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How do you create your world?
Avmorket Friovaer
Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2013 2:45 PM
Joined: 8/7/2013
Posts: 5

A simple question, that has a multitude of answers. 


I enjoy world building, so to speak, more along the lines of making maps, designing rough drafts of specific locations, which all started out with wanting to do D&D with friends/family.  I rarely played, but had an interest, unfortunately DMing wasn't something I knew how to do.  I could build a world (and have built dozens), yet only have a bare basic story line.  This led me to begin writing again as well, taking an initial draft of a world, and deciding I could write a book of the story of the game...which has not occured yet. 


My world building usually starts out on Microsoft Excel, since I'm not that great of an artist.  I've designed world maps, using different colors of cells to represent the different terrains, then as appropriate, I've taken a specific cell/group of cells, to make a city, town, dungeon, etc. 


My book however, I did not created the world maps first, but chose to create the people who will live there.  I keep detailed notes on the descriptions of the main characters, and different cities, special locations, etc, that are within the world, and afterwards, began to design a world around the peoples. I'm working on side notes as well, of religions, history, tales of the 'old heros', that will be referenced throughout the book.  Most of which will not be directly included in the book, only but some be eluded to or mentioned briefly.  The thought there, is to have a published version later, with less than a 50 copies, that would include all the notes and guides to the books, to be distributed to those who contributed to the support and progress of the books (author's special version).


So how do your worlds (whether a specific 'city', or complete world) come about, do you:


A.  Write without a map of the world created, leaving it to the imagination of the reader

B.  Design a map and write the story around the world

C.  Write and work a map of the world together

D.  Other technique

Toni Smalley
Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013 10:35 PM
With my WIPs, I utilized different techniques for each one. With one WIP, I imagined the world first, because it was so unique and filled with fantastical elements so different from the world we live in, and from there I filled it was characters, then utilized the environment to build the plot. Sometimes, I picture some type of conflict, then create the world around it. I think it just depends on what has inspired me at the moment.
Mckenzie M
Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 9:54 PM
World building is one of the hardest things to do in fantasy. For me, I wrote first. I am terrible at maps, but I did create a simple one. It's important to keep tracks of things you're saying about your world, so as not to confuse yourself.
J.M. Berenswick
Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 11:04 PM
I rarely use a map. Instead, I'll start by writing about the various aspects of the world that will affect my story the most (for example, I'm starting work on a dystopian novel by writing a summary of the civil war that led to the rise of the dystopian society). Then I'll flesh out the plot and characters, sometimes simultaneously.
Angela Martello
Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 10:50 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

I think it's important to have a map (even a rudimentary one in your head or one roughly sketched out) especially if your characters are moving around and journeying through their world. If anything, to keep things straight like rough distances - the same journey on foot shouldn't take 2 days one time in the book, but 2 weeks another time (unless something plot-wise happens along the way). It's also important to keep track of things like major geographic features. Is such and such a river to the south or north of a particular town? Does the river bend? If so, where? Are there several cities along a coast? If so, which is the northernmost? The southernmost? Is one country to the west or east of another? Are there mountain chains? How many? Are they young (geologically still forming jagged peaks) or ancient (well-weathered, rolling hills)? Where are the mountain chains in relation to specific countries?  But is it important to draw an accurate map? While I enjoy looking at the maps sometimes included in various science fiction or fantasy books, I don't think not having the maps would have affected my appreciation for the stories.


The same rudimentary understanding of your created place's layout is important for any location: a city, a town, even a large estate. Where are the shops? In the center of town? On the edges? Are there government buildings, public places, or gardens that characters may frequent? If so, where are they with respect to other places the characters live in or visit? Where's the backdoor of the house? The kitchen? A porch? Where does it lead to? A driveway? A garden?


I keep a lot of this stuff in my head, but I have jotted down some notes (names of mountain chains and rivers, locations of countries/cities/towns, the layout of various houses). Maybe some day I'll make some sketches just for my own amusement.

