This year, RewriteItClub are doing a monthly series on writing a book, and I’m joining in with my adult political fantasy. To find out more about RewriteItClub’s series click here, or to see this month’s post and the exercise, click here.
I was very excited to discover that this month’s topic was all about world building. I love world building. It’s one of the aspects of writing that I enjoy most, and I set a lot of time aside to fully build my world before I start drafting. It’s creating worlds, from the ground up in my case – and there’s so much fun you can have with deciding all the little details.
I am a slightly different stage of my project compared to the one this month’s exercise appears to be targetting, and you really don’t want to read about each of the 60 chapters. When I am writing, I do start each scene and chapter with a mental note of the scene and details to include, and I have very detailed chapter planning notes. Instead of boring you with that, I’m going to explain my world building process a little.
Because I write political fantasy, with a lot of geopolitics, there is a fair bit of “necessary” world building for the reader to follow the story. There’s geography and geology to explain why the borders are as they are, plus why these locations are more contentious than elsewhere. Which of course means the (relevant) history behind the conflicts.
I will plan out much more than the necessary, because it helps me and I’m interested. World building is how I can explore my love of history and (historical) politics and social development, as my day-to-day study is all science.
I’m also a believer in not limiting the reader to the bare bones. As long as the world building doesn’t drown out the story, adding details here and there that don’t serve the plot can really help add texture to a story. Of course, there is the risk of putting too much, but that’s for edits to deal with.
Over the years, I have collected a lot of world building prompts from articles and twitter games such as WIPWorldBuilders to form as massive (as in >20 pages) prompt document that is the basis of my world building. I respond to all the (relevant and a lot that aren’t) prompts, adding as much detail as I feel I need or want.
It’s a messy document, with endless SPaG errors, and links to websites/blogsvideos that detail clothing or food etc. It doesn’t need to be neat; it just needs to be written down. It’s primarily for working out the world, and I rarely return to it when writing. I have quite a good memory, so the act of setting it down in writing tends to mean I remember the general idea. I might refer to it for details in one of the later passes, but not often.
I get world ideas from all over – non-fiction and fiction books, blogs, conversations – anything. When creating a culture, I tend to have a few touchstones – one or two specific cultures and time periods in our world that I use for technical words about food or clothing etc – but I will adapt it to suit my world. Magic changes a lot of daily considerations, particularly if magic is commonplace.
World building happens in parallel to plotting for me, I bounce between the two as they feed into one another. A map will influence the politics, so that will alter the plot, which then means I need a history, and so on. Over a few months, I gradually shape the lump of clay ideas into something resembling a story. And then I draft…
What’s your favourite part of the writing process? How do you world build?
Read the other posts in this series: