World Building 101: Starting from the Very Top

Posted: December 2, 2010 in Writing
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After my weekly meeting with my publishing team/business partners over at Visual Adjectives, I received a very hard lesson in world building – a lesson that is practically making me start from scratch.

You see at my first world building go around, I delved into the social histories, came up with some noteworthy customs, and covered things like climate, vegetation, and animal life.  I had a ton of fun, thinking of things on a whim and taking real world things and twisting them to my own fancy.  My work began on the ground, so to speak, starting with my hand drawn map and taking a region at a time.  I spent about a good two weeks on my research and then went back to my novel , tailoring it to my findings.

That was a few months ago.  Now numerous meetings and a professional editor review later I’m told that my story is great but my world needs work.   After going through my friend SM Lawrence’s epic fantasy novel series the Endaeria Chronicles that is so detailed I’m almost intimidated, I had to agree.  She covered things I hadn’t even thought about and if I had, I probably wouldn’t have made my novel go under the serious re-constructive surgery I’ve been putting it through this past month.  It hit me that I wasn’t as far along with this story as I thought I was and my deadline of having the professional editors have my entire manuscript in their hands by next month was clearly out the window.

My pity part didn’t last too long though because my team came to my rescue.  We started from the very top – the planet.   When you think of your world, especially if it remotely resembles Earth, you have to think about your planet’s relation to the sun,moon (or moons in my case), and in what geographical biomes your continents exist in.  For instance, my planet Epsilon has three moons which are relatively the same size.  Having three moons means that the tide changes along the coastlines will change more frequently, which affects the way of life of my coastal cities.  My main city Epsilon is located very far from the planet’s equator, so that place has to be very cold, almost tundra like (so there goes my scenes of lush green grass, tropical fruits, and Romanesque dresses!)

Yes, I did take the easy way out when it came to my world building, placing everything neatly into what I wanted it to be.  The way I had, though, didn’t make any sense, especially to those die hard fantasy and sci-fi fans that would probably tear me apart if I left the world how it was!

So the moral of the story – when you begin to build your fantasy/sci fi world, start from the very top of your planet by asking yourself these few questions:

  1.  How many suns and/or moons are there?  Where are they in relation to your planet?
  2. Where is your equator line?  What land mass does it cut through?
  3. Your continent(s) position in relation to that line will determine its biome.  What type of climate does each region of your world have?

By taking the time out to answer these few simple questions, I was already on my way to a more believable fantasy world by providing real world anchors my readers can relate to! 

The next step is filling out your World Building Table of Contents, which my friend Ms. Lawrence lays out brilliantly in her blog post today!

Have any of you writers experience some world building hard knocks like I just did?

  1. Your post actually applies to more than just world-building. As I was reading, I realized that what you experienced is similar to the revelation I had today regarding my own WIP. It really all boils down to research, and making sure you’ve done your homework. In your WiP, I see just how much you have to know about science, climate, etc. to make your novel believable. In my novel, my MC has a neurodegenerative disease. I thought I had done enough research and had picked my MD friend’s brain enough, but I realize I have to dig even DEEPER, to make sure it’s all believable and 100% realistic. It’s really the same as with your physical world building; I have to build a believable medical world as well. Great post!

    • MJ says:

      You’re right! What I went through does apply more than just the physical world building I’m doing. I thought I was all done with major research and I’m starting at square one…again! LOL. But it’s worth it to get everything 100% realistic as you said!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by VisualAdjectives and M. McGriff, M. McGriff. M. McGriff said: World Building 101: Starting from the Very Top: […]

  3. […] you’ve read my world building post from last week, you can get a glimpse of the writing frustrations I’ve been experiencing lately.  […]

  4. e6n1 says:

    Great post. What tends to annoy me in world building are worlds that only have 1 sort of climate or terrain- it is not plausible and it can be boring.

    • MJ says:

      Thank you! Yes, having one kind of terrain/climate/etc can be very boring and a little unrealistic. Though it takes a lot of work to flesh out different locales, climates, geographical features, etc. it all pays off in the end for you and your reader!

      Thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

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