What is world building? World building doesn’t solely refer to setting the scene the characters are in, it refers to creating an entire world that they inhabit. When we put it like that it can sound like a massive and impossible undertaking but like any other element of writing we can plan it all out before we begin or we can build it up in layers as we work.
For instance, we can begin with that one setting in the characters are in, one small space, perhaps one room. We can begin with questions like: Where is this room? Why are they here? What are they doing? The basic questions we might ask ourselves when we’re beginning any scene. From here we can begin with the basics and build the scene up. Perhaps we get down the conversation, the bare bones of the scene. Once we have that we can building it out in increments.
Perhaps they’re sitting at a table, what’s on the table? Are they doing something at the table? Are they drinking something? Maybe they stir a packet of sugar into it, so we know there’s sugar and a spoon or a stirrer on the table. Maybe they fiddle with the menu or glance over it to decide what they want. Are there more people around them or are they alone? What are the other people doing? What does the space they’re in look like? Is it comfortable furniture or uncomfortable? Does it match or not?
With each question we build a layer to the world, and can gradually explore it rather than try to write all the layers at once. This way we can address the questions as they arise which can make world building seem a smaller task than planning everything out at once.
Obviously, planning everything out at once is also a viable way to world build and works better for some writers. To do this we can plan a similar way to my first suggestion where we build outwards from one small scene. Or we can do overview questions, but here it’s important to note that it can still be helpful to break planning into sections. If we were going to create an entire fantasy world, such as Game of Thrones or Lord of The Rings, trying to create all the countries, cultures, and other elements in one go can be overwhelming. How we break it up can depend on how we find it easiest but we may begin with our main locations: Where are they? Are they different or similar? Why? Or we may do one country or continent at once.
When we world build entire worlds we have to remember that we’re not just developing what they look like, we’re creating economies and cultures too, just like culture plays into every society we write about.
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