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The Basics of World Creation?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Leafar the Lost, Sep 12, 2018.

  1. Leafar the Lost

    Leafar the Lost Scribe

    This is my first post, so I wanted to know the basics of world creation. How do you go about creating your fantasy world? What is your passion? How do you make your world unique? Let me know, because I am very interested on your thoughts.
  2. Skybreaker Sin K'al

    Skybreaker Sin K'al Troubadour

    History, history, history. Lots of it.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Same here. I'm not an original thinker, but I am creative. Give me some raw material and I can riff on it. Were I a musician, I'd probably do covers in a jazz band. Lots of room for creativity, but the songs are already there.

    It's history for me because that's my academic background. I think if I were not, then I'd nominate travel. If you don't study the past, study the present.

    My other nomination would be science. The more I learn about plants and animals, the more I see in them possibilities for other worlds.

    There's also the possibility of being completely original. If you can do that, my hat (despite my avatar) is off to you!
  4. Skybreaker Sin K'al

    Skybreaker Sin K'al Troubadour

    Yep, all great suggestions, skip.

    Just another note, myths and legends can be fun too, Leafar.
    skip.knox likes this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Good point, Skybreaker. I've unearthed some interesting stuff by searching on "myths of <obscure cultural group>" then using "legends" in place of "myths" then "folklore" and even "origin story". You get slightly different results. Also, jumping forward to the tenth or twentieth page of results, and not being afraid to go for the "translate this page" button. After all, I'm looking for ideas, not doing scholarly research.

    The big challenge I have is working past the Christian colorations in European folklore. Most everything we have comes from 17thc or later sources. Since Altearth is a world in which the Roman Empire never fell, and Christianity was never more than a small Eastern cult, I have to keep a sharp eye.

    BTW, you can make your own list of cultural groups that are obscure to you by searching on "ethnic groups in <name of a country you know>".
    Skybreaker Sin K'al likes this.
  6. EponasSong

    EponasSong Scribe

    I have an issue with listening/watching documentaries. I also have an issue with reading a lot. Whether it be fantasy or thriller. I also play video games. Between the three I can usually get at least the beginning of several key areas of the world I would like to build.

    "What if?" Will be your friend. I will use that to break down every component of my world building to it's most simple form. For example, "What if the only source of drinkable water comes from plants?" I would then ask and answer, "How do the plants get their water?" "How do people draw the water from the plants?" "Does drawing water destroy the plan?" "How do people farm the plants?" "How does it effect the economy?" You get the idea. Just keep branching off whether it's concerning a certain culture or geographical terrain.

    Somewhere along the line, you should probably make sure it all ties together and makes some sort of rational sense.
  7. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    Ethos: the overarching themes and ideas of your setting. The guiding thematic “rules”.

    Pathos: the personality of your setting. The things that evokes emotion from the reader.

    Logos: the internal logic and consistency of your world.

    And mythos which is the mythology, folklore and history of your setting. Mythos isn’t super important, it’s just a vehicle for demonstrating the other three in a way that’s easy for the reader to understand.
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    There's two parts to it, for me.

    The first is finding the "thing." The heart or crux of the world and what's going on with it. In my WIP, I'm writing about two sprites who are fighting over whether or not to humiliate people, which defines the type of world I have, the questions I have to answer. What's a sprite? Why are they fighting? Why would they want to humiliate someone? Where are the other sprites? I have to answer these worldbuilding questions before the story makes any sense. And these are the questions that will end up defining the world I'm writing in.

    Some people would tell you to stop there, that it's all you need to plan for, that you can kind of wing the rest as you go and track it instead of plan it. For many stories that's true. And for some of us, that's the advice we need to hear, if not quite follow, because we need to battle the tendency for "worldbuilder's disease" where we spend years filling out the map and never start writing. If you've got worldbuilder's disease, or if your worldbuilding is on the standard side, or if you're a relatively inexperienced writer, or if for some other reason this is the advice you need to hear, then right, once you've got the crux of your world, go ahead and shift your focus to writing the story.

