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Using My Culture For Inspiration

Discussion in 'World Building' started by D. Gray Warrior, Sep 12, 2018.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

    What is the best method for worldbuilding? I used to create entire worlds from the top down only to find I would never actually get around to writing the story.

    I have tried bottom-up with starting with the character and story, but I lose interest due to the lack of lore.

    What is your preferred method?
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator


    I'm only sort of kidding. There are as many different approaches as there are writers. Sounds like you're still searching for the one that's most comfortable for you. For myself, I don't regard it as a method, I regard it as an experience. I have the way I *think* I'm going to go about it, then there's the way I actually go about it (which often turns out to be processes so variant that it's not a method at all), and there's what I *think* I did after it's all done (which is an abstracted view colored by recollection) and which I earnestly believe constituted Lessons Learned to inform my next effort.

    I can offer one piece of advice I regard as absolutely solid. Finish. Make a world and write one complete story. If it's a short story, submit it to magazines. If it's a novel, go through the whole process (including paying for an editor if you can afford it, but at least beta readers), all the way to published.

    Nothing else is as important as finishing. Not building a convincing world, not character creation, not clever plots, and certainly not how good the story is. Because until the thing is out for public view, none of it counts. To quote the ancient sage: anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

    You have created some worlds, it sounds like. You say you got bored. Don't allow yourself that luxury. Take the stupid world. Write a stupid story. No matter what you write, it will be better than what you don't write.

    I urge this approach in part because it is urged by a great many published writers, but also because of my own experience. The experience of getting all the way done--not merely to The End, but to giving it to readers, editing, making a cover, learning the publish process--somehow unlocked something inside of me. Call it confidence. Whatever it was, I at last knew what finished felt like. From that moment on, all I wanted was to get to that point again. Ever since then, leaving a story unfinished feels like abandoning a child, a betrayal of the characters and the world. And of myself. It's the core motivation that gets me through the endless, and endlessly discouraging, slog of writing and editing. I simply cannot leave the poor dear by the side of the road.

    Grab a world, recycle a world, invent a world ... heck, write fanfic and take a world ready-made. After your fifteenth novel, it'll all come clear. <g>
    Night Gardener and Laurence like this.
  3. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    If it helps you get words down on paper, try knocking one up in 5 mins using one of the many world generators out there and get going! Once you're in the swing of it you'll realise what's needed and you can go back, put it in notes and after your first draft, go back and add more relating to it in. You may find the entire plot evolves, but that's fine. That's what multiple drafts are for.

    Good luck!
  4. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Sage

    For me, it's a parallel activity. I work with Earth-like (or 'Earth-enough') parameters, so I'm not re-inventing the greater cosmos and a spinning ball of dirt formed by gravity with an atmosphere and some life forms on it.

    There's literal 'What's supporting lifeforms and ecology" level world building, and "everything else". I usually work on the "everything else" and draw details from the raw world as needed.

    I write characters and plot, work with themes and imagery I want...and the world-building evolves and changes as it needs to. Fine tuning details comes in later drafts, and I avoid writing in 'absolutes' until I'm satisfied. The climates, flora and fauna, topography, geological features- stuff that characters probably had nothing to do with or had any real measure of control over since the beginnings of the planet... can exist in a vaccum until I need to commit to details. Adapting the raw planet to suit one species specific needs is usually a measure of technology and culture. In my WIP, the raw world exists just fine without either.

    How many planets are in my solar system? I dunno yet. What are the names of the star constellations my character needs to navigate by? Until I commit, it's the XYZ Placeholder Constellation. ABC Village in the Foothills of Wherever in the Kingdom of Blah Blah Blah. I don't bog myself down in minutia in the first few drafts. Maybe it's going to be Republic. Maybe I have to make up a word to describe my political system. ( Honestly that'll probably be a post soon.. I thought of a interesting system and have no idea what to 'call' it.) Details are fun.. but not when they aren't fun for the first draft - so skip!

    I suppose it helps that I've studied climates and ecosystems and such that I truly feel I can conjur up any detail I need, or research if need be, to give my Characters a literal World beneath their feet. I'm not too sparse nor over-saturating as a writer when it comes to finer details, either. I try to let the reader notice the same outstanding details that my character notices, because that's how a lot of people function IRL anyway (without highly specialized observation skills.) A tree is a tree, a forest is a forest. Until my character notices something they normally would not take for granted walking through the woods, I'm not going to describe every leaf to my reader. Even if it's a forest of trees unlike anything else IRL in my imagination, to the character... it's what they're used to and it's *not* fantastical to them for the most part.

    I guess it's like how George Lucas supposedly invented the concept of 'the used future' in cinema. It is not our world, but it's no big deal that it exists. The audience is told 'yup, it's a tale from a galaxy far far away' but no one MC is tripping over the fact that they *exist* in said fantastical galaxy. As an audience, it's amazing but to the MC it's literally *their* normal everyday stuff.

    I want to strike a balance between "I have so many cool ideas I wanna cram into this thing for readers to enjoy!" and "Calm down, and tell the story first."

    Cultures, individual backstories, world history, international trade, industry, technology, mythology, political systems, language, magic systems.. in my mind that's a seperate layer belonging to my characters, and not necessarily the raw physical world they're occupying. I guess I'm comfortable with this approach because I believe the Universe and the planet developed independently, and life evolved well before my characters ever existed or acted upon it.

    I will say that this technique can require some merciless editing and rewrites. But, I don't fall in love with any one idea so much that I can't take an axe and some matches to the draft to make it better, either. Not literally hacking and setting my drafts on fire. Not yet, anyway.
    skip.knox and Laurence like this.
  5. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Sage

    Also, a key world-building top: decide what natural (and supernatural) resources are scarce vs. what is in abundance. What would people really need to survive, and is there a conflict or difficulty obtaining 'it'?. Who or what controls or distributes needed resources? Is something that was plentiful suddenly not available? Is it dwindling under known, unknown or even manufactured (political) circumstances?

    Do this with a few raw earth items (potable water, aerable land, minerals, food systems, level of environmental damages from xyz reason) and change up the dynamics in relation to each other to see what might work for your writings.

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