Today we’re going to visualize the place where our proposed NaNoWriMo 2021 novel is set.
Where do you see your story taking place? In the real world? A fantasy realm? Space? An alternate dimension? Alternate Earth? Setting is what we are focusing on today.
Much of my work is set in a world called Neveyah. To explain the geography, flora, and fauna there, I need to see how the War of the Gods changed the landscape of three worlds.
What follows is cut directly from my storyboard, which was begun in 2007 when we started planning an anime-style RPG game. The story evolved out of the three paragraphs that answer the following question.
For my planned work, religion is a central driving force. Why is religion so important?
There are eleven deities: six gods and five goddesses. Tauron, the Bull God, is the only god with no wife. He is the youngest of the gods, resentful and jealous of his brothers. He decides to murder his brother, Ariend the Mountain God, and steal his wife, Aeos, the Goddess of Hearth and Home.
Gods are immortal and cannot die. Tauron carves an immense spear out of Ariend’s world and seals his brother in it, thrusting it into the earth and creating the Valley of Mal Evol. He then begins stealing Ariend’s world, binding it to his.
Aeos finds her husband’s prison and recaptures it, saving what she can of his world and binding it to her world of Neveah so that she can be a guardian to his people.
The War of the Gods is central to Neveyah’s religion, a trauma that shapes their lives. One can never escape the visible scar, the immensity that divides the world in half: the Escarpment. It is an impossibly high black wall topped by mountains. The people of Neveyah can’t survive in the heights where Ariend’s people live, and his people can’t survive in the lowlands. It is the wound where the World of Cascadia was joined to the World of Neveyah. Below is the World Map of Neveyah, which I created in 2007.
Every series set in this world happens at a different point in their history. The current novel is set in the year 131 AS (After the Sundering). The Tower of Bones series begins in the year 3254 AS. In that era, the Sundering of the Worlds is almost a legend, yet the black wall of the Escarpment topped by the Mountains of the Moon still testifies to the reality of the event.
At this point in storyboarding a book, I ask myself, “What kind of society do my characters live in?” For my NaNoWriMo project this year:
It’s a low-tech agrarian society. Tribal villages are communal, run by a council of elders. Everyone contributes to the community’s storehouses and benefits equally. While some earn more and others less, there is no class disparity. Ivan lives in Weiland, the main citadel of a western tribe, Weila.
Widden, an eastern tribe, has chosen to break away from the traditions that helped rebuild their world. They abandon the practices that brought the tribes safely through the first years. The Tribeless people would prefer to forget the past. Instead of building with stone and brick, they clear-cut forests because it’s faster, and dump their waste into streams in the name of expediency, thinking it all just goes away. Poverty is a way of life in tribeless towns, and jobs that pay a decent wage are scarce. Many people are forced into workhouses, which the Merchant Class perpetuates as a source of free slave labor. The upper-class lives like royalty, while the large underclass lives hand-to-mouth.
Each culture has logical reasons for their way of life. Both cultures have positive qualities, and both have negatives. Neither understands why the other chooses their way.
So, there is a wide disparity between the cultures of the tribes and the tribeless. Finally, I ask myself, “Where does the story open?”
My story opens in a Tribal town, Weiland.
Why do I need those paragraphs that describe the world and their society?
I still need to see that raw, just-born environment. A theme running through the series is the balance of nature and how delicate it is. My protagonist is a shaman, keenly aware that what the tribes have gained in the 125 years since they emerged from the safety of the catacombs and spread across the land can be lost, perhaps forever.
No matter where you set your novel, your characters identify with the community where they live. This is true of murder mysteries and thrillers as well as fantasy and sci-fi stories.
An exercise I find helpful to practice worldbuilding is to close your eyes and visualize your real-world environment. Then, without looking around, write a word picture of it. Once you have written a paragraph or two that describes your personal world, you understand how worldbuilding works. You can visualize your characters’ community and write a two-paragraph word picture of that imaginary place.
If our work is set in an actual location, we should know where to find resources for appropriate slang, urban myths, and other local peculiarities. I suggest adding a list of where to easily access the resources about your chosen community to your storyboard. My co-Municipal Liaison, Lee French, reminds us that we don’t have to immerse ourselves immediately, just lay the groundwork for November.
Sci-fi writers should bookmark or list sites for any science you may need. If it takes place on a spaceship, you should have a good idea of what the ship looks, sounds, and smells like, a floorplan, and maybe consider what might power it.
Fantasy writers, if your novel is set in a made-up universe/world/town, what are the big-picture parameters of your setting? Again, you don’t have to know everything in precise detail, but you should put down some starter notes.
If you’re writing in the real world as we know it but with sci-fi or fantasy elements, such as zombies, magic, dragons, or future tech, you’ll want to think about how those elements affect your society.
My world has creatures that cast certain magic as weapons or defensively. Their presence in the wild makes traveling without guards dangerous. Below is an image of an excerpt from the bestiary page in my storyboard.
Just note your ideas because we will flesh out the details later. For now, all you need is the overview.
Previous in this series: Creating a storyboard.