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How do you WorldBuild?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Hir i-Chorvath, Sep 4, 2020.

  1. Hir i-Chorvath

    Hir i-Chorvath Auror

    I promise this isn't the same thing as the "Why do you want to build a world?" thread.

    How do you worldbuild? Do you just brain dump, get super scientific about everything, map it all out, etc.?
    I'm just curious. I've tried several methods and so far the only one that works for me is a Q&A of sorts with my characters in that world.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. jacksimmons

    jacksimmons Scribe

    Pretty much everything I write starts with an opening scene. From there I pants it until I have to start asking myself important questions. This usually culminates in a map of some sort being drawn (for longer works.) In the words of GRRM "I knew I was screwed when I started drawing the maps."

    This probably isn't the greatest way of building a world but, although I do love worldbuilding, all my worlds have been built to accommodate a story of some kind. I don't start with a world and then try and think of a narrative to slot into it.

    Once I have a basic setting and general rules established, I spend so much time thinking about it that I come up with cool details really quickly and keep them all written down on notes on my phone. A lot of these details don't ever make it in to a finished story.
    Dutchcourage likes this.
  3. Dutchcourage

    Dutchcourage Acolyte

    I start with a vague idea for a world, with a basic set of rules. Then, once something becomes important to the story I want to tell, I'll zoom in on it and work out every single detail I can possibly think of. Then I move on with the story until something else comes up. So half of my world will be built in rediculous detail, while the other half if no more than a passing thought.

    Of course, one thing always leads to another, and sometimes I spend weeks working out the economy of a nation because one of my characters wants to know what someone's father did for a living. But I kind of like that. It gives me a chance to focus on something else for a while.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    So for me...

    So what am I starting with? Let's say it's a Sir Lunchmeat, a giant warrior ant, because I've had a few tonight, and that sounds fun right now. Sir Lunchmeat. Starting element.

    Now first Sir Lunchmeat needs certain things to work as a concept. There's the ant colony, and his knighthood ("sir") that I would need to figure out. The way that I build these two things is going to shape my character. How much is his ant colony true to life? As a knight does he go hunting monsters, leading armies, live up to a an ant's form of chivalry, or terrorize peasants for his queen? What kind of character do I want Sir Lunchmeat to be? Let's make him a silly but valiant knight in a world that wants to be too boring and regimented for chivalry and "fairy tales," even though they very much live in a full fantasy world. But that's a question of judgement that I have to answer. What do I need to do to my world and my setting to make "Sir Lunchmeat" into the knight I want him to be? Fundamental Support.

    Next I'm looking for a Dynamic, and this means creating new characters. I want to build characters that help to draw out or challenge the different aspects of Sir Lunchmeat that I want to explore. A few of these fall right into place. Other "warrior knights" with different attitudes about their knighthood, perhaps more cynical, more angry, more tired, more abusive, with one or two who support Sir Lunchmeat just to have it hurt him later. But I also want to play on that spirit of adventure, so that while his ant colony mostly goes out for food, Sir Lunchmeat starts stealing magical ingredients from a witch's garden.

    But wait.. and this happens sometimes. But I've just stumbled onto an idea that changes the way I think about everything in the story so far. If the witch's magical ingredients are causing the ants to become viable as characters, "waking up" as it were, then what if Sir Lunchmeat is so different because he is one of the first to eat from that witch's garden? Now I have a Breakthrough that forces me to revisit everything I've considered so far. The other ants don't have to be cynical or abusive to the idea of a knighthood. Instead they're only starting to grow into being sentient life at all, and Sir Lunchmeat has to do his best to guide his awakening colony into being something worthy of a knighthood, against a witch who, on top of hiding away the ingredients, and setting out poisons and traps for them, also does evil things, which they will also come to realize over time.

    Now that I have enough worldbuilding to support a valid story concept, it's time to expand on these elements into developing a fully functioning world. Is the witch really a witch? Or a wizard or a druid or angel or alchemist or nymph or what? Where does the magic come from? Do different herbs do different things to the ants, and what they are supposed to do to begin with? And what kind of place does this witch dwell in? A little hut in the woods? A walled mansion in the middle of a city? The castle's royal garden? It's time to Detail the elements I'm working with and swap out vague placeholders for specific more personal terms. This is where I actively try and push previous assumptions out and make decisions that are intended to stick. I want ideas that give the story distinction and personality. For instance, the name Sir Lunchmeat - names in this ant colony are based on what you smell like after surviving your first excursion into the world. If I were serious this is also where I would want to do some Research about ant colonies to figure out the best equivalent to a knight and determine Sir Lunchmeat's actual role in the colony.

    From there I have five things to think about:
    Ecology - the physical features of the environment, and what creatures exist that might show up in the world.
    Culture - the customs, sense of honor, and differing worldviews held in the world (i.e., ant traditions, plus different opinions about things should change as more characters develop consciousness...), plus the trappings, like diet and how do ants build the colony.
    Magic - It's not just the herbs, what can the witch do?
    Government - How does ant territory work again? Are there other colonies? How do ants spread - doesn't every colony have kind of a "parent" colony it grew out of, or does that not matter? It seems like the "queen" would just be a figurehead, so how do ants really communicate and make decisions?
    Combat - What does combat look like? Are there weapons? Fighting styles? In this story it's closer to a heist, stealing magic herbs, so how does that actually happen?

