(World-building, part 1)
Have you ever played SIMs computer game? It’s an opportunity to further the lives of pre-made characters and create places for them to live and hangout. It’s like being a god of your own world; you help them get a job, make friends, and basically live their lives. But sometimes things happen because you’re not paying enough attention and accidents occur. I had one character wet the floor because she needed to use the bathroom and I didn’t see it right away. I took it for granted that she would do this on her own.
A while back I wrote an article called “The Writer and the God Complex” in which I discuss how our characters seem to take on a life of their own and for as much as you want them to go here and do this, they want to go there and do that. This article is on building the world itself and how we take certain things for granted.
Yeah, but what’s the source?
A couple months ago I began a new writing project I’ve dubbed DWC. I don’t want to give away the title as I fear someone will steal the idea and get stories out before me. As I began to create the characters, the concepts, and the little village where they all lived; I got to thinking that I haven’t researched World-building (WB) very much.
Yes, I already have books published and, if you read them closely, you can tell that my WB skills are lacking. So I went in search of articles and sites to help me with this information. I’ll share what I found at the end of the article.
The name of the village where my characters live is called Caldera Falls. Naturally it’s named after a waterfall that’s at the north end of the village and there is a mill at the bottom that uses the water to turn its wheel. I decided that the water ends in a pool and then creates a nice stream that runs through the village and dumps into a body of water called Farewell Bay.
So then I ask myself, where does the water come from at the top to spill over into the falls? The answer is nowhere to be found. In fact, I really didn’t want to answer that question. I thought it has a falls; the village is named after it, so leave it alone! But I couldn’t leave it because I just know someone who reads my story will ask that very same question. That forced me to find an answer. One of the articles I found talked about water runoff and the drainage situation and I’m thinking, “That’s too real!” But I then realized that this is what I’m after.
Ditch the Plateau
Another idea I had was to make the capital city, Ciudad, reside on the top of a plateau of a mountain. It looks out over the rest of the area called, Alderman Valley which features Caldera Falls and two other towns. However, the question arises: Who is going to climb up the side of a mountain to get to the city after pulling into the docks of Farewell Bay? Again I wanted to refuse to answer this question because the plateau idea was neat. I even had an idea of an elevator on the side of the mountain facing Alderman Valley where people could go down and get to the towns there. Of course they can completely bypass the city and travel around the mountain, across the sand, and over to Caldera Falls. So I decided to ditch the mountain but I’m keeping the name Alderman Valley and having it to be a misnomer when it was discovered and no one bothered to correct the error.
Another item I tend to overlook is boundaries or city lines where one town ends and the next begins. Out here in The Valley of Arizona you can go through three different cities in just a few minutes and not even know where one ends and the other begins. Primarily, it’s because you don’t have a Welcome to Mesa sign at every area when you cross one to another. I thought about just making the grass a slightly different shade of green for this town compared to that town but that was fairly lame. Given that Alderman isn’t that big, putting up signs to announce the arrival in one and the departure of another was a little too much.
Then I hit upon a unique idea. Since I was thinking about the source of my waterfall, what if the river to the falls broke off and travelled down the side of the hill and created a line that separated Ciudad from Alderman Valley. That’s an interesting way to create a border without stating the obvious. Since the village of Greencrest is dominated by orchards, how do they get water for the trees? So I had the river branch off and created all of the borders for Alderman Valley. This way when you crossed the river you knew you were entering the next town. Problem solved!
Suggestions for World-building
- When doing research for building your world, don’t assume you have to include everything you read about. It’s one thing for you to know it’s there in your world but you don’t have to mention it in your story.
- Design a type of map to know where businesses and homes are located. You don’t want to say your characters when north to the tavern in one chapter and then south in a later chapter; even though they left the same place each time.
- Study maps of cities and countries to get an idea of borders and the “lay of the land.”
- Make a checklist of things you want to include in your world so you don’t forget them. However if they don’t fit, don’t force them. You’ll upset yourself and your reader.
Make an effort to build your world so you know where things go and how people get there. In future articles, we’ll discuss other ideas. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions or ideas from you own world-building share with me in the comments below.
World-building Sites and Articles
Here are just a few places to research to give you an idea of how to build your own world:
World Building Academy— This site has been very helpful! You can sign up for weekly tips.
Inkwell Ideas–A collection of articles to help you flesh out your world.
Fantastic Medieval Ships— Does you world have a large body of water? You’ll need ships!
Medieval Demographics made Easy–What’s the difference in size between a village, town, and city? Here’s some help!