Worldbuilding: Ten Steps to Success (hopefully)
Worldbuilding is one of those things I always hear people saying you should do before you start writing. Or at the very least, before you finish the first draft of the first two books in a series. Personally, I’ve never been very good at doing what other people tell me I should. I’m stubborn, and hate being told what to do and think, especially if the people are right and doing it their way is actually the best way.
Which is how I find myself where I am today: Two first drafts done in a world that until recently, didn’t even have all the countries named. And the characters only had first names. I also kept forgetting what they looked like (well, some of them anyways).
So here I am, trying to do this the right way, and probably failing miserably. Cause I keep putting stuff off. Probably because I have no clue where I should even begin. So I decided to sit down and make a list of ten steps to worldbuilding success (hopefully). Also known as, the ten things I need to get sorted before I start revising the first draft of the first book.
My world doesn’t just need named countries, a few rivers, and a couple of mountains. It needs to be alive. One of the first things I need to do is get an even firmer grasp on the geography. This includes working out the local climate for each country. Their natural resources and so on. I need to make sure that the change in climate and vegetation works within the world I have created, and that what I end up with is a sustainable ecosystem that is actually plausible, and not just random things thrown at a map in the places where they work for the plot. The plot must adapt to its surroundings, not the other way around.
II. People and customs
Once I have a grasp on the places, I can move on to the people. How are the everyday lives of the people living in my world? What are their lives like? What are their own personal values, and how do they work within the perceived values of their country of origin? What is the population like in my countries? Where do people live, and more importantly, why did they settle there in the first place? I’ll need to figure out the agriculture, as well as their trading routes. There is commerce in my world, but how does it all work, exactly.
I have two main religions represented in the first book, with another two or even three coming later. Most of the details for this is already in my head, but it should probably also be detailed in notes, for later, when I keep forgetting stuff. One of the religions has also changed a bit since I wrote the first book, so I need to get a firm grasp on the details before I start revisions. Few of my religions are localized, but perhaps there are small local changes to it, that works better with that particular community? Something to consider.
Perhaps one of the more important things I need to think about. How do my countries interact with each other? Are they trading partners, or at war? The political relationships between my countries will help shape the world my characters reside in, so I want to make sure it is fleshed out well before getting too caught up in revisions. This step also includes legal systems, which will different from country to country in most places I’d imagine.
I’ve only got one made-up language in this series, which is basically just a few words here and there right now. I want to try to flesh it out a bit more. I’m not an expert on this sort of thing, but I want the language to feel more real than it does right now. Thankfully, I have Catrine who can guide me in the right direction. She’s created several languages for her own writing, and has already given me great advice on a few things. This will probably be one of the more challenging things with worldbuilding, but it is also something I am passionate about getting done.
With the basics done, I also need to start looking into the history of my world. I have a few main events that happened in the past that I need to write down in detail. How I choose to do that is up to me, but a historian’s diary sort of thing would be awesome. I’ll have to see what my brain will allow. The main things is that I need to get this written down, because the history is such a big thing with this series, I will need to have a handle on it. Now the history of your chosen fantasy world is always important, for some more than others. To me, it’ll play an important part, so I need to get my mind organized around what I already have written down, and what is still only in my head.
I’ve mainly been looking at the world my characters live in up to this point, but I also don’t want to forget about them. Most of my main characters I have a fairly good grip on, but I need to have that for all my characters. If a person is named, I need to have records of where, why, and what I said they look like. Because not having that will probably come back to haunt me. I just know it. Plus, this will require organization, and I love organizing things!!
There are always a lot of characters in fantasy books, or and mine is no exception. So I may as well start right away when it comes to keeping track of them, so in a couple of years I don’t have to go looking for the name of that one man they met that one time in the one village.
This could easily go into one of the other points above, but as I have a few made-up species of animals in this series I wanted to make sure I spend as much time on fleshing them out as I need to. I have a general grasp on what they are, and how they came to be, in my head. But my head is filled with stuff, and this needs to be on a page. I need to make sure than the animals I have created feel real, and doesn’t end up as a weird name and short description, without anything more to them.
Again, this could have been a part of the religions section, but my magic system, spelled majik in the books (for some reason) is more than just a religion. It is complicated, and I need to un-complicate it. I need to understand it myself, or how else am I supposed to make other people understand it. This step will include the history and creation of the magic systems, as well as how it works, and who uses it today.
X. Plot Outline
After having done all of the above, I have to make sure I don’t lose sight of the most important part of this whole thing, the plot. Because I should probably outline the plot for the series in more detail. Also, at this time most of it is still only in my head, so I need to get it written down. With changes having to be made to the first book, a good outline will be crucial to the editing process. There are several different ways I could plot this out, but first I’ll just need a main storyline that goes through the entire series. There have been a few changes to it in recent years, as my world kept expanding and changing, and my characters did the same. There will need to be several outlines. One for the series, one for each book, and then more detailed for each plot and characters driving said plot.
So there we have it. Ten easy steps to worldbuilding. I hope. Now I have to point out that I didn’t come up with all of these one my own or anything. I’ve been looking through my worldbuilding resource links, and with the help of them I made this list as my approach to worldbuilding. I’m probably not going to do it all in order, but then again, when do I ever. I mean, I have written two books before doing any of the above to any extent.
I think the thing to remember is that it’s not so much about how you worldbuild, but that you do it! Because when writing fantasy, you need to remember that the world your characters live in is just as important as the characters themselves!
The challenge for me (I mean, I love coming up with these things) is keeping track of what I’ve planned once I’ve finished doing it. I spent weeks on planning lots of interesting things in my world, but do I remember it when I write? Nah. Can’t even remember half the things when I’m trying. I might have to create a worldbuilding cheat sheet for myself… (as well as a language cheat sheet – can’t remember any of them now)
I’m going to be a little contrary and say that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to write the first draft before worldbuilding. You most often start out with a general idea of the world anyway, and it’s really only after the first draft that you know which topics are the most important to know. Of course it goes the other way as well, but I’m a fan of doing a little bit of both, going back and forth between the two. (Nice excuse for being easily distracted, anyway… *ehem*)