All content copyright Lune Lenore Violette, 2014. More coming soon on Worldbuilding!
Worldbuilding is exactly what is says on the can: building a world.
Worldbuilding is the fine art and precise science of creating a believable and unique world for your characters to live in in genres such as fantasy and sci fi. It covers everything to what the world itself looks like to languages, food, currency, and prominent locations.
Sometimes you’ll begin a worldbuilding project for one story and end up using it for a totally different one. For example, in my novel Clockwork Versailles, the setting, Gearhard Metropolis, went through five or six revisions and was the setting of four stories before I matched it to the right novel. I had developed it over a course of a year and a half, and it’s still one of my favorite settings I’ve ever written.
No one can really tell you what your world should be like or how to build it, but a good way to get inspired is to read novels that take place in their own made-up worlds. Beyond this, I’ve put down a couple projects, questions, and worldbuilding exercises to help you get started.
If you like doodling and you like knowing where you’re at, then you’ll probably like mapping. This exercise is handy in two ways:
1. You’ll get a better feel for what you want your world to be like.
2. You’ll have great reference material for when you’re writing the story!
This is a rough-draft map I drew for Renegade Royal, one of my novels-in-progress.
Below is the most recent map for the world.
As you can see, as you develop an idea, you’ll sometimes elect to add new locations. In my first draft of a Trelorikan map, I forgot to include oceans and lakes. I also was planning on calling my world “Scotilan” but later changed it to “Trelorika” since Scotilan sounds too much like Scotland.
Here are some details from Trelorika to help get you started:
Pawnmaker Keep, an outpost of Ilbathsidor (the capitol city of Trelorika) controls most of the surrounding cities; this includes Abindare, which is located in the middle of a lake and is a center for trade.
Maelmire, however, is something of a Robin Hood boomtown. It’s not controlled by the Isra, (the antagonists of the story; a sect of corrupt magicians) but by the Risivaer, a group of powerful warriors. My character Amardris is a Risavaer, so this is important to the story.
This part of the map shows Garen, an oppressed village, in the shadow Aerlingdrin. Aerlingdrin is controlled by the Capitsar, the cruelest and most powerful sect of Isra.
This last picture shows Fiendrel Fen, a swampy area full of danger my characters must traverse to reach Ilbathsidor. Below it is Midrishroud, which is captioned: Aena re Darklings. In Trelorikan, this translates as “City of Darklings.” Midrishroud is a dangerous place to be!
Have a lot of ideas you’re not sure what to do with? Collaging is the answer, bro. Take everything that inspires you and tape it to something. And I mean everything- old pages of ideas, pictures torn out of magazines, quotes, photographs, playing cards, what have you- put it all up there.
See examples below.
Here is a picture of my Story Wall. As you can see, it’s fairly decopaged with various inspirational stuffs.
You can do the same sort of thing in notepads. This is a spread for Framed, a 1920’s novel I’m in the process of developing. I highly recommend the Smashbook for this kind of thing- best journals on the market and made for collaging.
When you’re Worldbuiling, you have to think quite a bit about the people who inhabit your world. For Renegade Royal, I created the basics of a whole language. (My second Trelorikan map is labeled in it.) If you’re up to doing a language, start with the basics of conversation: “Hello,” “Goodbye,” directional terms, “Right,” “Left,” “North,” and then move on to common vocab. (e. g., bed, house, friend, enemy, sword, hydra.)
Your next step will be to think up words for all the prepositions, helping verbs, articles, (and, but, or,) and popular verbs. But you can cross that bridge when you get there.
Below I’ve broken down Cultural Worldbuilding into a few sections.
Every society has them. Do people shake hands or bump knees? What is considered insulting? For the novel I co-authored with Hazel Argentebrume, we realized for a sci fi world we would have to create many quirks in culture to differentiate this planet from Earth.
We ended up writing pages upon pages about Rallidrissian culture; how brushing wrists was considered the equivalent of holding hands (Rallidrissians can’t hold hands- they transmit energy bursts through their fingers, and accidents happen), about what they find insulting (waving with an open hand is only done by married couples to one another- everyone else waves with a closed fist), and how they expressed sarcasm (They don’t roll their eyes; they run their tongues along the ridges of their canine teeth.)
Thinking up little quirks like this can breath life into a story, and makes Worldbuilding even more fun then you’d think.
Hierarchy/Feudal System/Titles of Respect
Especially in fantasy stories, a hierarchy or feudal system is a very popular literary device. And it’s fun to map out, too- everyone from the king to the nobles to the peasants all written out and worked into the story.
Here’s the assembled hierarchy sheet for Renegade Royal:
The first on the list are obviously the Isra- the magicians who have taken hold of Trelorika.
The second are the Idroi; people who are devoted to serving the Isra, and are included in their upper ranks. This would comprise a noble class.
Next is the Ya’tann, who are basically the middle class. You’re a Ya’tann if you’re a farmer, artisan, worker, or basically anything but a lazy noble or Isra.
Last are the Strae, who are poor workers or enslaved people under the control of the Isra or Idroi. Many are exiled Inestrae, the former guardians of Trelorika who wielded magic against their comrades, the Isra, when the Isra rebelled from Inestrae ranks.
Another thing you could consider when worldbuilding are ranks and titles of respect. Is it likely that a land far, far, away is going to use “sir,” “madam,” “miss,” or “mr?” Not really. And who says King, Prince, and Duke have to be the only titles?
Here are some titles I used for the nobles of Gearhard Metroparis is Clockwork Versailles:
Currency and Exports
Designing a currency for your world is not only fun, but it helps you get a grip on what commerce there is in the land in question. Exports, trading goods, and rare items gives you a feel for what resources the land should have.
Here is the currency designed for Trelorika:
As you can see, the medium-value coin, the Ithkit, is made of gold, while the Maerdrit, the highest value coin, is made of silver. Just because something is valuable on planet earth doesn’t mean it has to be in your made-up world!
Below is a list of magical items I made a long time ago. Who might buy and sell such things as these?