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Starting point?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Omnidragon22, Nov 24, 2013.

  1. Omnidragon22

    Omnidragon22 Dreamer

    I would like to ask if you guys would help me out in a starting point for my world. or basic elements a world would need to start out? do's and don'ts. any advice would be nice and helpful thanks
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I love world building but I also get carried away with it.
    My first questions is usually - What type of world am I looking for, what does the story need?
    Am I looking for something dark and gritty or light and airy?
    Is it going to be "fantastical" and have dragons, magical items, wizards etc. on every street or is it more "mundane"?
    Will it be a "modern" or "ancient" world?
    Is there magic? Is it common or rare? Learnt or innate? Wile or tamed?
    You get the idea.
    There are a dozen more questions choices like this as I work out what I want for the story.
    Each question usually leads to another and then another but they help me work out what might or might not work for the story.
    I'm sure others here will have their own methods vastly different from mine.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
  3. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    You start at the beginning of the story, and you include those elements needed to tell the story, though you don't want to explain everything right at the start in a huge infodump.

    For example, if your story is going to include a lot of contact with the government of your nation, you probably need to have that figured out in advance. If it's not, you can probably leave figuring that out for later.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    There are a number of excellent essays on world building on the net. Do some searching and you'll find them readily. They detail the factors one can or should consider and offer helpful advice.

    I echo what others have said here: why do you want to build a world? What's it for?
  5. Darkblade

    Darkblade Troubadour

    A good place to start is with what kinds of locales you're going to need for this story. Once you have some basic locations and set pieces start fleshing them out.
  6. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

    Very good advice here. The details about the world you relate to the reader should be vital to the story. Nothing is more tedious to read than long and pointless paragraphs. Noting frustrates me more than learning details in the story which have no bearing on the story. If you tell me about dragons in chapter 1, they had better eat someone or burn something down by chapter 7. Otherwise, who cares?

    But sometimes you've got to do a lot more building to wrangle a story out of a set of ideas. I actually dislike world-building for it's own sake (for my own process), though I know a lot of people enjoy that specifically. What I do, I often label as "pre-writing".

    Pre-writing involves world building of course, but it also involves character building and plot building. The world is an actor in the story, part of the conflict. The Lord of the Rings is set in Middle Earth because it is a story about a magic ring, it is not a story about a magic ring because the story is set in Middle Earth. If the story was about the hardships of being a stable boy in Rohan, and Tolkien let us know by-the-by about Sauron and orcs and we never see them, I'd get bored. I've read the Silmarillion and other bits of Tolkien's "pre-writing", and it's woefully dull. He wrote that so he could write LOTR. To me, it's all notebook scribbles. Yawn.

    If you have this idea about a story that involves a disgraced aspiring knight and his rival, a power-hungry knight who dabbles in the black arts, you would probably want to flesh out these details:

    - Politics and structure of the knightly order
    - The dark arts: how they are used, how the knightly order feels about it
    - Details about the kingdom, its neighbors, and history - enough to make them feel real

    In the process of building out those ideas, you may develop story elements. If you think about the traditions about the knightly order, you may come up with an idea of a tournament to earn full membership. That fact about the order (the world) may spark a plot idea: the disgraced knight-to-be needs to restore his name, get to the tournament, and face his rival.

    How he restores his name may spark you to create world elements to make his task challenging. A quest? To where, and why? Who helps him? Who stops him?

    These things that appear in the story should, in my mind, exist only to make the story work. Of course, to make them seem real to the reader, they should not seem like they were put there solely for the purpose of the story!

    For me at least, the process bounces between these items of character, plot, and world. Characters emerge from the world in which they live, and plot comes from the conflict between characters and plot. Even in contemporary fiction, the world is an actor: train schedules, emails, work politics, the police - all these are world-building elements of our modern world which can be used in a story.

    Spending months and years drawing maps and creating civilizations you will never likely use, or might even block future ideas because you'll feel invested in what you've created - does not seem to be a productive use of time.

