World-building is hard.
Writing a sci-fi novel on another planet, or planning a fantasy adventure story in your own kingdom? World-building can seem daunting at first glance, but here's a great place to start!
There are two types of writers: the one who plans, and the one who does not.
The one who plans sits down and thinks out every aspect of their story beforehand, and the one who does not plan, just make it up as they go along. It is great to plan, but it is equally imperative not to hold too much control over the way your world unfolds.
I have been attempting to write a fantasy novel within an entirely new world of my creation for almost a year now, and I am still in the planning stage. I am a planner, which means I need to know every aspect of the world I am writing within before I can even begin writing. One of the many broad statements I have learnt along this novel-writing journey is thus; worldbuilding is hard. It is just a fact that creating an entire world, evolving cultures, and functioning societies are all detailed and complex ideas that take time to develop—followed by a great deal of editing, second-guessing, and maybe some complete scrappage. During this still unfolding process, I would find it challenging to maintain a clear and orderly path through every little aspect of existence.
Looking back at the beginning of this expedition, I wish I had bothered to look for a comprehensive guide on where to start! So here is a somewhat comprehensive guide to beginning your worldbuilding experience!
Create a Map
When we approach the idea of creating an entirely new world, we tend to think about the geography of our unknown lands. Taking the time to design a rough map is a great way to visualise countries, cities, landmarks, et cetera, and their proximity to each other. It is also a great deal of fun! Inkarnate.com is an online map-making tool with a detailed free version of the platform where world maps, regional maps, town maps, all kinds of maps, can be brought to reality. Also, referring back to a visual representation of your world makes it easier to keep track of where your characters are going.
The idea of writing an entire history of a new, unknown world can be daunting at first, but when we come down to it, it is best to take inspiration from our own history and spice it up with our unique ideas. Look at the finer details of historical events and advancements and see how they would affect the world we are building. Best not to get intimidated by any blank periods in our historical timeline as these will gradually fill in as we consider progressions in science and technology and how they affect the people and how culture evolves around it.
What does it take to run a country?
Look at the world we live in now and think about what it takes to make it run smoothly. Society requires key workers to maintain a semblance of normality, so the prominent roles to consider are government and political regime, the justice system, communications, incarceration, postal system, waste disposal, trade, and employment. These are some of the vital roles that run in the background of everyday life, and with some imaginative glitter, they can frame the natives of your world. In addition to discovering how your key roles work, it is a good idea to create laws that govern the lives of the natives; this provides a chance to stylise cultures’ attitudes to concepts like death and the afterlife. These rules help shape a society’s culture. Another way to enrich your culture is by considering what your natives would consider being polite, rude, what is the etiquette when greeting someone?
How to science?
Deciding whether or not to incorporate science into your world. If you choose hard science, then it’s essential to make sure that every real, scientific thing that you are writing about are correct and accurate because chances are there will be readers out there who will specialise in that field and call you out for it! But if you are not precisely science-minded, then you can opt to avoid going into scientific detail and wave away explanation to ‘because it does.’
It is crucial to maintain notes of any time you make an observation which could inform your story at a later date. Think of something that could be crucial later on? Write it down! Do not be afraid of keeping a load of notes. Many writers hold on to all of the notes they make as they also spark inspiration.
Now, you have the means to continue your journey into worldbuilding with a stable footing and an idea of what you want your world to look like, so good luck and have fun!