JH Mae
Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014 10:41 AM
I've never attempted to build a fantasy world. However, I am currently attempting to create a story in America hundreds of years into the future. My world building isn't world building at all, but more creating a new society in a familiar but changed landscape. I don't mind the concept of maps, etc.; I'm a big Song of Ice and Fire fan and I appreciate the immense effort involved. But as a reader, I also like the writer to be vague sometimes - giving me gentle clues about location and geography instead of a detailed travelogue. I guess that depends on whether you're building a world set in an existing environment that's just changed from its present form (Hunger Games, for ex.) or creating something from the bedrock up (Middle Earth, perhaps). Either way, building a new world is almost as fun as writing the story.
Rob Emery
Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014 5:36 PM
Joined: 3/4/2014
Posts: 18

I generally introduce characters into a story line then write their world around them. At least as much as is needed to keep the story from hanging in mid air.  In one of my sci-fi manuscripts  I had to write about a half dozen worlds, each different as I was dealing with interstellar tele-portation to habitable planets where refugee humans might flee from a dying Earth. Aliens bring tele-portation technology to Earth, so even their home world had to be written in to some degree.


--edited by Rob Emery on 4/15/2014, 8:55 PM--

Brandi Larsen
Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 10:31 AM
Joined: 6/18/2012
Posts: 228

It's a good question, and I think it's one that concerns every writer who is crafting a story.


Romance writer Julie James talks about how she made the change in setting from the workplace and how that affected her writing process in today's blog post.

Posted: Friday, August 8, 2014 3:14 PM

I write historical Westerns about the Vigilantes of Montana, who had to make dangerous decisions where ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated.


My novels are all such blends of history and fiction that some readers have suggested I call them creative nonfiction, but when I studied the definitions of that genre, I decided to stick with historical fiction. 


All three books (soon to be four) are set during the Civil War in Montana Territory.


Because I write as close to the history as I can, much of the world-building is already done for me. There are maps dating from the 1860's online, and even an 1866 platt map of the primary town, Virginia City, Montana.


The Montana gold rush area began in 1862, and in August of 1864 a man named John Buchanan (no relation) started a newspaper called the Montana Post in Virginia City. From then on, I've had lots of fun reading the Post for the span of time I set my novels in. It tells me where the businesses are located, where lawyers held the first Bar Association meetings, where and when the Chief Justice of the newly formed territory held the organizing meeting for the judicial system.


The Post gives me a wealth of detail and tone that I might not be able to replicate without it. Even so, the reality in the newspaper is not the reality of my fictional world. The events I write about occurred 150 years ago, and I was not there -- obviously.


Although I have the Post, archival writings, contemporary accounts of the Vigilantes' activities (both for and against), it's hard work to get inside the minds of the people who lived through that era. I am not their contemporary; they do not have 21st-century mindsets. But in writing that story, I have to try to be them. In that, historical fiction and world-building becomes a kind of method acting.

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, September 9, 2014 5:29 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 194

My stories start with a character in a situation...the worldbuilding comes as the story progresses, but within some existing parameters.  Maps are later in the game (as advised by C.J. Cherryh) as I learn more about the world.   Most of my writing has been set in imaginary worlds, both in fantasy and in science fiction.  But the settings are not the story--they enhance the story, they give it what painters call a groundline, a place for characters to stand.  (It is possible to write a story in which the setting is almost a character, but that's not my usual choice.)


For me as a reader, it's important that the setting make sense, no matter how much of it the reader is shown.  Thus the landscape always extends beyond the story's current extent...not in a map, but in my head.  Climate zones, waterways, what grows on plains, hills, mountains,  what color rocks stick out of what steepness of slope,  etc., all help me with characters and their motivations...the farmer who is necessarily aware of seasonal changes, soil, weather, predators after lambs or insects or mice after crops.  The city merchant whose weather concerns are more about the effect on transport of goods, or whether his warehouse down by the river will be flooded in a wet year.   I came into writing familiar with farming in different areas, familiar with landforms, with vegetation changes from north to south, from the foot of mountains to their peak...a great help, because I had less book-research to do.  In college the first time I took both geology and archaeology--met more landforms, learned more about how the land itself works and how it affects what people can do with it and its resources.  Second run through college and grad school gave me more botany, some entomology, more geology, applied ecology.  So when a character pops up on a planet (fantasy or SF)  my mind looks through her or his eyes, and sees a range of possibilities. 


