Worldbuilding 101— Creating a new city or town for a story

Things to think about when creating a new city or town for a story

  1. Do I need to know how the city is planned out? (Streets, shops, etc.)
  2. Is it near a real city so I can draw on it if need be as “going to the big city”?
  3. If I’m building a country– what area of the world is it in?
  4. Country– what is the culture? What are its major imports and exports? And is it part of the UN?
  5. What is the main purpose for having a created city or country?

Now, one thing you might want to do is make a city grid that lays out your streets and allows you to make placement of the major shops and houses in your town. Why? So you always have the character make a left on Grosgrove to get to the heroine’s house and not suddenly half way through have them taking a right.

City grids do not need to be complicated nor do they have to be in-depth. I hate unnecessary complications and having lived near Chicago, Boston, Orlando and Tampa….I can tell you…..they’re complicated, even though Chicago is really easy to negotiate once you learn which roads tell you that you’re north-south and which roads mean you’re going east-west.

Now, I cheat at city maps. I HATE making more work for myself. I’m a lazy writer and my goal is to create, not to spend time on stuff that takes away from writing.

Mapquest is your friend. So is Expedia. We’ll get into other map things as well. I love to RPG (role play games) and for me, I love automatic dungeon and map makers.

How do you use Expedia and Mapquest to make city grids? Easy. First think of a city in real life close to what you’re basing your city on. Most of us when we create a city have another city we want it to be similar to– usually one we’ve driven through or even lived. Then find it online. Then zoom it in, cut the area you want for your map, copy, paste… voila. Then you can go in and rename it, or leave it as many names do find themselves from town to town.

Combining pieces of what you loved of various places definitely gives a “real” touch to a city or country you create. The hardest part is keeping it all straight.

One of the things that gets to most readers is inconsistency. I’m a stickler for it. People have despised me when I crit a WIP or a book and go…”Um, you got some mapping issues.” Maps are important for knowing the basics of your town and world.

I should point out that when you create a city, country, alternate universe, or world– you will always know more than what you use. That’s the nature of the evil Worldbuilding beast. But that’s okay. You want to know more and just layer in the information to make things real to the reader. They won’t know everything and you don’t want them to. But you’re cultivating a bond between the reader and the place you’ve dropped them into. How many of us have never been to New York City, London, or Los Angeles, but because of great authors— we feel we kinda know the cities because of descriptions, use of the location, and the consistency of moving around the cities.

Where to find maps for cities and countries

www.mapquest.com

www.expedia.com

http://historic-cities.huji.ac.il/historic_cities.html (This is one of my favourites! Nothing like old cities to create one of your own!)

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/gmdhome.html

http://grid.let.rug.nl/~welling/maps/blaeu.html Dutch City Maps from 1652

You’ll end up with more links than you’ll know what to do with– but I promise you– in the end, at any given moment, you’ll be able to pull up information, put it together and by the end of one day– have a cool city, country, or world that is ready for your stories.

Creating a Country

Let’s talk about creating a country. It’s a bit more in-depth than a city, but really not that bad. I have a “What do I need to know” list for my country. It goes well for fantasy settings as well as contemporary.

There are some places in the world that easily support new countries in this time– Eastern Europe, the old Soviet Republic, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Central America. Why these? Upheaval and people wanting various types of freedom. Think on the changes since 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Island nations are easier, definitely. But you also lose a bit with them in back history unless you kinda “acquire” real islands and make them points of contention between two countries, then have them declare their independence.

Name of Country:

Culture:

Monetary Unit:

Largest Cities:

Capital:

Language Spoken:

Member of UN:

Imports:

Exports:

Problems that can be used in storyline:

Resources that can be used:

Historic or archaeological sites:

Location on world map:

These points help me out. They help me to know the country I’ve created and give me easy reference points in creating my story. They also help me to know what I can and can’t do in this story. If I know my country has a desert setting– sheiks and the like— I know some of how the cultural aspects can be presented. If it’s a jungle setting– I know we’re going to more equatorial and that I might be more in South America.

Some ideas about creating atmosphere for towns, cities, and countries

Creating atmosphere is FUN! I enjoy making my cities and places with quirks. There are some easy ways to add atmosphere.

Create a secondary character that’s everybody’s aunt and is just a bit near crazy. Make sure their home is near the center of the action. Even if you just bypass their home. “That’s Auntie Bess’s house. She’s a bit…..well…..short of a deck. But none of us would be here without her.”

Create a town statue, monument, park within the square. Make it something filled with history or in which is THE meeting spot in town for kids, adults, etc. This gives you a solid place to not only toss the characters together, but see the town interacting with them as well.

