HOW TO BUILD A WORLD
This is a high five to the fantasy / sci-fi writers out there. It really doesn’t matter what kind of fiction you’re writing, this will help anyone who is stuck on world building. I’ll explain how this helps any fiction writer later this week. But follow this thread, and the rest will make more sense later.
Fantasy world building is great. You can literally come up with whatever you want. And once you do, you can decide what you want to happen. The ground doesn’t have to be made of dirt or grass but of soft fur that massages your toes as you walk. Throw some cotton candy in for clouds, and whatever other crazy things you like.
What’s important in world building, or at least what has helped me is to think of what makes your world work. Before you create a landscape or anything else, what makes it work? What elements does your world revolve around? Tolkien took years to create his world. It doesn’t have to take that long. You can build a world in about a week (considering that you flesh out the rules and the designs). But you have to be meticulous about what you allow.
Let’s think about The Lord of the Rings. The world revolves around what happens when the rings are activated. From that premise, Middle Earth expands. Now, to all the Tolkien-ites, I’m not sure how he created his world or how he started writing. But what I’ve found to be the easiest is to start with the notion of figuring out what makes your world tick.
Let’s look at some examples so that brainstorming becomes a light rain that we can all soak in. This is a premise I’d never use, but you’ll
see how a world can be built off a few silly ideas.
PREMISE: Bark is falling off the trees.
Now what? Now ask yourself some questions:
1) What caused the falling bark?
2) How would people respond?
3) What can be done about it?
4) Who does this affect?
5) What does your landscape look like?
There are so many more questions, but let’s just answer these, and you’ll see how a plot can evolve from the premise of your world. Here are some answers.
1) Tree Trolls? The government? Pollution? This question alone dictates your book.
2) Are people ok with the bark falling off the trees? This is where you build compassion for your people.
3) What is the solution to the response of the people? How can you bring about a level of safety — meaning how can you make sure that people’s safety is restored?
4) This is where your main character emerges. Is it outrage that makes her fight? What is it that pushes her over the edge to find a solution to the problem?
5) Now build your land from the problem of the falling bark. Maybe people eat the bark from the trees, but as the trees die, their food supply diminishes. Silly but it’s still something to build from.
These are some of the basic questions that come along with building a world, but these basics will help to guide you in the construction of what you want to accomplish. We’ll look at more tomorrow.
Tolkien used Norse mythology as his inspiration, hoping to create for the UK what other countries have naturally through their heritage (which is partly why he created a real working language for the elves etc). Type in Dr Dimitra Fimi into your search engine or head for website of University of Wales, Cardiff for one of the world’s experts on all things fantasy and Tolkien, if you want to know in detail how Tolkien did it. Thanks for your useful advice on how to create the kernel of a fantasy world. Dr Fimi runs lots of online courses, if anyone’s getting the fantasy writing bug and wants to learn more! (no, she doesn’t pay me commission and we’re not related either)
Hahah Thanks for the insight. Because, yes, Tolkien is a genius whom we all aspire to emulate. And yes, I will do some Tolkien research because world building is an art. Thanks Maria.
Good points. Your advice is similar to how I approach world building. I define the problem, and usually the protagonist first. From there I work my way out figuring out all the main details. Then as I progress through the first incredibly rough draft I sprinkle in the details to breathe more life into the world. I also write a lot of backstory short stories/essays to figure out how things work, inter-relate and generally form the infrastructure.
SFBELL09: That approach to world building is great! I think it’s pretty neat how you work on the protag and the problem and allow the story to come from that. Some people take the approach of creating a problem and a villain first and then allow the hero to come in and “save the day.” Either way works, but I prefer the method that you described.