    Worldbuilding is one part of a large bundle of the skills it takes to write a novel. The worst thing you can do is neglect developing those other skills.

    That said, I chose to develop the world of my sprites as something far more complex than anything you would normally see. I decided that I wanted to elevate "seelie magic" as a worldbuilding element in a more serious way that hasn't been done before. They have a fallen kingdom, a unique fighting style, over a dozen races, their magic even has a whole crafting system. All of that probably sounds excessive and maybe even boring. It's not. There's a key to effective worldbuilding.

    Forget the big map. Focus on the tiny details of your characters' world.

    Go deeper, not broader.

    Sixteen years ago in my setting, the sprite home kingdom was destroyed, and with it, the gateway to the fairy realm. Most of the sprites were either killed or trapped on the other side. One of the MCs is determined to reopen the gateway, even if he has to steal the pride of a hundred of the biggest egos in the city to raise enough magic. The other sprite is a cop who has agreed to help contain seelie magics as part of a treaty designed to protect the rest of her people after the destruction of her home. When they're not fighting, he's at a bar with other sprite-sized races, and she is out dealing with renegade seelie magics in the city.

    I don't need a map of the city. I need the explanation for the two dozen people in the bar, and the kinds of seelie-magic crimes that might need investigating. Honestly, I left the city name as a placeholder, but I can tell you all about the giant stupor, the asrai living in the canals, and why the MC will be sad to learn that a dozen men are waiting to a kill Morgen swamp nymph waking up to the south. Mera the Melusine fixes teeth in the well, there's knackers in the mines, and one of the hobs at the bar has to eat with his nose - every hob is different and weird, you see, and this one has no mouth. Most of these races are actually one species, fairies - and they can be born a unique hob or into one of the "vaki" groups like sprites or asrai. The fairies occur naturally in this world, and sometimes Nymphs (who are powerful) awaken on their own. But the other races, like fauns and boggarts, were let in through the gateway to the fairy realm and are rapidly being hunted down without that fallen kingdom to fall back on.

    The thing is, I need all of this worldbuilding to tell the story. That's one of the several different things my story is - it's a platform for exploring this tiny fairy world. It's what I'm designing it to do. The story is also based on action scenes, arrogant people getting their comeuppance, hopefully witty banter, and a slow-burn romance between two characters who are fighting for the survival of their people from opposite angles (leave a trail of shame-ridden Dexter-like victims in a longshot effort to bring back our home vs. keep to a treaty and survive going forward). Ohh, and not to forget the dark forces that destroyed their home to begin with.

    So again, what I'm trying to say is, if you want to develop a powerful and unique world, focus your worldbuilding on the tiny details that affect your character. You can wing the rest.

    I'll name the city tomorrow. Probably.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
  9. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    I found the simplest method is to do it linearly. First, create the physical solar system, then the planet, then the people / creatures, then how cultures would've formed and how they would've interacted in present day. Each affects the next and in the first three stages you can go ahead and shoehorn in whatever unique idea you've got and back it up with pseudoscience.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    For the World—capital-W—of my current project, the method was a lot like the way sediment settles.

    At the very beginning, I had an image in my mind of one story I wanted to tell and a set of two magic system, one style of magic used in one nation and another style used in a different nation. I had a revenge tale, and my young protagonist would come from the boondocks and use a very creepy magic. The villain would be in the ruling royal family of a different nation and have a very powerful, almost reality-shattering sort of magic. Why does revenge come into play; I mean, how? Well, the villain killed the kid's mother. But these are two separate nations, and the kid is in an out-of-the-way place so...Ah, yes. The villain's kingdom is expansionist and invaded the kid's kingdom when the protagonist was just a young boy. The boy's home kingdom is adjacent to the villain's. With this in mind, I set about creating a map, just to visualize the shape of the world, the geographic relationship between these two nations, and, quite honestly, so I could get a grip on travel times and topography for the kid to travel from his home to the villain's in order to kill the villain. (I.e. whether and how I would include long bits of the travel in the story.)

