31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 8 – What Is World Building and How Do I Do It?

Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to Day 8 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”! Today we’ll be learning about world building. If you aren’t caught up with the other posts in this series, I highly recommend that you check them out here, or you can jump on over to YouTube and watch the corresponding videos here.

If you’re new to this whole writing thing, or if you just aren’t familiar with the technicalities of writing, then you might be wondering what exactly “world building” is. Simply put, world building is the creation of the world in which a story takes place, including laws, rules of science, religions, languages, etc. World building is extremely important when planning your novel, no matter what genre you’re writing. Even if you’re writing a contemporary novel or any other type of realistic fiction, there’s going to be things about the world that you have to create no matter what.

So let’s start with how to world build. My advice is to start with the big picture, and then narrow in closer and closer. First, you should decide what universe your novel takes place in. Is it this one that we exist in, or is it a completely new one? If it is this one, is it taking place in our solar system, or a different one, or a few different ones? This step tends to be the most useful for Sci-Fi novels, so if you’re a Sci-Fi writer, you’ll probably spend more time here than a contemporary author.

Next, you should narrow in on the world (or worlds) that your novel will take place on. Is it Earth? Mars? If you decide that your story takes place in a completely new solar system or even universe, then you’ll have to come up with new worlds and the basic laws for those worlds (how much water is on the planet, what’s gravity like, etc.). Also, you may have to decide how these worlds, if you have more than one, interact with each other. Again, Sci-Fi writers, and even some Fantasy writers, will probably get more out of this step than authors of other genres.

Now you can narrow in even more and look at the map of your world broadly. Decide which continents, countries, or even states your novel takes place in (or come up with your own ways to divide up the map if this is an entirely new world you’ve created). If your story takes place in a country (or countries) that really exists but that you’ve never visited before, take the time to familiarize yourself with them. Check them out on Google Maps, watch YouTube videos of virtual tours, research fashion and dominant religions and politics. Also, make sure you consider what time period your novel takes place in. Researching Italy for a historical fiction novel will be very different from researching Italy for a novel that takes place 200 years in the future. If your novel does take place in the future, then you’ll have to consider what may have changed between now and then. Has a new religion become dominant? Have they been overrun by a dictator? What’s life like under his reign? If your novel takes place in a completely made up location, you’ll have to create a past, present, and future for it and decide how things have changed over time and what direction things are headed in at the time of your story.

Finally, you can get extra close. Figure out the details of the exact locations your story takes place in. Is there a town, or a kingdom, or a specific building? If the town is a real place on Earth, you’ll still need to come up with the dynamics of the town. Who holds the most power? What are the relationships between those who have power vs. those who don’t? How do the people in the town feel about religion, or politics, or issues like gay rights and illegal immigrants? These are just some of the things you can consider, and they work for fictionalized places, too. Remember, world building isn’t just about creating a stage for your characters to act on. It’s about giving your characters a living, breathing entity to interact with.

You also need to world build worlds that don’t actually physically exist. For example, there’s a magical world in my series The Caspian Chronicles. Even though that magical world doesn’t really have one permanent, physical location, it’s still filled with its own politics, laws, religions, etc., and these are the things that drive the plot forward.

Now, I know that this might all seem a little bit overwhelming. Coming up with so many elements of a world can be a daunting task. The good news is, you don’t have to come up with everything. Remember how, in the post about character creation, I said that the things you stumble upon are the things you need to know, and everything else isn’t important? It’s kind of the same thing here. When you think over your plot, what elements are the most important? A magic system, maybe? The town’s views on a certain topic? Religion? The things that actually affect your plot and move it forward are the things you really need to focus on. The rest… Well, I say fake it ’til you make it, because if you spend all of your time coming up with elements that don’t even play a role in your story, then you’re just wasting valuable time that you could be spending on something more productive. Consider the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling talks a lot about the magic system and magical politics and history, but does she ever explain what religions wizards and witches follow? Does she ever talk about the views of the wizarding community on race or sexuality? No, because those things had no effect on her story. The world she created still felt whole, though, right? That’s because she faked it until she… maked?… it.

That’s all I’ve got for you guys today, but make sure to check back in tomorrow, because we’ll be moving on to one of my favorite things: Outlining! You won’t want to miss it, that’s for sure.

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