I think my all time favourite thing to get the atmosphere going has been bringing the yearly Ren Fest to the town. It’s the one thing that gets everyone moving and grooving. Prepping for it means that the gossip mill is much closer together than normal. People instead of having to meet at the local coffee shop or at the benches near the monument can now talk freely at the town hall where the preparations are going on. *grins*

Atmosphere plays a large part in how we perceive our characters and our story. One thing I always remember from a couple of fantasy greats about worldbuilding and about atmosphere is “If you were to take this story and dump it into a big city like every other city— does it work? If it does, then you’re creating the city for nothing. Make it special– it has its own voice that will make your story memorable.”

See, so far, creating a new city or country for a contemporary setting or even a historical setting isn’t a problem anymore. It’s a matter of setting out where everything is, what are the main attributes that play into the story and making sure you follow our normal rules of physics, society, and laws.

But Cyn…..what about….alternate universes. You know, like Buffy or Forever Knight and such? How do you go about creating realistic alternate universes that aren’t just like everyone else’s? How do you keep it all straight?

Well, that will be our next thing to tackle. It’s one of my favourite settings to use when I’m not creating brand new worlds. In fact, I’ll share the settings I used for my Marauders books (The Mark of the Blood and Call of the Wylde) along with my soon to be released book, Djinn Delight in how I used alternate universe settings that seem utterly realistic and unique to me.

How much information to give the reader about the town, country, AU, world—

Now— the question you brought up is something that has to be dealt with regardless if your story is contemporary, alternate universe or even otherworldly. How much information do you give, how do you give it, and how much can you hold back from the reader and the characters?

First rule— I hate info dumps. Seriously bad. Most readers and editor hate info dumps.

Breaking the First Rule— there are ways to info dump without pissing off anyone.

How does one break this rule without pissing off the public, Cyn?

There are a variety of ways. The first is a good prologue. Set up the basics of the world in it. Start it with what leads up to the opening of chapter one. Put the gods at war, make the vampires threaten to go rogue against the rules of their kind, make a realtor come in to buy the most precious piece of land to the community. By presetting the stage in 8 pages or less– you’ve set the scene, you’ve given glimpses of the world/AU that you’ve created and you’ve made the people curious on what the results are of that.

Second viable method of info dumping— Conversation peppered with actions.

Serena slid her blade home into the merc before her. “You know we’re going to be labeled outlaws for this.”

Thomas growled as he shoved his opponent to ground and slit his throat. “If the Queen hires brigands and mercs to defend her rule against her own people who work the land, then too bad– we’re outlaws.”

They turned so their backs touched, ever mindful that a mage may come and change the odds of their sneak attack. The trees here were bare– sure sign that magic had devastated the area in the last ten months. Yet, it was perfect for a raid since magic would founder here unless the mage was stronger than the null magic that radiated from this point.

“You know, if we don’t get back to the hideout, they’ll think we’re dead,” Thomas gritted out as he moved past a slicing blade.

“You mean we’re not? After living through that damn blast by Techro? Well who knew,” Serena replied, shoving her dagger into the chin of her opponent.

Within minutes they stood among the dead mercs. No mage had come to support them. Perhaps the mages knew the truth– Queen Neela had plans of ridding this land of its magic and the people who nutured it. Or perhaps they were waiting for the two Captains of the Royal Guard to be declared outlaws before going after them. Either way– there would be war.

See, info dumping at its finest…and you’ve done it in such a way that it was natural. Between actions, answers, and conversation, you can give out great information on the world, its people, and other issues.

Now– hiding information. How many of us know exactly how our local or federal governments work? We have an idea, but very few of us know everything.

Your characters shouldn’t know everything. Just remember– if this is information based upon a rule you’re breaking– like all magic-users have to give up some energy to cast spells, but in this one case, he must cut himself and give drops of blood. Perhaps he finds magic hard to use, until the end when he stumbles onto this, perhaps cutting himself with his dagger at that moment of casting a spell and everything goes easier. It’s a broken law, but one that isn’t discovered til that moment.

Now…you need to lay this foundation to break the law. Even if the characters are unaware of this information (as is the reader), just remember, you need to hint at this. You need to give 3 hints throughout the story. Things remembered, things hinted at, perhaps words from an insane man who touches the character in question. Something that doesn’t just pop up and people go….”HUH?”

When do you give out information regarding the world, its people and more? Do you have to give it all out in chapter one?

NO!

And your readers will love you if you space out the information as it becomes necessary to give it out.

Over and over, I tell paranormal writers— make the paranormal normal. What this means is that you create a believability in which the reader will accept the new, different information and think, “well yeah, that’s how it is” and won’t be overwhelmed.

Same way when you give info out on the world/AU/place you’ve created. What is the most important aspect of your world that you MUST get across in chapter one? What 2 other elements support that main aspect? Those are the things to bring to the reader and you must be SNEAKY to do it.

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