    And that's about it for the World, at first. Very quickly, as I was pondering the tale and how I would tell it, I had to think about the two magic styles and why the styles would be so very different. This led to many things, including the source of all magic. Eventually, as I was creating the map, I also realized that all other nations would have their own unique magic styles—and there wouldn't be overlap. Each nation would have its unique system of magic even if the source of magic for all is the same. This led to the realization that other elements of each society would be influenced by or at least intertwine with the particular style of magic for that nation.

    But, here's the kicker. I never wrote that story. Instead, I started fashioning another story about a different nation on this map. But didn't write that story. Then I started planning a story in a third nation....but, though I began writing the story, I put it on hold and went back to what I'm working on now, the second story.

    Along the way, as I considered each story in isolation, I had to develop ideas about those individual nations. Their particular unique relationship to magic, their government structure, their cultures, various historical realities, etc. Every time, I took the story I had in mind for the nation and began to design the other elements around that specific story. It's also true that these nations have some interaction with others on the map, so I even came up with a handful of very broad attributes for other nations even if I've not yet considered a story set in those nations.

    Little by little, the sediment has settled. Occasionally, a flood of ideas has even altered the course of a river as sediment built up. But that World, capital-W, is very far from complete—because I've yet to complete a story set in it! And also because, if I wasn't going to use a particular nation for a story, I didn't spend much time thinking about that part of the World.

    So there is this world I'm currently using, lowercase "w," for my current project. It's set in one nation on this World Map. And as I've been brainstorming various elements of story and working on a detailed outline of the novel, lots more sediment is getting deposited in this particular place. EponasSongEponasSong's question "What if?" has played a huge role in this process of designing that lowercase world, joined by other questions such as Why and How; also, the idea of trying to make sure everything ties together well—for the story. There are elements of the greater World seeping in, too, things I realized or created while I was brainstorming for my other two story ideas. But mostly, I'm sticking to this one nation for the story, and having to dig deep as DevorDevor mentioned.

    My current project isn't a revenge tale but a romance tale. And I knew I wanted the two main characters to come from two very different cultures—in the same nation. How to do that? Well, there's a majority culture and a minority culture; these were once separate nations, but at some point in the past one nation conquered the other. This is where I had to think of When and How and Why. Why hasn't the minority culture been all but wiped out? Well, these nations didn't become one nation so long ago, perhaps about 150 years ago. And...other reasons. Economic reasons, cultural reasons, and reasons relating very specifically to that historical event when one was conquered by the other.

    But it's not just a romance story. I wanted it also to be an adventure, have lots of action. So...how do I have those things and not only have those things but make them just as important as the romance? This is where I had to start digging deep into a plot, since it's not just a romance plot. Nefarious underground activity, a burgeoning threat to the nation from within the nation? Yep, that would work. It would work even better if what is happening in the present is tied to the more distant past, even before one nation conquered the other. What is the style of magic in this particular nation, how does it work? Well, that's going to tie in with the larger story. These two characters are going to need each other to survive, to overcome that threat—and to grow.

    A final note:

    I've always wanted to take issue with the concept of "world building" because I think we sometimes approach the idea in various ways that might not be helpful.

    I think a lot of newer writers of fantasy might think mostly of that capital-W World and spend way too long designing aspects of the World that won't have much bearing on any given story they've imagined taking place there. The lowercase world is far more important, the world of the story. (If you are writing a world-spanning epic, then the lowercase and the uppercase may be one and the same.)

    I'm usually a little mystified when people use the past tense: I created my world by.... Personally, I can't imagine a world being finished. What constitutes that finished state? Every crevice, every crack is filled? For me, the creation process is ongoing and probably never-ending. This becomes extremely apparent as I begin to write; even if I thought I had "created" my world first, I discover so many cracks, blanks and other troublesome things as I write. This might only be an issue of...well, what type of cloth is this person wearing, what profession does this new incidental character have (only so many farmers and merchants allowed; but then again, there might be different types of farmers, different types of goods sold....and, why? how? Argh.)

