Recently, I’ve been getting read to edit Raiders’ Rise, the novel I started a few years ago. As part of this process, I’ve been taking the rough development that I had of my world, Meristos, while writing the first draft and am now turning it into a more cohesive whole. Worldbuilding, as it turns out, can be immensely complicated, but it’s an important part of depth in writing. This is naturally more involved when writing fantasy, as I am, but these are important things to consider for any novel.
- Climate/Weather – It’s important to understand the climate your story takes place in. This will influence everything from clothing to architecture. This can be a relatively simple process of looking up common weather trends in whatever area your story is set. If you’re creating your own world, though, you may have to do a little more work. In my case, I made things extra complicated for myself by placing three suns in the planet’s orbit. Then I had to consider where my country is placed on the globe so I could map out each month’s weather.
- Geography – It’s good to know where your setting is in relation to other countries, regions, cities, etc. Fantasy writers often include a map of their country, which I’ve also done. For known settings, it may help to print maps from the Internet and do some research on what’s what in relation to each other.
- Regional Diversity – If your story is based on a country as a whole, keep in mind that many things vary by region. Think of the United States and the many subcultures we have: Southern, Texan, New Yorker, Pacific Northwest, Midwestern, and many others. The bigger your country is, the more it will have regions of variance. If your story covers more than one region, you need to understand those differences. For fantasy, that means breaking down what’s the same for your nation’s culture into things that differ. Religious and political views are two big differences between regions, along with customs and attitudes.
- Religion – Speaking of religion, your story needs to understand it. Even if your characters aren’t particularly religious, every culture has influence from religion of some kind. Your job as a writer is to figure out what that influence is. In real world settings, a Jewish neighborhood in New York will have very different religious practices than a nineteenth-century Alaskan village being influenced by Russian traders. Fantasy cultures are no different; religion should play some kind of role in them. For my world, I developed its religion, gave it a commonality with the religion of a neighboring country, and, in the course of more cultural development, discovered that there are two main sects to this religion. Variation is an important part of understanding religion’s role in culture. Ignoring the importance of religion can be a dangerous hole in your story’s depth.
- Politics – Every setting that you can possibly think of has some kind of political system, whether that be might-makes-right in some isolated village or an equal split of power in a lunar colony. Wherever there is a community of people, there will be some kind of system for the control of power and wealth. And that’s ultimately what politics is: control of power and wealth. Understand how those things are controlled, and you will understand your political system. How much detail you need to go into depends on who your characters are. For someone with no connections to the ruling powers, you may just need to understand the general air of who’s in charge, where people’s money goes, and what rights those people have. In my case, my main character is a princess, so I needed to have a more solid grasp of what that government looks like. I ended up making a chart/family tree showing every king and queen of Meristos from the time it was founded to the present, which may have been a little overkill, but it was fun.
- Clothing – Knowing what people are wearing in your story is extremely helpful for giving a sense of realism. For real-world settings, this is something you can figure out with research. For made-up worlds, though, you’ll have to do a different kind of work. You can just base your clothing off some kind of real-world examples; many fantasies use a medieval culture, including its clothing. My world is Greek-inspired, so its clothing includes elements of Ancient Greek and Roman clothing. It’s not an exact copy of either, though, so I broke things down into men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and gave detailed descriptions of casual, formal, and sleepwear. It’s important to remember that clothing shouldn’t be random; it flows from your world’s climate, religion, and culture.
- Cultural Customs – Just as in American culture we drive on the right side of the road and say “Bless you” when someone sneezes, every culture has its unique aspects. How are elders treated? How do unmarried men and women act? What are the expectations for mourning and showing grief? What colors are associated with celebration? How does education work in this culture? What kind of things, if any, earn unforgiveable shame? Every culture has quirks; including ones that have a base in the reality of your world will add depth.
Other things to think about when worldbuilding are language (and, no, you do not have to create your own just because it’s a fantasy), transportation (Who maintains the roads? What do people drive?), relationships with and connections to other countries (no country is a complete cultural and political island), money (Goods don’t just magically appear, do they?), food (this should grow organically from your climate and culture), time (How do they keep time? How long is a day? a month? a year?), and entertainment (Is this a sports-loving culture? book-reading?)
Keep in mind that you can go crazy with this if you want to; I’m definitely going pretty in-depth. Keep in mind the purpose, though. You’re worldbuilding (or world-researching) to support your story with realism and depth. Don’t get so caught up in details your story is unaffected by that you’re not actually writing.
Anything you’d like me to write more in-depth about? What kind of things do you consider when you’re creating your story world? Let me know in the comments!