I attended a seminar on World Building this week offered by Lindsey Schopfer, local author and writing coach. One of my strengths is in that area, and I realized, as I listened to his talk, that it is because I use the same steps he does to make my world as real as is possible. I always know WHERE I am writing, WHO, and WHAT I am writing about.
I begin by drawing a sketchy map.This way I have an idea of where the towns are in relation to each other. Nothing on a map is ever finite, they are only approximations–artistic guesses.
As I write, my map evolves, becoming more complex as the topography becomes more clear to me. In Neveyah, I began with a pencil sketch, and that evolved into a relief map that gave me the opportunities for injecting tension into the tale that I needed. It also provided me with a detailed explanation of where the resources are, so that funding my country is not an issue.
I build their political and monetary structure, and the prevailing religion. I decide who has the power and privilege in that society, and who is the underclass.
As I create the power-structure and the maps, the opportunities for creating tension within the story also grow. I keep a list of those ideas so that when I run short on creativity I have a bit in the bank, so to speak.
Another thing Lindsey mentioned that I also do is to create a sort of personnel file. (I was an office-manager for years, so I think in those terms.) Is everyone human? If not, what are their species and how do they differ from humans? What are their origins and why are they all together on this world. This information will most likely not make it into the tale, but it is important for me to know.
Some people draw their characters, but my artistic talents run to less realistic things. In some cases, I select an actor who best represents my character or who could play him/her well. I am a whiz at cartoons and maps, but not at drawing people or animals, so that’s why I resort to simpler methods to cement them in my head. Once I know who they are, that is where I stop. The reader will decide from the bare-bones descriptions I will give as to what they look like and that will be more intriguing than if I belabor their violet eyes and stunning cheekbones.
When I design a religion, I do it from the ground up. I know who the gods are, what they require of their worshipers and the rituals that worship involves. The same goes for the political system. Who is in charge of the country, and what is their power-base? What is their currency and how do they get it? Alternatively, how do they spend it? Are they despots or benevolent?
Then, there is the magic. Who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? I despise books where there are no clearly defined rules for the magic, because infinite power instills infinite boredom in me as a reader.
Ask yourself what sort of wild creatures will live in your world. What do they look like and how big are they? How do they survive, what do they eat? Are they hunted, or are they simply benign creatures that harm no one? What is their place in the ecosystem?
How are you going to name your people and beasts? Do your readers a favor and use spellings that look fairly simple and look good on paper. DO NOT USE THE CONVENIENT NAME GENERATOR websites that the internet is rife with. They provide you with hokey, ridiculous names no barbarian worth his salt would claim.
How do they dress? Do they wear armor? How difficult is that armor to get on and off?
How do they travel? Horses or spaceships each have certain basic requirements–both require fuel of some sort and both frequently need maintenance, whether it is currying or cleaning the exhaust vents. Who does this?
In conclusion, assembling this background information is time-consuming, but once I have it all together, my work is so much easier. The hard work is mostly done at that point, so there is less stopping and starting. All I have to do is get my heroes off the sofa and out of the house to the final battle on time, so they can save the world.