But the world is more than rocks, water, soils, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom.  It's history, culture, religion, politics, specific rituals, customs, habits affecting what, how, and when people eat, excrete, dress and undress, greet one another, do business with one another, influence one another, combine in families or split up in enemy groups.   So when I'm in viewpoint, I check with my characters: are you a class above or below that fellow over there in the short velvet robe with embroidery trim?  How do you greet a religious leader in your religion?   How do you greet a child?   A beggar?  Are you wearing a ring, or a talisman around your neck, and if so why?   Here's a market square full of farmers and their produce...are you buying or passing through?  Is that gutter running with clean rainwater, or washwater from a community laundry, or the contents of every chamber pot in this neighborhood?   You, farmer, with the basket of big yellowish tubers for sale...what do you call them?  What do they smell like?  Can you eat them raw?  When do you plant them and when do you pull them up?  What are the leaves like?   When the character's movements begin to strain my memory (do you turn left or right out of the farm gate to get to the village well?  Is the goldsmith's workshop the fifth from the corner of Smiths Lane and Fishgate Street, or seventh?  Does the main character get from her spaceship's docking slot to the local court with two changes of mass transit or three?)  I do a sketch map of that location.   Then another.  Eventually the map grows (along with the list of names of people, places, foods, tools, etc.)     Much later there's a sketch of the story space for that story (with lots of arrows leading off from the edges) and much later still there may be a master map of the whole continent. Or two.  


Some conscious choices (is there a moon or not?) affect both plot (no moon, no using the moonlight to see by night) and yet more background (also, only a solar tide, which will be weaker.)     Characters native to such a world will not reckon in months (no moon cycle) and of course will not talk about a moon, because they've never had one.   Writers can invent many different varieties of plausible worlds (based on what's known or pure fancy) --start with a different primeval continent in a different location, move the hotspots around, and end up with the same mechanisms but a different arrangement of land masses--and thus different weather patterns.  Use fragments of "real" maps enlarged or shrunken or oriented differently--lop off or add peninsulas, fill in existing bays, stick a volcano in there somewhere (keeping in mind WHY volcanoes are where they are...but don't lose track of the story.   There's your hero/antihero in a fix.  It's a real place; it has texture, smell, sound, an essential reality.  Work out from there. 


Or--that's how I do it.  I write as a journey of exploration...into the characters, and through the setting.



Amanda Kimberley
Posted: Friday, December 26, 2014 6:34 PM
Joined: 11/30/2011
Posts: 69

I normally write nonfiction but just recently started writing paranormal urban fantasy romance. I've had a series that's been stuck in my head for a little over 20 years and these characters have finally broken me to the point where I'm writing their story. The story expands through centuries so I have a lot of different worlds coming together-- hence this will wind up as a series.


The first book I wrote centered around the New England area in the US, the second (which I'm currently writing) is taking place in China, England, and the U.S. territory and I've been having a bit of a difficult time keeping track of every detail.


I wondered how everyone does it and I'm glad to see that no matter which genre you are writing in, there are some constants that anyone can utilize. Excel, index cards, and notebooks are all good tools, but I find myself personally using each one for different things.


I use Excel for my characters' traits, features, ages, occupations, etc, but I don't like the fact that not everything shows up in the squares when you print it out. The thing I find that's really hard with Excel is keeping notes about spells, spell books, or the history of a particular town. 


I first started with a notebook, and that worked okay until I had to refer to the unorganized pages for book two. I then went to sticky notes on the wall above my desk for things like brainstorming plots twists and those worked pretty well until they stop sticking. I'm now trying index cards that are confined to a tin to see if those work. Right now it seems to be okay, but after the second story, I might find them too cumbersome.


