17 October 2016

Top 10 Worldbuilding Questions

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The call of worldbuilding has been strong this year. So naturally, one of the projects in my 'Development' folder is a middle grade fantasy series of five books.

The road to building a world is a long one. Or at least in my opinion, it should be long with many twists and turns. An entire planet with species and associated civilizations (culture, infrastructure, politics, history) doesn't just materialize when you sit down to write.

As I continue sketching out this world (literally) and the main characters (also literally) I'm unravelling layers of what it means to build a world. The series I'm developing now marks a dramatic departure from my magic realism roots. It's a plunge into the icy waters of fantasy, for the hard-to-engage middle grade reader. And like many writers before me, I know the devil is in the details.

So with this in mind, I'm sharing my top worldbuilding questions. These are my thoughts on what you should ask yourself before and during the creation phase. They seem basic, but you do need to spend some time mentally dwelling on these areas. Keep reading and you'll see they're often questions within questions.

1.) What does your world look like?

This can be fun, but it's also daunting. If you want your world to be relatable and interesting, you need to make sure your continents, mountains, beaches, lakes, cities, and forests all exist and behave in believable ways. If you depart from what we know of planetary geography, you'll need to back it up with theoretical physics.

2.) Who lives where on the planet and why?


Consider the climate of your world and which species would live in which areas. Do you have one dominant species adapted to different regions, with a myriad of predator and prey animals in a separate food chain? Or do multiple advanced species inhabit their areas of origin and/or comfort? For the latter, what kind of ecosystems do you develop?

3.) How old is your planet?


The age of your planet may not be as important to the story as the age of your civilization(s), but consider both questions as you build. Are any areas of the planet geologically volatile? How long have the inhabitants had to evolve and adapt?

4.) Does your fantasy planet have a connection to Earth?


Bringing humans and Earth into the context of a fantasy story can be a great way to orient your reader. Some writers may feel it's needlessly gratifying to insert 'us' into a story where 'we' don't belong. In my experience as a reader, I like to see how humanity (and by extension, me) fits into the fictional world I'm visiting. You can make your fantastic world matter to the reader in a more concrete way if you thread it somehow into our own past, present, or future.

5.) Do humans live on your planet?


Related to the question above, but a distinctly different point. From Earth's post-human future to distant planets in a galaxy far, far away, it may feel more authentic to create a world that has no contact with humanity, if for no reason other than to honour the fact that we don't yet know of life outside our own world.

6.) How many stories will take place in/on your world?

Once you've built a world, you may decide it's worth more than one story. You might want multiple plots simply because of the current digital market business case for developing a series rather than a stand alone title. Personally, I like to tell a story as it evolves naturally. Do you need three books to get your characters where they need to go? Or will it be more complex, stretching into five, ten, or more books?

7.) How much history do you need? How much culture?

My favourite fantasy worlds are places with their own richly detailed history, art, music, and politics. With the good also comes the bad. How many wars are in your civilization's past? How does recent and distant history impact the characters in your story and the world they inhabit?

8.) Are you incorporating surreal geographic phenomena?

While this is a fun and fascinating realm to explore, you'll need to do some research to create something your readers will understand well enough to visualize. Start with some real world phenomena and you'll be surprised how bizarre you can get.


9.) Where does your plot take your characters?

Keep in mind the specific locations or settings where your story takes place and develop those areas the most. If your planet has an uninhabited continent not relevant to your plot, don't worry to much about the nuances of the topography.

10.) Are symbolism and/or allegory at work in your story?

Personally, I don't have a problem with the planet itself or the people on it representing something other than their literal realities. However, I believe it takes advanced skill to pull off in a meaningful and rewarding way. More skill than I myself possess. So if you're going to tackle creating a country or a civilization that represents a larger human truth, tread carefully or risk missing the mark.


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