    Finally, to get real nit-picky, I'd focus on that word "build." Often, the assumption is this is what the writer does in his head, whether in the very early stages before writing or as he comes to terms with the story he's trying to tell. But I think we'd be better off thinking of build in the sense of building the world for the reader. All that stuff in your head? It doesn't exist unless it's on the page in some way (either explicit or perhaps implied for the reader.) So the world is never even close to "built" until the story is finished, if then.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I didn't have a specific story in mind when I began designing my world. Rather, I wanted to create a setting for pen and paper RPGs. I began with deciding upon the kind of things I wanted players to be able to encounter in the world, and on the overall vibe of the setting. I then designed mechanics that would allow for that to happen.

    The basic idea is that's it's a fantasy world that developed into a state similar to the real world of today. There are elves and dragons and magic, but also trains and cell phones and nine-to-five jobs at the office. Essentially, it's most of your general standard fantasy tropes, but in an present day setting.

    The main mechnic I had to work out was that of magic. That was the biggest "functional" difference between my own world and the real one. Once I had that down, I was able to fit everything else in around that.

    I've got a rough world map with some countries filled in, a timeline with some of the major historical events, and a pantheon with some of the major and minor gods of the world. I've got a fairly good grasp on the four breeds of anfylk and their cultural heritage though, and various aspect of intutive soul magic.

    Anyway, what I want to say is that I know how the world works, but I don't know all that much about the world itself or its history.
  12. gia

    gia Scribe

    My world building started with time...45 years in the future to be exact (I better hurry up with my 5 book series!) and the premise that the poles had shifted in 2012. What kind of world would exist after that? Each of my 5 books has a different ecosystem so I'll be creating 5 unique worlds. The first one is a huge "living" forest. The second, a mountain range, the third a desert, the fourth a land of all crystals including a salt volcano (they exist on Uranus!), and the last a very modern futuristic city. My advice: Keep it simple in the beginning...just enough to get your story started. As you progress the world will as well. By the time you're done with your story you'll have fleshed it all out and can go back and put in more details.
  13. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    Basically everything! A subcreated world, for it to "work" whether as a work of art on its own or whether as a setting for a series of novels or whether a happy mixture of the two requires everything that is already in the primary world, the universe of our everyday existence. This doesn't mean, like the Original, you need to literally reinvent a whole universe from the first singularity on up, but you do need to be aware of all the intricacies at every level of creation. A lot of that, physics and chemistry and so forth, most folks simply copy-n-paste and tweak as needed for their own work.

    Beyond those basics, you'll want to think about the sophont world of every day existence. What kind of people are you dealing with; how do they think; what are they like? What kind(s) of culture do the live in; what kind(s) of religion; what kinds of languages do they speak? You'll want to explore their folklore, their high and low literature, their mythology, the kinds of life that surrounds them (animals, plants, something else, maybe?). You'll want to learn their histories, their triumphs, their tragedies and what makes them tick.

    If it's writing you're after, the more you know about the subcreated world, the better, more engaging stories you can write. If it's exploring for your own pleasure you're after, well, you won't have to bother with the needs that authors have to bother with.

    As for how to do it, I don't believe in how-tos. They only tell you how the author of the how-to did it, which may or may not work for you. But you did hit on a key word, and that is "passion": possibly the best way to start is to consider something you like, be it a time in history of a branch of folklore or kind of story. Open a gate and step through! See where your imaginative mind will take you!

    For me, the gate into The World was broken down especially by mythology and folklore. I've always loved those kinds of tales and that formed a natural pathway into discovery of the other world. Much of the writing I do either about The World or from within it is folkloric in nature. But wide reading in languages, history, lore of the odd and unusual, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, religion, mathematics, geography, geology, all the ologies: those have all helped open avenues of inquiry into The World.
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Okay, I had to look that up. Thanks!
  15. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    No worries! Hope the rest made sense!
  16. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    The first thing I do is think about the overall type of setting. For my work in progress I looked at many settings. I finally settled on a tropical maritime empire made up entirely of islands with southeast Asian and Arabic influence.

