I’m a big believer in a conversational approach to writing a synopsis which frequently is also part of my plotting. This Guide to World Building works with this same idea.
Rather than going all left brain and filling out a list, I just sit back and let the ideas flow. One great way to do this is to do a little role-playing and pretend to be a reporter or character reporting on this great new world they’ve just encountered.
Less pressure and more fun.
Guide to World Building Step 1:
Decide how much of this world you will use.
As I said in my post on Why Build a World When You Can Steal One? frequently major portions of your fictional world can be (even should be) based on the world we live in. The world we know makes sense to people and you know it which makes it much easier to write and keep consistent.
Guide to World Building Step 2:
If possible choose a lore/world/myth structure that makes sense for your fictional world and steal a few elements.
As I said in that earlier post, for my Unbound series (originally for Harlequin Nocturne) I used Norse Mythology as my base. This gave me a world structure, backstory, language, religion – everything a world needs to feel real.
Need help choosing an existing lore? Check out The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference. It has bits on everything from cultures like the Incas to animal totems to medieval clothing.
Guide to World Building Step 3:
Put on your creative hat and start writing.
Article 1: The setting/Travelogue
For this article your reporter is a human character who was just dropped down into the middle of this new world. His job is to report back on landscape, buildings, color of the sky, temperature of the air. He isn’t interacting with the people. He is simply describing the beautiful beaches or bombed out shelters.
(Note: If the air is blue and the grass is green you may not need to write about this. It all depends on where your reporter is coming from. If he is getting off a space ship, then yes, readers will need to know what is the same along with what is different from the world they know. If the world just is, the reader will start out with the assumption that the world is like the one they know. Your job will be telling then the differences. Think about how a person who grew up in New York City would describe a farm in the middle of Kansas. What would stand out as different to them and thus report worthy?)
Article 2: The Inhabitants
In this article the unusual beings from your world have shown up at the local town square. Your reporter is dispatched to the scene to tell the world what he sees.
(Mention any creatures/beings that aren’t human and describe them from the same outsider perspective. The same “describe what is different” rule holds true here. If you are using elves, readers will have expectations. Let them know how your elves are different from those expectations. Don’t leave your readers to find out halfway through the book that your elf actually has pointy ears and fangs. (And elves vary enough you may need to describe things that to you may seem a given, like their height.) )
Article 3: Power Struggles
This article is an insider piece. Someone within your world is reporting on the current major power struggle in their society. Is it magic vs. technology? A family feud like the Hatfields and McCoys? Gender? Race? Class? Religion? This is an expose, an underground piece with juicy secrets neither side of the struggle will want revealed.
Article 4: Values
Another insider piece, but tell this one from the point of view of a true believer who is trying to lead his flock in the right direction. What drives him? What brings others along? It can be inspirational or threatening, whatever works best for your muse.
These four articles and your original background work should give you a good start on building your world. From here you can add articles on things such as: Food Reviews, Transportation (issues, design), Weather Report, Holidays… whatever is going to come to play in your world. (You may also want to write more than one article of the different types from different points of view.) Or you can just start writing your story and let these things reveal themselves as you go along. Just remember as they do to take notes so you can keep your world consistent. (You may want to store these notes in a series or book bible.)
And bonus! When you are done building your world ,you will have material ready to be tweaked to include in submission material or to place on your blog or web site for readers who will want to know everything they can about your world.
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check our her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.