I’ve discussed bits and pieces of this subject before but I know many of you have no intention of scrolling through all 189 of my posts, as much as I’d love to have you do that! In any event, since I’m working on rolling out Meleena’s Adventures – Treasure Of The Umbrunna, I’ll pass on a comprehensive version of how to build your world, and how I did mine, as an example.
MAKE IT REAL FOR YOUR GENRE
Whatever you do, make your story real for your genre. If you’re going to bend rules, then bend them consistently, but be wary of stretching them too far so you don’t alienate your audience. Gentle, versus overt usually works best.
Though there’s a certain amount of world-building involved with any genre, when it comes to reality-based ones, in other words, those that are not fantasy or far-out science fiction, that world-building is minimal because most of the work is already done for you. What it amounts to is basically research of real locations, history and science.
On the other hand, with fantasy and far-out science fiction, normal rules don’t apply. It’s up to you to make up the locations, history and science.
A smart writer will develop an encyclopedia as they create. This file, which may eventually become a glossary in the book, or books (if it’s a series), can be broken down into sections. What I’m not including, which should be a part of any story for consistency, are places and characters. Below are examples of things to consider when building your world.
The geography is the physical layout of the world where the story takes place. It’s a continent, planet, solar system, maybe just restricted to a forest or dale somewhere. That place needs to be set up and you need to build it from the ground up. It may be one climate, one terrain, or have a range. If you create the setting beforehand, you can refer to it as you write the story. Or, like me, I write the story first and add the details to the description in the encyclopedia. Then when the need arises, I refer to the encyclopedia to keep me straight later on. In the case of Meleena’s Adventures, her continent is Gallin and she starts out in Bug Flat. Her adventures take her all over, and I have a crude map drawn that may or may not get a full artistic treatment later. People love maps, so that’s a consideration.
No world can go without some form of plant life. Even the most lifeless world would be completely boring for the reader without some form of trees, bushes or whatever. Sure, in a sci-fi story, there can be lifeless moon settings, but the story would be quite dull if that was the main world, unless the story took place inside a habitat. Then, inside the habitat, there would be something, hydroponic gardens or whatever. Of course, there are exceptions. Meleena’s world is full of many plants found on Earth, but just as numerous are species that are way out there. They defy physics, or any botanical principles. They’re my rules.
FAUNA (ICKY BUGS)
This is where you populate your world with animals and/or monsters, or as I call them, icky bugs. You can have just plain normal critters, slightly modified animals, or completely alien beasts and anything in-between. These creatures can either comply with real physics or you can break all the rules. Keep in mind that if you break all the rules, be consistent. Don’t try to get too technical with explaining why because that will get you in trouble with the people that know better!
The icky bugs in Meleena’s Adventures are all over the map. Many are inspired by the D&D creatures of the 80’s, but many I just pulled out of the air. Some are even inspired by the old B-movies from the 50’s. The last thing I’d try to do is apply real physics or biology to them and I don’t try to explain the physics behind them. I know better. THIS IS MELEENA’S WORLD!
I use that term loosely, because that not only includes the indigenous populations of your world, but the characters. Most characters in stories either have to be human, humanoid, or at least some form that we humans can relate to. Your hero can be a four armed Slurg from Zot as long as she can relate to us as humans, with feelings and emotions. Meleena’s characters are a mix of races including Dwarves, Elves, humans, half-bugs, half-rats and other humanoids of races I leave deliberately vague, just to keep things intriguing. This world is meant to be that way. Your world should be also, but it can be based on reality as well, with just a touch of the fantastical.
Day doesn’t turn into night on a world with nothing else happening. What about wind, rain, fog, snow, sleet, thunder, the Weather Channel? Your world needs weather just like everywhere else. Should it be unique or just plain weird? Will that weirdness get in the way of the story? Will it be part of what makes the story unique? Will it be part of the plot? Meleena’s world is like any other, with its share of good and bad weather. However, it’s not so much a factor in the first book, except for one every important event.
The last article where I talked about Meleena’s world, I addressed measurement. This is a very important part of your world-building. You need to set standards. Are you going to go for simplicity and keep all measurement the same as in our world? Or, are you going to make your world more immersive and create your own unique system of measurement? How complicated, how simple?
I chose crude and simple, which at times made for some rather tricky writing. I already went over it once so I won’t repeat it again. You need to list your measurement system in your encyclopedia and refer to it often as you write your story. Time, distance, height, etc.
How many languages are there in your world? Is there a common tongue either for simplicity or because of some other reason? Be careful quoting alien languages. Don’t use long passages because most reader’s eyes will glaze over after a few sentences. However, naming these tongues and who speaks them is okay. Meleena, as I’ve outlined before, has a rather scary and unique gift to be able to speak, read, write and comprehend the true meaning of every language in her world. At first, she couldn’t understand the context because of her age, but as she grew, she became wiser and learned. How do you handle encountering those who don’t speak the common tongue in your world? You can use language barriers for all kinds of fun!
No world is complete without religion. Maybe to alien races, religion is a uniquely human trait, but since we’re all human and the ones reading and creating these stories, a world without religion, isn’t a truly realistic world. You need to create religion of some kind. It doesn’t have to be predominant to the story. It just has to be there for at least coloring in the background, at least. Meleena’s world has many Pagan religions but the only one mentioned so far is Esveen which is tied to the Gods Of The Blue Mountains. Your story can be completely devoid of religion. It’s not a mandatory element, but adds a deeper color of realism to most stories, especially fantasy.
CURRENCY AND TRADE
Every world runs on some form of exchange. Munny (as in “hunny” Winnie tha’ Pooh) rules. Of course, there are exceptions, but come on. For that extra touch of realism, how do your characters buy things, with gold, silver, diamonds or something you invented? What about shops, stores, the proprietors? In Meleena’s world, it’s a little bit of everything, though I don’t emphasize any particular currency, like a “national dollar” or some such thing. I deliberately leave it vague. One day, for story sake, I may bring up a particular currency but that’s to be seen. How about you? Is that something to add to your encyclopedia?
The way your world is built is as much a function of the geography as it is the architecture. If it’s a fantasy world, are the buildings medieval? Are they something else? For science fiction, how wild is your imagination? Just keep in mind you have to describe these structures so your reader can understand them. Then, you must keep consistent for each setting. If not consistent, there must be a reason that structure is not normal and not just random. In Meleena’s Adventures, I have a mix of mostly medieval, but with alien structures all of my own invention. It’s my world, with my purpose.
ON AND ON
Here’s where the world details can go on forever. The more details you throw in, the more realistic, or I should say, immersive your world will be. Be careful though. Don’t bog the reader down in endless details. Maybe you want to be known as the guy or gal that goes for those little things, but at the same time, you don’t want to lose the story mired in useless trivia. Balance is the key.