    But that's just the worldbuilding. Really developing the characters, and plotting the story, also take just as much effort, skill and complexity...
  5. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

    Obsessively. I have a list of things I have concluded are important to the story / setting, and I am not stopping until I finish it (even if progress can be quite slow due to other stuff taking time away).
  6. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    My worldbuilding begins with a series of "What if" questions. It ends when I believe the worldbuilding I have completed has answered those what if questions.

    The questions I wanted to answer when I began the worldbuilding for my work in progress were:

    1. What if the vast majority of people were bisexual? How would families, marriage and homes look in such a society?
    2. What if things like steam power were discovered and used a lot earlier than in our world but the steam age lasted for centuries rather than decades?
    3. What if technology like that which existed in the 1930s existed side by side with magic? How would people and society in general react to magic and technology in that type of settings?
    4. What if society was like the so-called "sin cities" of the 1920s? That is, Berlin, Shanghai and Paris in terms of pushing moral, ethical and other boundaries?
    5. What if there was an economic depression that was driving extremism and undermining the institutions of the political establishment? How would people feel about a strongman, military or authoritarian politicians and political parties if they promised work, housing and food for those who lacked one or more of these things?
    6. What if the monarchy was a non-hereditary one? How would the monarch be chosen and who would choose him/her/them?
    7. What if there was a way to ensure that my female character could avoid ending up married with children in a way that didn't sound contrived?
    8. What if magic was gifted by the gods to seemingly random people when they became adults?
    9. What if receiving the gift of magic was a double edged sword? That is, the price that had to be paid was sterility, banned from adopting children, forbidden to marry and losing all aristocratic titles if you had one or was likely to inherit one?

    Later, I began to ask:

    10. What if the Empire was a tropical maritime empire spread out across thousands of islands? How would such an empire be administered? What would the people, buildings and wardrobes look like? Would this empire have a diverse range of cultures and, if it did, how would the various cultures interact?

    I arrived at the answers by reading about various cultures within the tropics, their religious beliefs, their customs and their wardrobes. I also drew upon my extensive knowledge of the interwar years (1919 - 1939), particularly the Weimar Republic and Imperial Japan. I also drew on the Polynesian cultures closer to home (such as Maori and Samoan cultures here in New Zealand). Asking questions that books and Google couldn't answer such as if the rain was warm or cold, whether or not the stereotypes and tourist publications reflected the realities of life in these places and how they traditionally disposed of their human waste helped with making the world i was creating seem more real.

    Along the way the main character underwent several transformations as the result of the worldbuilding, of which the biggest was her ethnicity and skin colour. She began looking like she had stepped out of one of those Nazi posters extolling the virtues of blond, blue-eyed "Aryans" and ended up brown skinned with the appearance of someone of mixed Chinese and Polynesian origins.

    Well, that's the convoluted way I do my world building. It seems chaotic but it seems to work for me.
    Hir i-Chorvath likes this.
  7. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    It's been literally for ever since I first began worldbuilding. Anymore it's just rabbit holes all the way down.

    But as for the how, that's more often than not a matter of reacting to an object or something I've read or a question that's been asked; and then it's just a matter of writing down how that thing works within the world, or if its music, trying to write that out, or if it's an image, trying to sketch it. Much of the fun is discovering the connexions between this new idea and whatever is already been written.

    Q&A is a fun way to discover new stuff about the world. Especially when there's a good group of folks engaging in the fun! And more so when these folks are at similar levels with their geopoetry. Then it's just jazz worldbuilding.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2020
    Miles Lacey likes this.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    In one sense, I didn't have to build at all because I started with Earth (I write alternate history fantasy). But it turns out that doesn't get one very far down the road, in two ways.

    One, because it's alternate, it means while I don't build from scratch, I have to do a whole lot of remodeling, and that means having to take care not to demolish the existing structure. That's harder than it may seem.

    Two, because it's fantasy, which means I have to make room in the real world for elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, gnomes, ogres, and more. To do that I have to shoulder aside kingdoms, insert new ones, and in general figure out how all these would live intermingled while still preserving the basic medieval timeline.

    So, it's a whole lot of improv. The Middle Ages has given me the classic tune, but I'm the one who has to come up with new riffs.

    Because worldbuilding often isn't just a world. It's a whole bunch of smaller worlds--societies--woven together.
  9. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    My world building began with me creating scenarios for my friends when I was still a little kid. The shipwreck-on-the-unknown-island was a favorite, but there were others. Needless to say, I drew maps too, and illustrations. And threw in pretty much any new idea or topic that appealed to me at the moment (early aircraft, e.g.--in fact, those still have a way of showing up). Everything has grown from that. A lot of it became integrated into a single world eventually (though there are others, to be sure). A world map, with mountains and seas and deserts. Ways to get there (i.e. portals). Creatures that live there.