    If you truly love world-building, then perhaps you should do that. If you aren't having fun with this, why bother? There's only so much time in life to write, so if the goal is to finish stories, maybe it's worth considering what amount of world-building will benefit the story.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
  7. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I can't remember where I found this, but here's some simple basics.

    Start 3 basic things

    1 a religion
    2 group divisions
    3 a moral compass what is right and what is wrong

    Then expand into these

    Politics; leaders, wars, treaties, laws, governments
    Economy; money, taxes, trade, inflation
    Religion; main religions, sects, how religion influences the culture
    Society; gender roles, class systems, how things like marriage and family are perceived
    Intellect; new technology, ideas, etc. An example would be the Scientific Revolution, with Galileo and Newton
    Art; how does the art reflect the culture? ex: France's rococo style, which was all about the nobility having fun, reflected the power the nobles had
  8. TrustMeImRudy

    TrustMeImRudy Troubadour

    If you wish you can do what I do. Find things you think are cool. Write them down. Then take the advice of all these fine people and build the things they suggested around your list of cool things.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Penpilot's categories has the happy property of creating the acronym PERSIA.
  10. Quillstine

    Quillstine Troubadour

    This feels like it could build into a really interesting thread....already some really great stuff being offered.

    For me, I world build around a story. General I start with a character... or to be more precise I start with a feeling a certain character is experiencing. It's usually a strain of thought, bought out of my imagination as a person internally talking to themselves about something. From this, a person grows. Then a group of people.

    Around these characters and their thoughts/feelings, the basic plot line that has grown from it, I then form a world. Things tend to fall into place around them. Politics, religion, landscape, magic etc.... is usually answered by the characters thoughts and actions. I am left to color in the blanks if you will.

    This is precisely what I do, have thought I think is cool or might work well and then try to fit into my WIP. If not then I store it for one of my many other worlds!
  11. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    I do Worldbuilding Lite (TM). If I go into as much detail about my world as I would want to in pre-writing, I'm doomed to turn into the 21st century equivalent of Tolkein. I like it that much. And I would never get to the writing part, because there would always be this one section that isn't working out quite like I want it to, which sets this other bit all wobbly, and and and...

    I normally start with a situation and a character. For example, sometimes all I need to start is a line such as "It wasn't that it was rainin', so much as the rain took chunks out of the house and weighed as much as a newbairn." Who is this guy? Why is he talking about rain? What is his story?

    From there I'll add atmosphere: What's the climate like? What's the landscape like? How does that shape people? A desert society is going to look vastly different from one that lives in a tundra and different again from one that lives in a jungle. The difference in water plays a part in the arable factor of land, which means that in all three of these societies, growing things on a large enough scale to feed cities is probably not going to be possible.

    Religion tends to grow fairly organically out of environment, as would culture. Art and craft would grow organically out of what values each culture holds, and what the environment will naturally allow. You probably won't see too many icy wasteland cultures that place a high value on outside ornamental art. It's too cold to allow that.

    Scarcity of resources would play another large role in cultural development. Do you make it the Garden of Eden, or do you screw your world over and make it as difficult as possible? (Jared Diamond's work Guns, Germs, and Steel makes several interesting points.)

    After I've sorted out the above, I'll then turn to figuring out organized religious beliefs, cultural trends, political systems, philosophies of the world, and how much magic I want in my world. This is also the time where I figure out if I'm having ogres and dwarves and elves and demons, or if I just have people.

    One of the biggest things that I think of when I'm creating magic systems is how I want to have it work. Does magic come from a physical location, i.e. some places are easier to work magic than others? Does magic come from some inner place? Is magical ability genetic? Can you even learn magic, or is it something a person always has? I tend to take the approach of developing the magic system as far as I need to take it for the reader to understand what is going on. Basically, "it's magic. Deal with it."

    All of this is basically saying: don't over do it. Develop just what you need, what is interesting, what flavors the story and leave the rest in a notebook. Give tantalizing hints that there is a weird wonderful world of back story to your story, and that should give you plenty of material to write different stories from.

