Sometimes when world building, I feel like It’s easy to get lost into your own creation. Sometimes there’s a line between creating enough and creating too much for your world, and fantasy/sci-fi writers can be the ones most likely trip over that distinction. So here are 6 tips for keeping your bearings while at the same time creating entire worlds your readers can happily immerse themselves into!
Play what-if games with yourself
You have some idea of how real world politics, monarchies, and societies work. You may not have the perfect understanding that, say, a world leader would have to know, but that’s the fun part about making things up! Everything goes how you want it.
Now, some world building isn’t as wide scale as entire societies, they may be magical creatures in the real world, or small realms that only break the laws of our physics slightly.
Either way, I find that the best way to come up with ideas is doing what-ifs. Take a society, an animal, a way of being, and play around with it! What Earth evolved with unicorns instead of horses? How would change our everyday life? A horse with a horn may not appear to change much, but think it through! That horn could be made of ivory, which would then be valuable on various black markets, just like for elephants and rhinos. Unicorns/horses might be close to extinction by the time they got to modern times, again, like other animals that produce ivory. That would make owning a horse a rare find! Or, even illegal.
Go through the logistics of the decisions you make. It’ll show later, believe me. And those that appreciate well-thought out worlds will definitely notice.
Don’t go overboard
Now, while the devil’s in the details, there is such a thing as too many details. I feel like a lot of people that enjoy world building can go too deep down this rabbit hole. For example, in the modern world with rare unicorns for sale on the black market, knowing how they slowly became endangered is important to the story. Knowing that unicorn horns can be ground to powder to make a drug may be interesting to know, especially if it comes up in the story at some point, even in passing. But knowing the molecular structure of a unicorn horn and the cells that create the refraction of light to create the iridescence in the surface… isn’t anything we really need to know.
You might notice that even in science fiction, when things are given scientific explanations, note that there’s usually a clueless character always there to ask for a dumbed down version that glosses over the fancy stuff and gets back to the point. Because at the end of the day, being given a list of facts just to prove to us you thought through every little detail doesn’t impress much when it’s overdone. Sometimes it’s fine to just say the horn was shiny and colorful and be done with it.
Again, if it’s important to the story, it may need mentioning! But try to focus on things that pertain to the story for the most part. Other details are sometimes nice, but too many can distract from the main plot, and often readers will forget a lot of the facts, which will be bad, especially if they’re the important ones.
Draw inspiration from many sources
I think a good away to come up with more things to flesh out your world is to do research on a wide range of subjects! Everything from the discovery of dinosaurs, to the exploration of the moon, to the evolution of humans can help give you pieces to play those what-if games and toy around with different results. I even like watching science and history shows for this reason. In fact, a lot of my projects are loosely inspired by historical figures or events. Only, you’d never know because I altered them so much.
So, again, play around with interesting facts! Knowing how light works can give you ideas about how to make invisibility powers in a fantasy or sci-fi (we see images by how light bounces off of them. For someone to be invisible, light would have to pass through them, like a window. Also, I may be a teensy bit of a science nerd). This is where obscure research points come in handy for once! I know you’ve done it before. Researching that random thing that you need for your story to make it as accurate as you can. Play with those! Make it your own. By the end of the day, when you’re done making up your world, readers will go “ahhhh” when you reveal the practical reasons you made certain decisions, which I think is every world-builder’s goal.
Look up relevant images
Pinterest will be your best friend here. Finding images pertaining to the things you’re making up can help so much with descriptions and just expanding your imagination to picture what you’re looking for better. Creating aesthetics also helps with this, at least to me. Because then you see all the things related to your story all in one image (see my post here on how to make one if you want tips on where to start!).
Searching for what you’re looking for and the word “aesthetic” brings up even better quality photos, so give it a try and enjoy yet another procrastination excuse as you’re supposed to be writing or plotting. You’re welcome.
Draw from your culture
Wherever your from, whatever race you identify with, you already have a unique society, a way of being, even a household life that is specific to you. We live in a day where stories originating from everyone’s experiences are severely lacking, and the world is hungry for them. We’re tired of things always staying the same, and your world gives us a little peek into what we’ve been missing out on.
Now, you may not want to draw from where you’re from, you may want to draw from someplace else completely. Which is perfectly fine, too, so long as you do the appropriate amount of research and cross checks. But done right, these stories are also a joy to read, because they’ll hit home for someone, and really that’s one of the most fulfilling things in the world.
But even in your world building, you can give your reader a look into the world from your point of view, which is a story only you can tell.
Write everything down
No, I’m not just giving you another excuse to get a new notebook (though I totally am). But keeping all your notes in one place will be a life-saver, especially if you can organize them. You could keep them all on your computer so it’s easier to go back and make changes to an already-made list, or you can plan ahead with pages worth of sections like “countries”, “religions”, “creatures”, etc, so you can fill in the information as you have it.
Also, keep track of all of your research points! That way you can always go back to something you need more details on, or to cross check and make sure you’re sticking to whatever research point you started with.
If you’re the kind of person that likes to keep orderly notes on physical paper, let me know in the comments and I might do a post on how I make my writer’s bullet journal.
That’s it for today! Hope you enjoyed today’s post and I’ll see you next time around.