It’s Monday once again—the one day of week that always comes around quickly no matter how slow time is moving. And once again, I don’t have a whole lot of time to devote to my blog, which is a shame, because I’ve got lots to say. 😉
Today I wanted to just lightly touch on the subject of world-building. A couple of weekends ago, I was part of a panel discussing this very topic, and it’s one that I could go on and on about forever, so I would never be able to fit it into one blog post, but there are some highlights that I think I can share today.
In my opinion, there’s no right way to build a fictional world/universe. There are wrong ways to go about doing it, of course, but everyone’s creativity works differently so people are going to use different techniques to create their own worlds. This blog talks about some of the techniques I use to create and enrich my fictional worlds in ways that (I hope) will make them seem more alive for my readers.
-Be observant of the real world
Sometimes this one is difficult for me. 😉 I spend a lot of time in imaginary places, so coming back to reality is like going back to work after a holiday weekend. Bummer! Still, the real world is the best place to farm ideas for fictional worlds. The varieties of human cultures and societies that have existed throughout history (and currently exist) provide some of my best inspiration. I’ve always loved world history. After English, it was my favorite subject in school.
It’s not just the series of historical events that fascinates me, but also the costumes, the food, the different governmental systems, the traditions, the music, the art, etc. All of this offers fuel for my own creativity. I don’t just observe what happens in human culture, but also how all these different aspects of it interconnect. Then I keep these connections in mind when creating my own fictional cultures. Even though I don’t go into exhaustive detail in my books about the different cultures I’ve created, I have developed them for my own knowledge—far beyond what my readers will ever see.
-Remember sensory details
How do people experience the world? Generally, (barring any interesting alien races that have evolved to use different methods) it’s through the five senses. Think about how the food tastes, how the air smells in the open market, how the colors of the clothing look in the light of day or under the stars. What sounds are you most likely to hear as you walk along in your fictional world? Consider what sounds you hear in your everyday real world. Most of them are probably background to you, but if you were to describe your environment to a reader, how would you do it? I try to keep these kinds of details in mind when describing my fictional world.
-Follow your own rules
When I build a world, I try not to break the rules I’ve set out for it, unless I have a great explanation prepared as to why those rules were broken. A fictional world can have all kinds of things that are impossible in the real world, but the most believable and best developed fictional worlds follow some set of rules that determines what is (and isn’t) possible. For example: I have created a universe where magic is possible, but magical energy is still finite. People can’t just materialize things all day long with no consequences. There are prices to be paid for any use of that energy. If later I decide that the plot requires a huge expenditure of magical energy, I’d be breaking my own rules if I have my character perform even more magic with no sign of effort right after that plot point. Of course, there are always ways to explain these things that will allow them to fall within your own rules, but the key is to remember those rules in the first place.
Those are three things that I keep in mind when I’m world-building. There are many more I could discuss, but again, I’m short on time today, so I will have to revisit this topic on another blog. I hope someone found this advice useful or maybe just interesting. 😉 Let me know your opinion on this. What world-building techniques do you find work the best for you? If you don’t do much world-building, what do you think of some of the fictional worlds that you’ve experienced through various media (books, movies, games)? Do you find the worlds/universes detailed enough that you can immerse yourself in them, even when they allow magic and other things that seem impossible? What makes those worlds work for you?