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  1. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    The 3 Step Process of How to Worldbuild

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Infel, Mar 30, 2019.

    Hey there, friends! SUPER long post incoming!

    The other day a friend starting their first project asked me "How do you start worldbuilding?". As they waited for a reply, I blinked stupidly a few times and found I didn't know what to tell them. I've got a world built, sure--like a lot of us do--but I couldn't come up with any useful advice to offer. So, I resolved to think about it and give them a reply later.

    After searching online for a tutorial on how exactly one begins 'Worldbuilding', I found there is precious little on the topic. Almost every piece of advice labeled "How to start Building your World" instead detailed how to specifically build some aspect of a world: how to draw a map, or create a culture, or a religion, or creatures, or geography, or weather. These things are important, of course, but it's not 'how to Worldbuild'. If my friend writer wanted to know how to create a fantasy map, then she'd have asked 'how do I draw a map'. If she'd wanted to know how Rain Shadow works to figure out which side of a mountain to put a forest on, she could easily have googled it.

    But when she asked specifically 'how do I start worldbuilding', I think in retrospect she was actually asking 'what is the process by which I add new things to my world, whatever they might be?'

    So I decided to try my hand at coming up with some solid, general advice on 'how to worldbuild': the process by which someone adds new things to their world.

    That said, I'm by no means a professional writer, so rather than going it alone, I thought it might be fun (and useful!) to come here, and see what the community has to say about it. I've got a general three step process here, and I've done my best to really boil it down into its most basic and simple form. I'm hoping to get some feedback, have some people poke holes in it. Maybe together we can create something really comprehensive and great.

    So, with that long intro out of the way, here's my personal take on 'How to Start Worldbuilding'. I hope it's useful, or at least becomes useful after some good conversation:

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    Step 1: Have an Idea

    In order to create, you must have something worth the effort.

    Creating is hard work. If anyone is going to embark on that adventure, they'd better have an idea that, to them, is cool and interesting enough to merit the hard work it takes to do it. No matter the creative endeavor you're embarking on, you need, at minimum, an idea. 'Idea', in this instance, is defined as anything you think is interesting. A character is an idea. An event is an idea. A religion, map, war, battle, magic, concept of Good and Evil, or Chaos vs. Order, are all, for the purposes of this tutorial, ideas. This is a pretty obvious first step: if you don't have anything to write about, then you don't have anything to write about. But the moment you think to yourself "Huh, that's kind of cool", then you have an idea. A cool dream can be an idea, or even--one of my personal favorites--watching the execution of someone else's idea and thinking "Hey, I can do that better." Once you have one, you can develop it. Once you can develop it, you can begin the process of transforming a phantasmal 'idea' into a 'core.'

    Step 2: Transform your Idea into a Core

    Ideas are transient; they fluctuate and change, because they're creativity. They're ethereal, malleable. One minute you think your story's villain should be a dragon, the next you think it would be a better juxtaposition to your protagonist if he were an evil dictator instead. First you think you'll write a sci-fi, but three chapters in, you think the story would be better told as a fantasy. This is wonderful for coming up with more ideas, but terrible for getting down to business and constructing your world. If all the pieces to your puzzle are wildcards--changing and shifting on your whim--then changing one piece can change a hundred others, and changing those might mean half your world needs to adapt to the new change. Much better, then, to develop a core: to take an idea, and decide it will be.

    To change an idea into a core, you simply decide, as The Creator, this is the way this event will be in the world. You choose the best potential (best is decided based on why you're creating in the first place; perhaps, to tell a story) and make it one permanent thing, rather than a hundred possibilities. In return, you have a solid foundation. In a universe where you're the creator, able to change things on a whim, your core is your orienting device; the cornerstone that you compare and run your ideas past to keep your work consistent. It's history, unchanging, and because it is unchanging, it allows you to build up from it without worrying that your tower will fall. Its a foundation, and from it, you can start gently working outward.

    A core can be big, or small--it's more useful if it's vague, but it can be specific. Regardless, it's something you, the creator, have decided is. It isn't necessarily permanent, and if it needs to change, it can. But it's a thing the author decides is true enough for the moment that it's okay to begin building the world around it. 'Wizard School' is a core. 'I want England to have its own pre-Norman mythology' is a core. 'Sometimes the government forces children to kill eachother' is a core. 'At ten years old, you get to leave home and capture monsters' is a core. And I'm almost positive that each and every one of you can glean what worlds those are specifically from those single sentence descriptions alone. A core can be as large as the foundation of your world, or as little as the personality of a character, or the agriculture of a town.

    Step 3: Accretion

    Each and every new thing you create should have a core. It doesn't need to have one, but the risk you run by not having one is spending weeks changing 'x', then changing 'y' to compensate, then changing 'z', then changing 'x' and 'y' to compensate, which means you need to change 'z' again. When you're God, and you can change anything at any time, it's useful to give yourself a limitation. This, I like this way, and I'm going to build around 'x' assuming 'x' will always be true. Then, at least, you can change 'y' and 'z' in relation to 'x'. You can build on 'x' without worrying that it's going to change, and ruin all your effort.

    The way you do that is by accretion.

