Wednesday, February 24, 2016

5 Core Rules for World Building

I love making up new worlds. From steam powered alternate histories to dangerous realms in both time and space. It allows me to be creative and Type A at the same time because each 'universe' that you conjure up has to have a set system of rules in which the characters and phenomenon operate.

This is very important. Because it will save you a LOT of rewriting between drafts. I recently had this discussion with another author who has an awesome idea for a plot involving well known literary characters. The problem was, it was unclear whether or not in the 'book universe' she was creating if they were real...had come into existence spontaneously...only existed in their own book worlds...etc.

And because these questions are hard to define after the fact...she put the novel aside. Hopefully it is just for now, but sometimes overwhelming problems with wrapping our minds around our own creations can be intimidating. Which can kill creativity and passion for a project.

So here are 5 Core Rules for setting up a framework for how your book's universe will operate.

  • If you have a Magic System...make it well defined so that the reader understands what is possible and what is not. Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite authors, has a post specifically about Creating Magic Systems in Fantasy.

  • Clearly illustrate the political and/or religious powers. What are their goals. What have they done to achieve them? How might that cause conflict with the citizens of that world?

  • What is it like for the average Joe to live in the world? This helps to provide a frame of reference for your reader. Is your main character in the elite or are they the downtrodden? Are there classes at all? Is everyone expected to be the same or divided for their differences? Do other forms of intelligent life coexist? Elves and humans...aliens and mermaids?

  • What are some major defining moments in your world? What is historically relevant? Natural disaster, plague or sickness, a war that changed the way people thought or lived? What about an advancement in science that changed the world -- for better or worse. Or nothing...just time. Gradual advancement in technology or culture?

  • Which brings me to my last point. Define the problem in contrast to the status quo right away. This is crucial in both scifi and fantasy because it prevents you from simply getting lost in world building for the sake of making stuff up. It helps you focus on what part of the world is important for your reader to know about.
There are of course so many other aspects to World Building but these core 5 should help to create a solid framework for you to hang your story.  Let me know what you do to define your novel's universe. I'm always up for some writing tips. 

Photo by shaka