Every time I write a blog post, I struggle with what to write about. Usually, I’m lazy and just post a short story. I actually like doing that because I like hearing from you guys and what you think. This time, as I struggled, Chris Musgrave gave me some inspiration. (Read: He said to write about said topic. He’s also written some good articles on world building, which you can read here and here. D. Emery Bunn also has some great posts, found here and here.)
So, world building.
World building is simply creating a fictional setting for your characters, and your story, to inhabit. The better detailed the world is in your mind, the better you’re able to write it. In my case, when I world build, the details and little flairs that make each world or peoples unique flow from my pen effortlessly.
Before I even start writing a story, I start world building. I start with the big details and move to the smaller ones. I’ll use Starling as an example. When I first starting mulling over what would eventually become Starling, I knew I wanted to incorporate the stars somehow. I knew that I wanted the stars to be the cities. What I didn’t know was how or why or anything else. So I started asking myself questions. Why did they glow/shine? You look up at night and you can see the stars, but if this were a city, it wouldn’t necessarily be so, especially in a fantasy. This is where the idea of the Starlings glowing comes from. And, just like in life, the glow can’t be seen in the daylight, so neither stars nor the Starling’s glow is seen. And the brighter the star shines, the bigger the city is because there are more people living in it.
Then I turned to what the Starling realm was like. I wanted it to be different from the human realm down below, so much so that a few details and you’d be able to tell which one the story was taking place in. I was actually inspired by the way our world looks when you look outside on a really foggy day. I love the fog. And I love how it makes everything seem so alien. I wanted the Starling realm to look like that. Also, a big part of the Starling realm mythos is that the ground isn’t stable. One misstep and you’ll fall through to the human realm below. As such, cities and structures have to be magickally reinforced so they don’t fall through. Because of this, there’s really only one big city, the capital, Jay’naldra, and no walls of any kind. Sprawling cities are unheard of. Everything is built as close together as possible so that the shield reinforcing the ground can be as small as possible and exert the least amount of strain upon the mages who maintain it. It’s also why there aren’t many visitors allowed to their realm. While the Starlings can travel around and innately avoid the unstable patches of ground, humans can’t and need a guide.
Which brings me to culture. Culture is a big part of my world building. It’s also not always done before I start writing. I think about it before I start writing, but usually the smaller details come to me as I’m writing and are then incorporated into the story. They saying “netroya eona triye” was one of those that came after I started writing. Translating to roughly, “May the stars shine favorably upon you,” it was a human expression that the Starlings adopted. They thought it was cool because it referred to them. (The Starlings protect the humans down below) Sayings and language is just one part of their culture, a fairly small part. Careers, hobbies, downtime, social castes, food and clothing are other things to think about. What I try to do is imagine a day in the life of a normal person in this world. Starting from when they woke up to when they go back to sleep (if they sleep), what do they do? What do they eat? Where do they work? What do they do there? Do they have a family unit? If not, do they court/date/have an arraigned marriage? Then, I take these answers and incorporate them into the culture of the people. Sometimes, okay, ALL the time, I do this for multiple people in multiple castes or careers. When I wrote Starling, I did this for Anna, a princess and a Healer, her tutor, a mage, and several others.
Now, this is a huge amount of information to keep up with, especially if you do character sheets and background stories. But I find it’s helpful to have it all when working on a story. I also have found it helpful to have it either handwritten or printed out. This way, when you’re working on your next American classic, you won’t have to keep flicking through half a dozen documents. Trust me, it’s just easier.
Hopefully, this is marginally helpful to someone. I really do hope it is.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you go about world building!