    For example I have a story where I referenced the war that the dwarves in my story lost. That was interesting enough to me that I wanted to explore it, elsewhere. I have this happen all the time as I'm writing. I make stuff up, and it intrigues me, and I wonder what happened, and then I go and write what happened--as a separate story. It also helps me solidify my characters when I explore other events in their lives.
  12. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

    This. Right here.

    Start with a character and a question. What would he/she do if X happened? From there, you build the story. Then you build the world around the story.

    At least that's how I do it. Your mileage may vary, objects in mirror are closer than they appear, coffee is hot, and all the other disclaimers apply.
  13. TrustMeImRudy

    TrustMeImRudy Troubadour

    Then you half write a story with the discarded ideas but it doesnt work out. Find it years later and cannibalize it into another story. Never lose an idea, it alwyas comes back somewhere.
  14. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    Haha, so true, so true. I can't think of the number of times I've cannabalized and self-plagarized. Sometimes I'll take three or four half-written things and throw them up against the metaphorical wall and whatever comes out (the guts, if you will) is what I'll take to the new story. A character from this one, a plot device from there, a locale and character from this third thing, and a line that's been floating around my head for weeks.

    Plus, this is the more environmentally sound method of writing. Recycling, you see. ;)
    GeekDavid likes this.
  15. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

    I've always believed in writing with a purpose, a thought or feeling to convey. What do you want you're story to be about? What tone are you trying to set? I only world-build enough to make it conceivable and to tell the tale I want. Epic fantasy? What do you want your protag to triumph over, why does your antag fail? Dark fantasy, what part of reality do you wish to unvail within your character. Romance, what gets you going, why, and with whom. It's all about context, the rest is just setting up an easy path to tell this story. The actual world you portray the story in is just a metaphor for your ideas on these ideas, and what you wish to tell inside the story jade your own philosophy of your own life. Bad guy is a crooked politician bent on earning the vote in whatever way he/she can? Well then you have mistrust, the political system is written under a shadow of doubt. Moral righteousness? How do you define that, what does your protag do in your society to be right? What does your antag do wrongly? It all boils down to the reflection of the internal conflict you strive to expose within your characters.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2013
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Just for context I'll describe a little bit about Altearth.

    The core idea is simple. Altearth diverged from Earth in the late Roman Empire. It wasn't barbarians who invaded, it was monsters. As the monsters invaded (goblins, orcs, ogres, trolls, etc. instead of Goths, Vandals, Huns, etc.), magic came with them. Pretty much every fantastical tale from the Middle Ages is real, but most of the history still happened, with adjustments as Yours Truly sees fit.

    This is germane, I think, because one would think I already have a built world. I don't have to work out geography or climate or even a historical timeline. It's all set. Lucky bastard.

    Except it's not that easy at all. Every time I introduce a new element, I have to think about the consequences. For example, with dwarves and elves and gnomes and such co-existing with humans, do I give those other folk their own kingdoms? If so, where? Can I assume their economies are identical to human economics, or are there different dynamics? What are the social relations between peoples, never mind political relations?

    I made a few arbitrary decisions. The Roman Empire never fell. The kings of Europe are all subordinate to that central authority, which never became the weak, fragmented entity it did in historical earth. The Roman religion persisted, along with Mithraism, and the Germanic and Celtic gods. Christianity had some brief success in the 4thc, but suffered reverses thereafter and is relegated to an obscure eastern sect. So, no system of monasteries and bishops, which means I need to reconstruct religions.

    I also have to figure out where to put monsters. I let the orcs conquer Constantinople in 711, so that takes care of the Byzantine Empire (sorry, guys), but what about the others? Scattered randomly? Concentrated in certain regions? How and why?

    That's enough to make my point. Even given a world in which most everything is established, there's an incredible amount of "world building" to do. And while letting the story drive some elements of creation--it's especially good for driving cool ideas--you cannot ignore the larger conceptual things. How does the economy work, what's the social structure like, how do all these things fit together. Most importantly, how does all this help drive story and constrain story.

    It is definitely one of the chief charms of the genre.

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