World-Building Techniques – The Ultimate Guide

World-building

World-building is a long process but an interesting one as well.

A joy of creating something completely original and seen never before, making a chest full of possible surprises, thinking without any real, tangible boundaries, can often be found when an author creates a world from scratch.

If you let your imagination run wild for a bot, it’s going to be relatively easy to make an outline of your world. The process is very straight forward:

IMAGINE – WRITE DOWN – FIT IT

Well, there’s more to it than that. But, it is the basic line you should follow.

You cannot skip any of those three. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t write it. If it doesn’t fit, cut it out. Your own world is full of possible ideas, waiting to be discovered.

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Fantasy Forest

I mentioned there were rules in place when writing fantasy, but you’re in luck – you’re the one creating them. The importance of the rules can never be stressed enough – everything that happens is a consequence of some law making it play out that way. Look around the real world and you’ll see the pattern.

But to put that aside for a bit, let’s focus on the main thing. How does one create that world? Nothing poetic or artistic about it (yet), just the concepts and creation.

There are two main approaches to creating a brand new world.

  1. Top-down
  2. Bottom-up

Top-Down World-Building Design

Map
First Outline of My World
This is an approach sometimes called decomposition and represents an analysis of the broad idea of the world. It means that you as the designer create the basic characteristics of your world and only after that you start deconstructing it to determine how it works, that is, after you create your main part, you start picking the details and deciding how they work.

This approach is very popular. It works well and it gives you more time to think about every aspect of your world.

First, determine the technology level your world is at, after that describe the main geographical features, climate and some history. When that is done, smaller aspects should start appearing naturally: big cities, towns, villages, nations, borders, tribes, mythical creatures, legends, etc. Beware, if something pops to your mind that seems natural for your world, double-check it – it could easily be the influence of other designers.

As always, write down your first three ideas, scratch them, come up with the fourth and use that one.

Bottom-Up World-Building Design

Just as popular, this technique for world-building is the opposite of the previous one. Obviously, you start off with creating small pieces and fitting them in a great, big structure with complexity and layers.

No need to mention, this is much more time consuming and it’s much harder. But if you do it well enough for long enough, you’ll have a world that works by itself.

Start with creating a small place (a village, a town, a city – nothing bigger) and work on it in detail. Create local geography, local politics, commerce, culture, history, nobles, relationships. Make everything and make it work. Chances are you won’t be able to spend ten pages on describing it all, but if you have it in you preparation, it will show in your writing.

After you’ve created a spot, start spreading it. By the end you’ll have so much material that you won’t be able to remember it all, but the readers will appreciate the fact that you went through such trouble to make the world as real as possible.

Of course, it’s important to check if it works on the full scale – do it by moving your plot and characters through the world and see how they react.

It is easy to make mistakes this way and have a lot of inconsistencies. To avoid it, compare different spots to each-other. Check if the full scale world and local world function in harmony.

When you’ve completed it, it’s bound to be magnificent.

Other Points of Interest

You’ll have to pay attention to a lot of things because a lot goes on when doing the world-building. Some major points of interest should be:

  1. Physics
  2. Cosmology
  3. Geography
  4. Culture

There is no need to explain the physics of your world if it’s the same as in the real world – it’s implied. But, if your planet is twice as big as Earth and has twice the mass, the people on it will be half as tall as humans, trees will grow half as tall as on Earth, etc – because the gravity will be twice as strong.

There is a need for knowing cosmology because a part of the culture will rely on the stars, moon(s) and sun(s). Come up with basics, there is no need to explain the exact position of your planet in the universe (unless it’s science fiction, then there is need).

Geography is the first thing you’ll devise when you start working on your map – even earlier, while you’re writing down the ideas. You’ll already know which cities are in the mountains and which are by the sea.

westeros_physical_map_by_a_lack_of_rainbows-d5cuayd

Culture is your most important concept. You’ll spend the most time working on it but remember – society isn’t an occurrence, it’s a process. Culture is fluid, so use it to your advantage. You can have any form of faith if you give a tangible reason for it.

If you’re embarking on the adventure of creating a world, I wish you the best of luck and I know you’ll have a great time doing it. Yes, some sleepless nights are due, but it is worth it. The more time you spend working on the world, the better your novel/series/stories will be.

Keep writing!

Author: Mladen Reljanović

Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.

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