Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Worldbuilding Resources

Nanowrimo is only 25 days away! At the expense of all other writing ventures (read: as procrastination from editing, which is not nearly as fun as it should be), I have been plotting my novel for Nano. Since I'm writing fantasy, I've been doing work on world-building, and I've discovered a fun fact – it's way easier to build a world when you actually have a plot in mind. In the past, I have made the mistake of worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. I've sat down at my computer and said, “I'm going to create a fantasy world today.” I don't deny that this was fun, but it definitely lacked something.
This time, however, I had the good sense to begin with a plot, and a 'gimmick', as it we, for my world – the idea of souls as a commodity that can be extracted through dance (this sounds much tackier when I write it down like that). Once you have something to base your worldbuilding off, you discover all sorts of unexpected things – do you realise that if dancing can steal your soul, you might have trouble passing on oral history? Nor did I, but these are the things I've ended up thinking about over the past few days. The lesson I have learnt from this is that your world needs something to set it apart from other worlds, and to fuel ideas about the culture of your people. (I'm not so interested in the geographic and map-making part of worldbuilding at the moment.) The thing I most dread is when you ask someone what their setting is and they answer, 'You know, it's like, a medieval fantasy world, with elves and dwarves and stuff.' Originality is, I believe, the key to rewarding worldbuilding.
While I was on the topic, I thought I should share some of the resources I've been using.

This is – as the name suggests – a thirty day tutorial which takes you all the way through geography, climate and history to different plot points you might use in your story. The format makes it perfect for use during October, so by the time November rolls around, you will have a well-formed world for Nano! Yay! It includes discussion of the 'What if?' of your world – the speculative element that will set it apart from other worlds, and guide your worldbuilding to an extent, which is good, because when I first encountered this, I hadn't realised that having your own unique 'What if?' was really necessary. There's also a lot of focus on the mood of your world reflecting the mood of your story right through, which is good for creating more effective setting.
The only problem I found with this was that there was a lot of geography, map-making kind of stuff, which I got bored of, and am mostly not bothering too much with for this year's Nano. But if you're into map-making, go for it.

This is an extensive list of questions covering pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about your world, and some things you'd never even thought of. They're even sorted into convenient categories and sub-categories, so that if your world is going fine, but you just don't know what to do about transportation and communication – BAM! and Patricia C. Wrede has the answers.
Working through these questions from beginning to end can be a bit overwhelming because there are so many of them, and they do go into an awful lot of detail. They're probably best for fleshing out the bits of your world you've neglected, or your brain might explode. But definitely worth a visit.

This one is oddly Biblically themed, working through the creation of your world in seven days, each on the theme of what God created on that day of the week – day four is Astronomy, for example, because that's when God created the stars.
There are a lot of very useful questions, but also information that you will need to know what building a world – for example, in the section of fashion, there is a whole list of the different factors that can effect fashion, and how they can do so. The tutorial also works through the different 'stages' of economic development, starting with the barter system and finishing (interestingly) at Communism (I don't think he was actually going for linear development from least sophisticated to most sophisticated here, but it did come across that way...), so you can work out where you want your own society to fit in without just staring at a page and going “Oh God oh God economy?!” which is probably when I would have done if anyone had asked me in depth about how economy in any society I was designing worked.
Liljenberg (the author) divides society into priests, warriors and workers – the Three Estates, if you will. While this is horribly simplistic, it's not a bad way of getting a handle on the basic values of the society you're designing, and how things will change depending on which 'Estate' is the most powerful.
One of my favourite things about this site is that several of the 'days' come with handy worksheets – one for animals, one for solar systems (if you're writing sci-fi) and one for cultures – so you have an easy way to record information. After all, who doesn't want a sheet with tick boxes for your society's familial structure, and a line to fill in their drug of choice?

This site is my personal favourite at the moment, but all three are worth visiting, and there are many more which I am yet to try out. I could be at this a long time. How is everyone else progressing with Nanowrimo planning?


  1. I've found 30 Days of Worldbuilding very very useful for my longer non-NaNo science fiction project, it's very helpful and very thorough.

    My NaNo planning for this year's novel is going just fine. I have more or less solid characters in my mind, and for the first time I have a theme before I have a plot. I guess having a theme will help me write and set goals for the story while writing differently from before. I'll see in November!

    1. Glad to hear your planning is going well. I find having a theme is very helpful in being less rambling, and more cohesive - but I've only really tried it in planning, and never made it all the way to writing with a theme in mind. You're right - we'll see in November. =)

  2. These look very interesting. I'll have to bookmark them in case they're needed later (and they're always needed later, I'm sure). Thanks for sharing the resources!

  3. hmmm. thanks for the sources. I looked for something on this order last month or so. Ahh, well some things worked out. Now, I'll see if there's more I can add to my to-do list.

  4. Mazuri and Mildred - glad you liked them. =)

  5. Hi there, I'm stopping by to belatedly thank you for following my blog (Beyond The Hourglass Bridge). I love looking at world building the way you're describing it - one of my favorite parts of crafting my novel was to think if you had a Tudor city but they'd had magic for a thousand years, for example, what differences in inventions would they have now? That, and thinking of saying to reflect the culture, Fun stuff! Anyway, I'm nominating your blog for an award. Details on my blog today!

    1. Oh wow, thanks!
      Tudor city with magic sounds intriguing... What kind of magic are you using? It's really fun working out the effects it will have on culture. =)