    My many decades of reading about the period between the two world wars gave me the idea of setting the story in a world where the level of technology was that of the 1930s.

    Once I had established that much I went to the microcosmic level. That is, the protagonist's part of the world. To do this I created a broad physical description of the character and wrote a little about her daily life so I got a feel for the world she lives in.

    She lives in a run down beach front cottage. She survives by making hand drawn postcards of local sights to sell to the tourists on the beach to help pay the bills. She's a sahir (mage) who does magic but who can't do it without supervision because she's an unranked mage. She catches a tram which costs two pennies. Once a week she goes to the cinema to watch movies about rogue sahir and gangster movies. Her favourite food is mammoth steak but she only eats that when she's with her best male friend. She wears a cotton shirt, a short dress and crocodile skin knee length boots (they were a present from her late mother when she turned 16 so they have great sentiment to her). She wears a brass ring with a citrine stone set inside it to ward off the spirits of those deemed unworthy of entering Paradise. Only the middle class and the wealthy own cars. Election posters posted all over the place indicates the Empire is a democracy but the presence of paramilitary gangs indicates it's a fragile one. The city she lives in has cabaret bars but she tries to avoid them because of their seedy reputation but she likes going to the taverns at the port. And she attends temple services once a week.

    From that I simply built upon these things to create the history, government, religion, society, economy, class system and everything else that will be needed in the story. My standard practice is that the greater the impact something will have upon my character the more details I will add.

    I also found it necessary to research everything even it was to do nothing more than confirm what I already know so I didn't make assumptions and find I was wrong.

    I found it was a good idea to have a list of rulers with their birth date, birth place, date(s) they became ruler, date(s) they ceased to be rulers, date and place of death and a note or two about the most noteworthy thing they did as rulers. It also helps avoid a mistake George R R Martin did: not being careful enough with his rulers with the result that the dates were so out of kilter that a few kings would've been conceived when their parents were about seven years old!
  17. Malik

    Malik Auror

    Skybreaker Sin K'al likes this.
  18. Leafar the Lost

    Leafar the Lost Scribe

    Hey thanks everyone this is all great advise! :)
  19. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    I start from the stories it seems like and build the world with and around them. Which sometimes involves editing the world and the stories as things grow more and more complex and get explored. Eld being my primary and my habit of using scouts and adventurers allows me to look at the world on an eye level (so to speak) and see what it is or may be.

    Actually trying to work on two stories involved in one of my world's main port cities, both involving citizens of it. One ordinary one (sea elf fisher who lives in the poor district and barely lives at a sustainable level) and a high end baker (created demonic being with an increasingly chronic angel problem who just wants to sell pastries, dammit all). Both let me look into the world from a very different perspective and I can build off of that too. And these can feel far reaching events that effect the world and are going on or have gone on and still affect them.

    And as others have put in, research and the like helps a lot. And asking a lot of questions. Sure there's no standard way to world build.
  20. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Word building isn't actually a single activity. Rather, one builds world and story together. Even if you "completely" plan your world before writing a single word of story, once you do start writing, you'll find tons of things you'd not completely planned--little details, necessary revisions, and stray changes of mind.

    So, start where you're comfortable. There are plenty of articles about world building. I recommend you read a few and compile a list of worldbuilding aspects that could or should be considered. But do not regard it as a check list, a to-do list. Consider it a list of potentialities. As you write, you may not need to know a thing about the religions of the world, or its climate. But you do need to know what sort of trees grow near a mountain monastery.

    Once in a while, you'll come across fundamental questions. Maybe you don't need to know the source of magic for the present story, but if you go further, you're going to have to put some thought to that. And so on.

    Given the range of possibilities across all story types and lengths, there really is no such thing as the "basics" of world creation. That doesn't keep us from talking endlessly about them though! The first rule of Write Club: talk about Write Club.

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