World-building…it’s tons of fun, incredibly intricate, and difficult to get JUST right. Every writer has his own methods for doing it, but they don’t always work perfectly. Or maybe they just don’t cover all the possible avenues. Either way, it’s not unusual for a writer to find himself browsing through other author’s thoughts on the subject. That said, here are a few of mine.
The usual methods:
a. I ask friends and alpha-readers what they think of the world, then incorporate their good ideas.
b. I write about what I know and what I enjoy. I love sailing. It figures into several of my novels. In at least one, there’s an entire race who live on the ocean and my practical experience with sailing affects their society. I also love languages. That affects names, places, and histories in my novels, big time.
c. World-building is as much taking stuff away as adding it. A good writers knows when too much is too much. Dragons, magico-scientific machin-animals, AND hover-cars…take at least one out. Preferably two.
d. I write. A lot. Much of what I write doesn’t make it into the finished edition of my story. This is a pretty common occurrence for writers. You just can’t fit EVERYTHING into one story-line. So, you save the good stuff and toss out the bad. The good stuff you keep around, waiting to be put into a sequel, a prequel, or an accompanying short story. This helps build the world beyond the first book.
The unconventional methods:
a. World-building is as much about atmosphere as it is physical appearance. If I may cite one of my personal favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” world is an example of this. I’ve read the entire series, plus the stand-alone novel that accompanies the world. It’s a gritty, rough-and-tumble world, full of tough, capable characters who survive in it. Without that atmosphere (which he writes very well), the Mistborn world just wouldn’t be the same. Lesson learned: find a good atmosphere, develop it, and then stick to it like rubber cement. Or epoxy. Or super-glue. You get the idea.
b. Write short stories. First. And lots of them. I’ve found that writing several short stories about the same world really helps flesh it out. My “Hunter” series is like this. I’ve finished three short stories already and they’ve given me so many ideas to use that I’m going to HAVE to write a full novel.
c. Music. Music has an amazing effect on human memory. You hear a song that you haven’t listened to in years and, instantly, you’re back in the place you first heard it. Use that ability to help your writing. Got a character whose attitude wanders around, never sounding the same? Pick a piece of music that reflects that character, then listen to it whenever you write about him. It’ll help you keep him consistent. Use music to help write about battles, romantic scenes, beautiful panoramas (or ugly ones). There’s nothing like it.
With all that, you probably don’t ever want to hear about my world-building again. If you do, though, here a few of posts I wrote about specific methods. World-building 1# World-building 2# Rock<World
With thanks to:
Brandon Sanderson, for writing Mistborn.
My most frequent readers, who regularly threaten me if I don’t use their ideas.