God said, Let there be light: and there was light
The first rule of worldbuilding: whatever you say, goes. So make sure you know what you want.
When we create, be it in writing, painting, building, knitting, or anything else, we start by deciding the form of our project and its limits. So the first question you should ask yourself is this: What is this place?
Is it a modern Earth? Is it another planet, a mirror dimension with twisted aspects, or an entirely made-up world that has little to do with ours?
Like a forking road, every choice you make will lead you to more and more options that will slowly help you shape your idea. Depending on what you’re looking to create, you may be ready to start writing after this post, or if you’re planning to build a world from scratch, you should probably read my next few posts too.
I already have series(and standalone) that are more or less featuring new or alternative worlds, so I’ll use those to show what I’m talking about and hopefully, to make you understand the process instead of just telling you what to do.
If your story is set on Earth, you’re picking the easy road. If you’re writing a contemporary piece with real locations, and no fantasy or paranormal aspects, there is only one thing you need to do – research. Pick your location for the story (city, village, forest, mountain, whatever you need) and spend some time looking through google maps, images, and articles related to your location. Make sure you know the place as if you yourself live there, so if somebody who is actually from there reads your story, they won’t be like… Mmm nah, this is not right.
You can make minor changes like names of restaurants, family homes, shops, etc., but other than that, try to stay with your feet firmly set on the ground. Learn the streets and the layout, learn the weather and the dangers, read about the local people. This is the real world – make sure it feels that way.
Another thing you should have in mind is the time period. Even if you don’t have any fantasy or paranormal elements, you still need to take a different approach when writing your story in the past, the present or the future. If you are writing a historical book, make sure to pick a period and stick to it and of course, make sure you know what is allowed and not in that period, what the world looks like, how the people live and talk, the major world events that might affect your characters. Writing in modern time sounds easy, but make sure to do your research. If you are like me, in your 30s, and your characters are teenagers – talk to some teenagers, they do not speak the way you think they speak and often, they do not all read/watch/like what you think they do. Writing about the future goes more into sci-fi, so we’ll skip that for now and come back later.
If your story is set on Earth, but you want to add some fantasy or supernatural aspects – awesome! One super cool example that comes to mind is Ilona Andrews‘ Kate Daniels series. In this series, the story takes place on Earth. Most of the world is as we know it – people work and live in cities, drive cars, go out with friends, etc, etc.
HOWEVER, that world in those books is unstable and it hangs in a fragile balance between magic and technology. Waves of magic pass through it occasionally and when that happens, technology stops working. Likewise, when technology works, magic is much weaker and spells can often fail. On top of that, the authors introduce all kinds of shifters, vampires, witches, and other creatures that bump in the night. So you see… it’s Earth, but not exactly.
I have a series called ‘Remnants’ with three books in it. This series falls into this category too. The story takes place on modern Earth, in current times. Everything is the same as the real world except for one aspect – I have added a new species called Ascendants. The Ascendants are humans with extraordinary powers that allow them to control the energy within their bodies and in the world around them. They can make this levitate, summon fire, or make the air solid, etc. They can also use runes to focus their energy if they want to perform more complicated tasks like opening a portal that can allow them to travel instantly from one place to another, or heal a gun wound overnight.
So as I was saying… Earth, but not exactly. Changing one significant aspect can change the entire world and make your story stand out.
People may argue that paranormal stories are technically set on an alternative Earth, but I decided to separate them for more clarity. Even if you’re not an author of shifter romances, you ought to know they are really popular right now – werewolves, werecats, werebears, weredinosaurs and all the likes. Throw in there vampires, demons, angels, hybrids and whatnot and you have quite the assortment of supernatural creatures to play with.
The typical(but not exclusive) setting for Paranormal romance is modern Earth, current times, but the main characters are shifters and live in packs as lone wolves (or whatever creature they shift into) or are humans that discover the supernatural world.
When picking this kind of setting, your most important job is to do your research. Don’t just assume you know everything about werewolves because you’ve read Twilight and several other books in that genre. And even if you know how the pack structure works, you have figured out shifting and mindlink and other things often found in those books, don’t just follow the trend without bringing anything new to the table.
Do. Your. Research!
Find something unique and add it to your world. Then go ahead and write. God knows we need more originality in this genre.
Another Planet/ World
Be it Sci-Fi or fantasy, when you’re creating another world, it’s most often on a planet. This is the most complicated part and the one we’ll work on from the next post onward. When your world is already created and you just add elements, you only need to worry about the new elements – you don’t have to explain to the reader how the car works and what buildings are or why they shouldn’t eat glass for breakfast. They know already.
When creating a world from scratch, one that is not entirely like Earth and especially one that has different creatures/species/ weather conditions/ geography/ magic etc, you need to do more explanations.
For now, if you have picked up this option for your story, try to think of this: does my world have one or two suns? How many races and types of creatures does it have (we are not counting the regular animal life here)? How many countries? How many continents? Is the world mostly barren and hot or is it covered in ice? Is it covered in forests and vast pieces of land or is it mostly ocean? Imagine what it looks like by keeping your plot in mind.
What do you need for your character to struggle and then achieve your goal? How can you use those things to advance the plot? Don’t put them in the desert just for the sake of having a different setting.
Make your choice. Your entire world will revolve around it.
So this was for this week. I hope that this post has helped some of you. From here on out, we’re going to lock on different aspects and look in-depth at them. I’ll share my resources of sites, programs, and books that might help you along the way, and hopefully, by the end of these series, we’ll all have our worlds fleshed out and ready to venture into.
Next article will deal with Geography, maps, locations and all those fun little bits so see you next weekend!