For the last two years I have been doing ground work in preparation for finally finishing a middle-grade fantasy novel. It has been hanging on the edges of my creative efforts for too many years. Starting with an idea that popped up about 30 or more years ago (yes, that long), it had been pushed to the back burner and filed into the ‘wishful thinking’ compartment. During the early Covid days, I dusted it off and recommitted myself to the hope of at least completing a first draft. Just to see if I could. Two or three on-line courses into it and the story itself has morphed into a different animal altogether.
This is primarily due to the world the story has now found itself in. World building, for me, has been the deepest dive into researching, endlessly fascinating. It’s hard to wrench myself away. It is an on-going process. How much is too much? How many details do you need to create a world that is believable and supports the story you want to tell?
Here is a checklist of things to think about when World Building, gleaned from a number of helpful references:
1. What type of world do you want? Pick a genre. Is this a dystopian or fantasy novel (or both)? Is it on our Earth or on an alternate earth? This will help tone tone and mood.
2. Whether it’s the language spoken by the inhabitants or the apocalyptic landscape, pick the aspect of the world you’re most excited about exploring and start there.
3. List the rules and laws. What is the governing system? Who is in charge? Is this a magical world? Setting up boundaries helps create a fictional world that functions more like a real world.
4. Describe the environment, a sense of place. What’s the weather like? How does it affect the rest of the world? Are there natural disasters? Are there extreme temperatures? What natural resources exist in this location? How do people use the land?
5. Define the culture. Religion? Celebrations? Daily life? How do these factors shape points of view?
6. Define the language. Indicate how the inhabitants communicate. Is there a common tongue? Are there taboo subjects?
7. What is your world’s history? Have there been any world wars? Enemies? Rival nations?
8. How your main characters grow is an important defining aspect of your characters’ world. Your characters development is based on the sociopolitical factors you establish. Is their status based on their class or wealth? Do they have jobs they can get promoted at? Is their political system oppressive? How do they respond to grief or loss? Do they fall in love?
9. Revisit the works of successful fantasy authors to get inspiration. Never steal ideas, but review the work of other fantasy writers to see how they answer the same world building questions within their own novel writing.
10. Building a detailed world for sci-fi or fantasy fiction can be fun, and it’s easy to get lost in the small details you want to include in your universe. However, focusing on too many aspects of your fantasy world building will not only take time away from the actual writing but possibly limit your freedom when trying to change your story later.