Worldbuilding 101— Creating Your Own World

 So you want to create your own world– are you nuts?  

This is what I often get asked. Seriously and I giggle tons over it because I really honestly find worldbuilding to be easy for me. Now if we were talking POV (Point of View) — I’d be the first to whinge on needing work on it!

But worldbuilding is really simple when you break it down to the most basic format. The other thing is this— basically no matter what you do– your world will be created with some kind of knowledge of our world. Most people have a tendency to think about various cultures, myths, etc. It’s a great way to create worlds, especially when we’re new into worldbuilding.

How about some of the really basic steps I take when I worldbuild? These are things I sit back on and think as I answer them. One thing I highly recommend is finding two great books; they’re small, portable, and they’re filled with information. World Mythology by Parragon Publishing and Great Civilizations by the same company. I think I paid about $7 per book at most and they can be found at Barnes and Noble. But these 2 books will give you many ideas in adapting cultures and the past into new and unique worlds and cultures.

You’re going to notice that in one of the questions and things, I ask you to draw a map. Why? A map gives your world life. It does NOT have to be the best of the best. It just needs to give your world life and allow you to see where things are in relation to others.

Now you’ve got your world list, you’ve got the name; you’ve got the details. How do you take what you’ve got and make it come alive? First, close your eyes and imagine the world as if you were waking up to it for the very first time. What hits your senses first? Is it the flora? Is it the sun streaming in? Is it power of magic? What would be the first thing that hits your character in that world they’ve been born to? Write a scene where the character takes in the world. Feel it, smell it, live it, and more. Allow it to fill your character and go beyond it.

Some links for ideas on how to worldbuild:

Okay…..let’s get into some depth on those questions.

Name your world. Do you want it to have a Nordic name, Celt, Egyptian, etc? What is the influence of your world? Pick a name that reflects the world or the idea upon which it’s founded.

I know, I know you’re thinking, “But what if I have no clue of the idea on what it’s based?” The thing is, you do know. If you didn’t have some kind of concept for the world, your story would’ve been based on earth.

So, let’s think this thing through. Names are important. They help set the tone for your world as well as let the reader have some kind of idea on what your world is like.

Your name defines who you are. Character names define who they are and gives them something to call them by. When you think of the world of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, what comes to mind? Dragons, mountain holds, even the newly discovered dolphins. The name reflects the knowledge that is within the world. It’s something that people will relate to when they hear that name again.

That’s your goal. Create a name that’s easy to remember, that will make people think of YOUR world when they hear it, and that it reflects an aspect of that world.

Most people play with names and have some great ones. Rule of thumb is making it unique, easy to pronounce, and let it flow. For me, I add another twist– I enjoy it when people give it multiple pronunciations.

Decide what your world emulates. Is it a world of sword and sorcery? Is it a world of machines? Is it a world that blends the two? Once you know that, you need to list what is part of everyday life.

This is one of the most important decisions in your worldbuilding that you’ll do. This tells you just what genre you are more geared toward (and yes if you’re a nut like me, you’ll blend for 2 genres to be difficult!) and it lets you know what rules to decide upon next.

  • Do you need science or can you create rules for magic?
  • Is your planet a lost colony of Earth?
  • What is the role of your planet and the cultures in your story?
  • Do you need many cultures or just a few?
  • Do you have a favourite Earth culture or mythology you’d like to use for the basis of your planet?
  • Do you know a time period in Earth history that you want to base your cultures on?

Let’s continue with the questions and get some more ideas on how to get this world built.

If there are new races, jot them down. Give characteristics, abilities, what they’re similar too, if it makes it easier, and make sure you put what part of the world they’re from.

New characters of unusual races….Mmmm…. who can resist not going nuts on these new characters? Orcs, dwarves, elves…..wait. Those are established races, nothing new—- aren’t they? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on you. What makes your race unique? Are the normal size? Are they smarter? Are they descended from humans?

Creating races can be easy. Mythology books can actually provide a great basis for making a new race. If you’re looking for online links:

Characteristics to remember when creating races

  • Height: (Include range for males and females)
  • Hair Colour: Are there particular colours associated with them?
  • Eye Colour: Do they even have eyes? Or more than 2?
  • Are they humanoid in shape or another? (Think Alien, Satyrs, etc for various humanoid and nonhumanoid forms.)
  • Weight: Give the upper and lower ranges so you can describe them well.
  • Special abilities that only they have
  • Weaknesses to the race as a whole.

Now let’s get back to the checklist for this world. Ah—an important aspect to consider as it helps define the genre you’re writing in.

Magic- is there or isn’t there? If there is, is it confined to a select few, or is it everywhere? What is the cost that comes with using the magic? Do you need components to use magic or can it be verbal spells?

If your world has magic, you must define the limits of it. What does it take to invoke it, what does it take to dismiss it? Are there rituals, ceremonies, and what races use magic? What kind of magic is available? Fire? Earth? Make sure you don’t put in more magic than what you need and it shouldn’t be without a price. Magic costs and by keeping to the cost it’ll make your world more believable. What kind of price must a magic-user pay in the use of this special skill? Is it physical or emotional?

Science—the same thing applies here as for magic. You want to establish the level of technology in use on the world as well as who can use it and when. If you’re taking a current theory and making it fact in your book, make sure you note how it’s used and what changes you’ve done to fit it in your world. Make sure you set what can be broken in regards to this new fact and what can’t. When referring to new equipment resulting from higher technology, use terminology that gives a hint to what it does. A list of new gadgets and their uses are often handy when you’re showing the new physics/technology at work.

Psychic/Psionic Talent—when dealing with this aspect of abilities, there are many issues to consider. Does everyone possess the same skill or are they different? Are there levels of ability based on innate talent or can it be trained higher? What defense can be used against these skills? What costs are there to using this skill? Can this talent be lost by burning it out or over-extending it? Are there physical traits that show who has this skill?

Points to remember when worldbuilding

Physics- Do NOT panic! This is more to ask, are there any exceptions to the known rules that most planets live under? Is there gravity? Is there cause and effect? If it goes up, does it come down?

If you’re in a contemporary or future setting– do you know the physics behind why you can do certain things and not others? Do you know your speeds for your ships and the fastest limit? What about weapons? Do you know how they work, just in case you make it misfire for your character?

Knowing the basic physics of your world helps you to know why you broke the natural law or set up something unusual. In one book I’m working on (I work on multiple projects at a time), I use String Theory. I set it up that the world my hero is taking my heroine to is only a String away, but on a totally different vibration level– thus the reason for many things and the cause of much amusement on my end.

List the major rules of your world that are different from Earth. Make sure if you break them, that you list how and why they were broken. Then on top of that, make sure that if there comes a place to explain simply “our culture knows about Simeon’s Fourth Law of Tectonics” and slip it in— IF it’s necessary. Then you’re giving people a realistic feel to your world.

There’s a Razor out there with your name on it. Find it, use it, and then make your characters believe in the world you’re putting them in.

Society– Do they use money, plastic, or barter? Is there a caste amid society? Are there any main rules that your characters break by being who they are? If so, list them. Make sure if there’s something different, to jot it down for reference. Are there gods? Do they influence the world?

  • What money system is used? Barter? Coins? Crystals?
  • What’s the hierarchy of people’s roles?
  • What are the forms of governments used for each culture?
  • What religious beliefs are there?
  • What are the main types of imports, exports, and agriculture?
  • How are peasants treated?
  • How are the royalty treated?
  • Is there a merchant class?
  • Are there rules of etiquette?
  • How does anyone talk to anyone in charge if you’re a stranger?
  • Are there shops where people don’t ask questions?
  • What about a black market?

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