! As an editor, not a writer, I can still use these to help the people I work with.

dolorah said...

Those are awesome questions and tips. I love world building, but it is time consuming.

Sean McLachlan said...

Nice resources. The Nuclear fallout maps are some of the most disturbing things I've seen on the Internet.

Deniz Bevan said...

Great post, Alex! I could really get lost in some of those links... #rubshandsinglee

Liza said...

Great resources, but building a world is too intimidating for me! I'll stick to the one I know. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Those lists of questions are so handy. I just started writing a fantasy story that really needs world building like this. I am printing out this questions to answer. Thanks!

Auden Johnson said...

Great tips and resources! I like how you advised not to dump all the information on the reader. When I come across info-dumps in stories, I start skipping paragraphs.

Christine Rains said...

Excellent tips! World building is so much fun. :)

J.L. Campbell said...

Great tips, questions and resources, Alex. This is why I admire fantasy and Sci-Fi writers, the world-building and other elements that go into the book to make a believable whole.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Tis truly an excellent source of tips for any world creator. Too bad many hadn't already seen your list, Alex. Thanks for sharing this. Even an old writer like me could take these and make something appealing.

RO said...

This is fantastic info, and reminds me that my skill sets don't include writing novels anytime soon.(lol) You are super talented! Hugs...

Sherry Ellis said...

Those are all great tips. You have to think about all of those to create a realistic world.

Fundy Blue said...

Wow! I had no idea all those resources existed, Alex! Thanks! Setting is always important to me. I've never tackled building an entire world, but I often am inspired by a landscape. I grew up in a lot of places where the environment (landscape) had a huge impact on the people who live in it. You're so right, Alex ~ whether the setting is a small part of our real world, or an entire imaginary world, it MUST feel real! Tolkien, Martin, and Simmons are masters at world building. This checklist is helpful to me for my memoir!

Lux G. said...

My brother is writing a fiction and I just actually edited the first part.
I must show him this.

J. I. Rogers said...

This is one of the best lists I've seen. Kudos, and thank you for posting it.