    And most importantly, the characters. They shape the world as much as the world shaped them. The world, after all, is stage dressing. Sets for my actors. It's nice to be able to reuse those sets for the next production but I'll build new ones, as needed. I do have some basic rules for that primary world I've used over and over, such as things operating logically. If I want whimsy, I'll create another world where things aren't logical! It's usually easy enough to fit a new idea, new characters, into the long history I've already created. And I think it's useful to have that framework ready. It gives me a discipline I might not have otherwise, while also providing ideas as to where my stories might lead.

    I actually still have a crude pencil map I drew when I was a kid, the earliest 'artifact' of my worlds. That map led to the creation of my quasi-Polynesian Mora people and their world. I've been filling in around it ever since.
  10. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Minstrel

    Apparently in a different way every time.

    I started trying to make a manga in highschool that was set ostensibly in japan, that is to say, nondescript modern day city that's tangentially japanese. Then it moved to an alien planet and later in alternate universes. It's basically a giant sink full of references and jokes now and unlikely to ever be a legit thing because I can't draw that well.

    My supernatural horror mysteries are short stories contained within fictional locations that I still don't know if they're supposed to be in the real world or not. Though I guess it's confirmed that it's Earth because I mentioned Oxford and ancient Greece in one of them. Anyway I made up the locations and their details basically on the spot while writing the short stories.

    My current WIP, fantasy setting, I'm in the process of planning architect-style. I have more or less solid ideas on what I want all the POV characters to do aside from the actual main plot, because I didn't have any antagonist ideas until recently. Probably because this project is my first big continuous story, whenever I start to plot I keep pausing to ask "why ?" and "does this check out ?" So I'm approaching it like one big task that I'm breaking into small ones by planning things and creating lore first. Like I have a map drawn, so I can check if anything travel related is consistent.
  11. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    My world-building happens on the page as I write so I don't get bogged down in planning that goes on for months until I fed up with the idea. It doesn't work for me. This doesn't include hard magic systems, as I keep that separate to my world building. To me world build is just the world itself, the geology and history. Religion, cultures I treat as a separate topic and unless I'm going into them in detail I don't do much there either. If I want to come up with an interesting new animal for travel and can't think of anything the spot I use just a similar animal for now like a horse, camel and so on.

    World building for me is the least interesting aspect because not many people read for the world, but for the journey the character has through that world and what they face. So I tend to put all my efforts into character and plot first as it seems pointless to be to work on character and setting when I had no clue what the actually story is and what the idea itself is focused on. Your setting can be the most flashy, scientific, awesome world, but with flat, dead characters and no real plot it's not likely to go very far and certainly not as far as it could. Once my book is complete I go back and add in facts.
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I drew maps for fun. There were story ideas. There were culture ideas. I redrew maps to stage those ideas. Those maps changed things, and back and forth and all around until until I have the basic plan. I don’t fill in massive details unless I know I need the idea for a particular story, because I know me, and I tend to lock myself in. I want to remain flexible. It’s a constant mix and match and back and forth until I finally ask myself, is that good enough? And I invariably answer:


    Then I start writing.
  13. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    Step 1: The cool thing. What am I most interested in for this project? (Example: Tree-houses)
    Step 2: Justify the cool thing. (Why Tree-Houses? Are there monsters on the ground?)
    Step 3: Does this fit into a setting I've already worked on? (Is this its own idea, or a cool town to visit in a existing setting?)
    From there just build out from that core idea.
    jacksimmons likes this.
  14. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I create settings in the exact same way as creating a character. I determine its role in the story, its personality, maybe write a backstory, consider its ethos and general attitude about things and consider how events in the story would change it. I'd occasion draw or find some pictures so I can get a good visual for when I'm brainstorming.

    Of course, I could go on and on about the specific process but I think this thread is going on a little too long for really long posts.
  15. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    I was thinking about the fact that I world build just as much for mainstream novels (well, almost as much) as I do for fantasy or science fiction. Fictitious towns in which to set mysteries--I've mapped those perhaps more intricately than the fantasy worlds. I know where the local Piggly-Wiggly is and which parking lot the kids hang out in. I have floor plans for characters' houses. If those worlds I build interlock with the 'real' world, that's okay. They were still built by me.

    That sort of world building often starts with me putting the character somewhere, doing something. On his morning walk. Driving down to the pier to surf. Opening the office in the morning. From there, I can expand the world outward, adding here and there. One thing does lead to another! There's a street over there? It must lead somewhere. There's a pier? Where is the concession stand? Does someone charge you to go out on it? And what color is that sand down below it? Etc. etc. etc. It is precisely the same approach that leads to building a fantasy world, just maybe on a smaller scale.
  16. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    My world building method is similar to this.
    Step 1: The cool thing. (tree-houses)
    Step 2: Who lives in the tree houses? What do the tree houses look like? How did they come about?
    Step 3: Which project could this work for? (since I always multitask with 2 or 3 different things at the same time.)
    Step 4: Where is it on the map? What sort of environment/kingdom is it?
  17. Kennith E Perry

    Kennith E Perry Scribe

    I start with the plot then I write out characters then I make a map.

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