I also use computer programs to switch out chapters and build the world(s) and characters. I find yWriter really useful for that when it comes to my second and third drafts.


But I never thought to create a map. The thought never dawned on me. Probably because I didn't like Geography when I was in school. LOL! But small sketches, especially of England when the werewolves are hunting after the vampires in my story, might help!


I'm so glad I came across this discussion because it has helped me out greatly! Thanks so much!

Charles J. Barone
Posted: Friday, December 26, 2014 8:07 PM
Joined: 7/18/2014
Posts: 121

My book mostly take place here in New Mexico. I've traveled the state extensively prowling old ghost towns and cavalry forts and know it well enough that I don't actually need a map. The one difference is Albuquerque, where I was raised. I use that town as I remember it rather than how it has changed and grown.


The current novel I'm writing is a departure. It takes place in preset day New England, an area I'm only vaguely familiar with. I've had to do research on the towns and the area to make it sound at least reasonably true to life, and have road maps, Google Earth and other things for descriptions. I've also had to do some reading on the Puritans, to learn their customs, language, style of writing, spelling or lack thereof, etc.

Janet Umenta, Book Country Assistant
Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 5:28 PM
Joined: 4/7/2014
Posts: 141

Book Country member Marshall Ryan Maresca wrote a great blog post on the worldbuilding process this week. You can apply those tips by entering THE THORN OF DENTONHILL Sweepstakes!
Romana Drew
Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015 7:33 PM

I never start out needing a map, but somewhere in the middle of the book, I always end up drawing one so I can keep things straight.


However, I have learned that I need to keep the date straight, so every scene starts with a data and/or time stamp (deleted in the final draft). If it takes the spaceship 5 days to go from one planet to the next then it needs to take five days for the return trip, and five days worth of action should happen on the surface of both planets.

Posted: Friday, April 24, 2015 3:02 AM
Joined: 4/14/2015
Posts: 2


Most of my stories occur in the same construct. I developed an alternate history/alternate technology world for my first novel, which is now the setting for a host of tales (some related, some stand-alones).  The initial work (two years!) filled a number of notebooks, with bios of significant individuals, maps and timelines of technological developments.


The development of stories and the invention of the world kind of went hand in hand.  There were some technologies that I had in mind, and the short stories had to fit with those.  Beyond that, you need to consider the consequences of whatever you invent.


By way of example: I reference springdrives in stories that take place between the 1860s and 1910(ish). I ended up with lists of their uses in domestic, commercial and industrial settings. Then there were the folks that built and marketed them; the limitations (how long do they last), how do you rewind them (commercial rewinding centres, of course), dimensions (that played a role in how big a springdrive auto needed to be), how much they weighed, etc.


In all this, what shows up in the story is a fraction of what the writer puts together.  But that's OK. If you are neither careful nor confident with your inventions, it shows. Think a LOT about the world you invent, then spent more time weaving in it's impact on the story and characters than inventorying the fiddley bits.  But, hey, really, it is a lot of fun.


--edited by Thomas.K on 4/24/2015, 3:03 AM--

Posted: Tuesday, February 2, 2016 3:21 AM
Joined: 1/31/2016
Posts: 30

Maps of a Alien planet.

Roughly a A4 drawing of our Earthling planet I prefer to call, 'Gaia'.

The scale works out at about a scale of  1 : 100,000,000.

Using a A4 sheet of paper and a fine black pen I sketch the outline of a continent or two, maybe a Island or 3.

KISS simple is important. The initial map is not very important and can be a source of instriration in a random shape.

As I write about the planet and my character explore I slowly fill up the map with place names mountains and desert.

After I finish writing I may eventually get around to adding some colour with colouring pencils.

Just to colour in all the water blue makes the continents stand out.

A few points I prefer     

Fiddling with different sized planets and suns gets tricky. Usually a Alien planet is still 24 hours and 365 days, easier.

Different gravity and times take more explaining than worth the the additional Alien flavour of said planet.

Get to a planet and spend a few years learning the language. Telepahic is a option but not for everyone, mortal soldiers.


                 Dravid Mills



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