World building is almost as important as the story itself. You can create and flesh out good characters, you can have the history and the magic and the story to help attach it for the reader. But if you want to try and make a fictional world, or even our own world, sound realistic, then you need the skills to world build.
It’s not as daunting as it may appear. It is almost treating it as if the world your creating is just another character, yet there are even less steps to follow. You want it to sound real, as if you are putting it next to the real world we live in. Three easy steps is all you need to follow and by using them you can create new worlds over and over again.
Begin with a layout
Before you panic, you do not need to be an artist. Just simply grab a pen and paper and map out what you envision your world to look like. You don’t need to go into full detail, name and sketch every landscape — but if you want to, then by all means go for it. But all you are looking for is a rough idea of what you see the map of your world as.
Are there countries close together or are they far apart? Focus on where your story is going to be set. If it is only one continent of the world your building, you can just focus on that. It is a good idea to have a rough inkling on how far away the other continents around are to the one your story is based in, just in case you want or reference it later on and then mistake it in your explanation. You don’t need to name all these areas if they are not your main focus, but it is a good idea to at least know what a map of the fictional world would look like. Remember, you are writing from your characters perspectives, it is good to know what they would know about their own world.
Now you have mapped out what part of the fictional world your story is set in, now look at those countries or country your characters live in. Are the cities close together or far apart? Is it mainly landscapes of forests or is it urban living. You don’t need to do fine art detail, it’s just knowing how far away the cities and towns are in order to know how long it would take to get from one to the other. This is especially important if you have your characters travelling as you don’t want one taking three hours to get from one place to another, then another take three days — it would become too jarring for the reader, and much too confusing for you when you are trying to write.
So, you have your map and an idea of what the world looks like, now you want to think about those extra features that help differ each part within the world you’ve created.
A good way to do this is try to think of the setting within the countries. You can choose to focus mainly on the ones you are putting your setting in, but if you do, I would recommend having a rough idea of the others. Ask, these questions for each country within your world and make a note. Is it always hot? Or is it always cold? Is it always raining? Or snowing? Or constantly a blazing sun beating down? Just by knowing the weather it can help determine what the characters are going to feel and react with.
Take Morgan Rhodes series Falling Kingdoms as an example. She has a main focus of a small part of land within her world that is divided into three countries. The north, Limeros, is seen as constantly cold and filled with ice. This then would reflect onto the characters as they would have grown accustomed to living in a cold environment, then you have the middle country called, Paelsia, which is constantly hot as it is a desert style of land, so the people living there would have grown used to the heat. Then you have the south country named Auranos that is described to be the perfect spring and summer all year round. So, for the characters living in this part of the world, to be living in a condition that is named as ‘perfect’ could reflect on them as characters compared to the others who’s countries that are seen as imperfection.
Mixing the weather with the setting is perfect to reflect on not only the characters but the story itself. For those living in a desert form of land could show their struggle with lack of food or water that is dried out. Whilst in areas that are constantly frozen could reflect on the struggle on the opposite spectrum.
By knowing your setting and the living conditions the character are living in can help reflect the tussle that can be linked to the development of them and also the story. For example, the story in Falling Kingdomsis driven for the fact that the King of Limeros is tired of living in ice and is driven to take over Auranos which is seen as perfection — the setting has driven the story.
The last good part to focus on is the living situation regarding housing and hospitality. Setting up how the cities are laid out is the first thing that will catch your readers eye, as it is saying through description the type of world you have created.
Are the cities in your world old fashioned? More medieval? Or are you setting it in the modern times where technology has come through. Just by reflecting on this question can help determine the story you are telling. Just because you are doing a fantasy doesn’t mean you have to set it in medieval settings. Just like if you are doing sci-fi doesn’t mean it has to be in space. A good example that proves it can work is Sarah J. Maas adult fantasy Crescent City. As an author, she already created the medieval setting with her two previous book series, but with her adult fantasy, she decided to have it set in a modern style. Mixing in technology and the way we lived today with the fae, angel, and many fantasy creatures gave it a whole new dynamic. She was still able to have every element from medieval settings, but also adding new ones with the characters having phones and cameras, and in some scenes this is very important.
Feel free to push the boat. Don’t feel you have to do the same as everyone else, but also, if it works for you story, feel safe to stick with the typical setting your genre has been known for — it matters to you and what you want your readers to experience.
Another thing to question is the layout of the cities themselves. Are they detached houses or semi-detached, or are they rows and rows of blocks throughout? By knowing this is could help with scenes where a character is trying to escape or trying to locate somewhere. By knowing how easy or not it would be to maneuverer around the city can help determine how your character would react. This can be said the same as the colours and architecture. Are statues of their gods everywhere? Is there no artwork? Is it completely bland colours? Or full of vibrancy? These are good things to know as the descriptions will help shape the setting for the reader. Just by knowing the layout of a city or town can help the world build in their own head and they can have an idea of what it is your trying to build.
Just by knowing the answers to these questions can help you build the world in your story. Setting is one of the most important elements in a story, especially when creating your own fictional world. You can choose to have a character driven story, or a story where the events are what propels it. But if you do not take some time to shape your world, then the reader will find it harder to connect as they have not been given enough information to work with to build their own take.
Never be afraid to map it all out before you even start writing. Once you have a clear vison of your world, then it will be easy to write it.