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Smart suggestions for getting started on a world

Discussion in 'World Building' started by stephenspower, Oct 24, 2014.

  1. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

    In response to a question on Reddit re how to start building a world and how much to build before writing, one eblankone posted four ways in:

    1. What curses do people use?
    2. How are people bigoted?
    3. Where are the vices?
    4. How are people abusing your systems/laws/magics/whatever for their own gain?

    I used all these when building my world, but not so systematically, and the were of great help. This list gives me a way for further development too. I would only add, What do they joke about? which is a way of getting at all four while also revealing power dynamics. The full post is here.
  2. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

  3. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I have a rule of thumb when it comes to worldbuilding guides/tutorials: if the guide is mostly or entirely questions, don't use it.

    However, I do like that you brought-up jokes - sense of humor is an interesting cultural quirk. In fact, just the other day, I was discussing American vs. Japanese humor (and horror) with someone and it turned out to be a surprisingly thought-provoking discussion. And "what people find funny" seems to be something that a lot of worldbuilders just don't think about.
  4. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Out of curiosity, is there a reason for this? I cannot conceive of a reason one would want to avoid questions when worldbuilding.

    (I've never used the list of questions I linked, but I think it is a very thorough and useful list for those working on worldbuilding.)
  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I think this would be mainly for practical reasons. When it come to worldbuilding answering - or trying to answer - one question is very likely to lead to even more questions.
    In a sense, this is great as it gives you more opportunity to enhance and enrich your world, but it also takes time away from other things, like getting started on the story.
    Other than that, I can't really think of a good reason on the top of my head. I hate it when I have questions unanswered about my world (and yes, there are plenty of them).
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    Questionnaires are a fine way to assess your setting but I don't think it helps with actually constructing the setting.
    Not every question asked in a questionnaire may apply to your setting. Different settings have different needs. And they tend to have different things that they're about. Y'know, different gimmicks or quirks that the writer of the questionnaire couldn't possible be aware of or incorporate into their questions. And then they ask questions about things that just don't apply or matter to the setting which leads to the writers focusing on useless/unneeded information when they could be fleshing-out more important setting aspects.

    I also doubt that many of the great fantasy settings like Oz or Middle-Earth or Arkham or Greyhawk or Fantasia or Westeros or Tamriel involved their writers sitting down and taking a quiz. I assume they involved a spark of inspiration, followed by the writer developing their ideas - focusing on aspects of the setting only when those aspects needed focusing on - and doing research when needed.

    In my opinion, the best worldbuilding guides provide you with information and examples - not rhetorical questions.

    Am I making sense? I've never tried explaining this thought process before.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
  7. Trick

    Trick Auror

    I actually turned that very guide into a single document several months ago for later use. I agree it serves better as a check against "completed" world-building. It seems like a great way to make sure you account for as much as possible and the answer to any question can be N/A as needed.
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I find lists of questions to be more distracting than they're worth. I try to keep my guidelines simpler than that, so for worldbuilding I try to think about Magic, Ecology, Warfare, Culture and Government. For some stories each category may require a lot, and for others, very little, but at least I take a second to consider each of them mentally and make sure I've got my bases covered.

    But I haven't quite developed that kind of a cheat sheet for characters yet, and if I ever settle on one, part of it would extend to culture. The last time I considered it, it included making a quick list of values for each character, both personal and cultural. If a value was a "cultural value," then every character would have to have an opinion on it. For instance, "combat valor" might be a cultural value. That would mean that people cherished, mocked, and generally made a big thing of it when they talked, one way or another. I mean, that's a part of life, isn't it? Some people talk too much of something, and others react to it - often with humor.

    It's also a good way to think about theme. But that's another subject.
  9. SugoiMe

    SugoiMe Closed Account

    I don't think I've ever used questions for world building. When things come up in the story, I'll think about it for a while, come up with an idea, and continue writing. Just like WooHooMan said about the great writers, when inspiration comes, I'll develop the idea. Detailed questions would probably distract me from the story.
  10. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    Start with what you need to know for your story and what you like to write about, and let it grow from there.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  11. spectre

    spectre Sage

    This may be out the window, but when I've built my words three main things have contributed:

    linguistics - the way a word sounds will often spark something in my creative pool and I develop a background from there

    location - if I draw a visual representation of my setting, I can often make some pretty nice assumptions about my world based on geography and history

    technological era - societies seem to change their approach to culture as time progresses, so if I consider where a population or world is on the technological timeline, I can often create some nice material from that

    for the rest, religion, politics, mythology; etc. all the archetypes and antithesis seem to do that for themselves. while I've been writing my present novel, I keep going back to an old psych book, archetypes and the collective unconscious by c.g. jung to help me steer away from clichés and incorporate foundational aspects of whatever I may be writing.

    my favorite resources for world building are archetypes, the c.i.a. world factbook website because of the demographics they post, the plethora of political need is on that website in statistical form, linguistics.
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I agree with Gurkhal, but I recognize there are some folks out there who like to build "complete" worlds. They don't want to start with the character or the story, they want to start with the world.

    So for them, and fwiw, when I teach history I have my students look at four main aspects: politics, society, economy, and culture. War goes under politics, all the daily life stuff is under society, religion goes under culture. It's heavy-handed, but it works. It works especially as a self-check: did I forget to say anything about social stuff? Did I overlook the economics angle?

    In reality history, of course, we get to take things like geography, climate, ecology, physics, as given. However you divide it up, it really is useful to have a list like this around, not so much as a guide to building, but more as a check to be sure you didn't miss something huge.

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