Three Thoughts About Worldbuilding
By Brad R. Cook
Every writer creates a world, some more complex and unique than others. This isn’t just for the science fictions and fantasy writers out there. Even if you write contemporary, your world may be different from what the reader knows. Maybe they live in a different part of the country using different terms, and slang, or with unique customs. Worldbuilding may not be inventing a whole new world, but to the reader is a place they’ve never been.
If your building a whole new world, or if you’re only molding this one, here a few thoughts to keep in mind.
1 – Remember the Details
Details are everything in Worldbuilding. As a steampunk author, my novels are set in the Victorian era, a time when the modern world was emerging. It is the details I provide that recreate that world. Plus once I add the steampunk elements, I have to describe in detail what something is, or no one will understand. A lot of people might know what a carriage looks like, four wheels, a driver’s perch, and passenger compartment, but do they know what a steamcarriage looks like? With a detailed description of the sound of the engine, where it sits, and how the driver controls the carriage, the reader will understand.
Same goes with any world. A unique world is not sold by the broad strokes of a writers paint brush – like this world has wizards. What sells the reader on a unique world, and more importantly what sets your world apart from any other writers are the details. How does the wizard cast magic – with words, hand gestures, elaborate potions, magic wands, or technology? Focus on the details and worldbuilding will come more easily.
2 – May Not Use Everything
Writers can spend weeks, months, or even years creating the details for their worlds. Writers can get lost in the minutia of a world and never write a single sentence, but they are important. However, that doesn’t mean you need to include them in every scene you write. The point is to impart enough details to immerse the reader in your world. Sometimes though, a coin is just a coin, or a carriage is just a carriage. If you describe what every coin in the characters pockets looks like the reader will get bored. In my novels I describe the steamcarriage, but I only mention what the reader needs to know about the regular carriages.
I always think about JRR Tolkien when I’m world building. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are wonderful books with immersive worlds filled with details and yet, if you’ve read The Silmarillion which was published by his son after Tolkien’s death, then you know he created thousands of years of history. More languages with more words than would ever be used in the books, but they were there if he needed them. As writers, we might create more than we’ll ever need, but what’s important is that the writer provides what the reader needs.
3 – Everything is Connected
Nothing in the world exists in total isolation. Okay, yes there are creatures that live in caves, or fish that only live in a single pond. But, my point is that the cultures you create interact with the cultures and the environment in which they live. Plus, even within a culture, there is change. Every culture or environment is dynamic – even elves – our own world is classified by decades. Change is what people are about. We share or steal ideas from other cultures.
Environments are even more connected than cultures. The snow pack that falls on the mountains melts into the stream, which flows into the river, and is carried to the sea. When creating your world use real natural formations as an example. One of my favorite examples is temperature. Common sense says it will be cooler up the mountain and warmer in the valley, however, cold air settles. So depending on conditions cold air can settle in low parts and be warmer at a higher elevation. It’s all about the world you create.
Remember too about rivers. Cities tend to be built on their shores, along the entire length from the mountain head waters to the deltas. Something to remember though is that trade, fishing, transportation and ideas flow upstream and downstream. There is a symbiosis to everyone along a river, whether that is for good, or through conflict.
Build your world. Populate it with unique people, and interesting technology. Your reader will appreciate it, and make them want to visit more.
What is your favorite part of Worldbuilding? Let us know in the comments.
Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978. A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/