    Accretion is the slow and steady accumulation of layers of matter--or, in our case, layers of content and detail. You take a core, and you decide that it's going to remain true, no matter how many layers you put over it. You decide that the core is the most essential part, and refuse to compromise it. Then you analyze it, and determine what branches out from it. You ask questions, and you happily add to it. Maybe you add one layer and find out it doesn't work. That's fine, you can take it away. Maybe you add another layer and think it works well, so you keep it. That's one more layer on your core. You build, and you build, and you build on whatever Core you've created, until it's developed enough.

    When is it developed enough? Well, that depends entirely on what the reason is that you're creating the world. If you're trying to tell a story, then its developed when it supports the story as effectively as it can. If you're making a world for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign or something, then it's developed enough when your players can experience the emotion and thrills of the game in that area. The more you think and decide on things, the more layers you'll be able to add to your world.

    These three steps can develop any aspect of Worldbuilding. You can use them to create a map, or a religion, or a culture, or a story, or weather. And this method is most useful when you have already established why you're creating the world. Once you have a core for that, then you can build all your future cores with that core in mind.

    Lets have a final example.

    Idea:
    A little girl with a knife standing over her sleeping mother.

    Ideas are potential: there are any number of answers for this scenario. Is the little girl insane? Maybe a demon? Maybe her mother is abusive, and she wants revenge. Or maybe she's saying a final farewell before Mulan-ing off with that knife to do battle with bandits invading her town.

    Transform the idea into a core. It's up to you to decide the direction you want to take this idea. The correct direction is whatever direction best accomplishes your personal goal for the world: usually to tell the story as effectively as possible.

    Lets assume the story I want to tell is a tragic one.

    Core:
    A little girl with a knife stands over her sleeping mother. Her mother has a terminal illness that is causing her a slow, painful death. She asked her daughter to kill her in her sleep to spare her the pain, forcing the deed onto someone else--too cowardly to take her own life. The daughter stands over her mother, her insides knotted and her eyes dripping tears, deciding if she’s capable of fulfilling her loving mother’s last wish.


    That's a core. From the potential of 'idea' to a single, solid, specific decision. This will be, and the rest of the story will develop this single core.

    From there, Accretion.

    Who is the girl? What circumstances led her here? How will she react? Accretion can give the girl a name--there's a new layer that can be stripped or added at will. It can give her a temperament that makes the deed easier or harder. It can give her a history with her mother, all of the memories she experiences in the final moments before she decides, finally, to drive the knife into the woman’s throat. It can give her the horror of her father waking up, finding his daughter in a pool of blood, sobbing her eyes out, as he looks over at the slim metal blade coming out of his wife’s neck.

    You can decide on any of those things, and change them at any time, to suit the story you want to tell. Peel back layers, and add new ones. But the Core doesn't change, and thus, anything you add that is based on the core is unaffected by the changes you do make. That keeps you sane. It allows your world, slowly, to become more developed.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This is the best way I can articulate my thoughts on how to go about adding new content to your world. No matter what it is, or what your world may be, it seems to me this process would help with it. That said, I'm by no means a professional, and would love any feedback you guys might have to make this even better. If you see any flaws, I'd love to talk about them! If you see any places where more detail might be nice, I'd love to discuss that, too. In the end, I'd really like to have something I can turn over to my friend in response to her question--even if it's so long she'll never read it!

    Thanks so much for always being awesome, guys. I look forward to talking with you!
     
  2. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    cosmic lights, Bone2pick and Infel like this.
  3. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    The examples you gave aren't "worldbuilding", but how to develop a story. "Worldbuilding" is a term used to describe creating a fictional place rather than using a current or historical real one, or at least fleshing out the scenery and customs your story takes place in.
     
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  4. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not sure I follow! I think the process I outlined can be used independently of the desire to write a story in particular. There's lots of reasons to worldbuild outside of wanting to use it to tell a tale. I gave the example of the girl with a knife, but you could easily use it to outline an ancient war, or a concept for a religion, or even to create a country. The more you build individual things, the more the place in which they exist comes alive, no? I guess that's what I'd consider worldbuilding.

    Edit: @John Calligan Well, here goes the rest of my day!! *starts reading*
     
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  5. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    "Worldbuilding" refers to constructing the place the story takes place in, not the plot or the story in general. You are not using the term properly.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldbuilding
     
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  6. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    Similar to how I create characters, I don't have a process for building worlds - unless you include brainstorming as a process. But I do always ask myself the same question before I settle on anything. Which is: what type(s) of conflict do I want this world to support? The answer to that question never fails to help direct my brainstorm sessions. Which is—in my experience—the most enjoyable stage of storytelling.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2019
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  7. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    It sure does! And I think the process I laid out can help with every aspect of Worldbuilding--from the creation of mountains and river systems, to the intricacies of a government, to why a certain region is covered in snow, to even something small like the primary means of travel of a certain village. I don't think anything I said is bound specifically by plot or story. But I'm open to suggestions!

    Without a doubt, one of the best questions a writer can possibly ask, or recommend a newer author ask themselves!
     
  8. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    Your example with the girl makes no sense as an example of worldbuilding. That is character or plot development, which are not about designing a place.
     
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  9. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    But the example with the girl was just an exercise of the process detailed above it. I did it to show that the method can be applied to multiple areas, even character and plot development. But it certainly isn't its only utility!
     
  10. seira

    seira Member

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    I have to agree with Farrow. It's more a guide to work an entire story not really about building a setting. As a how to guide for an entire novel you could expand it more because it doesn't really go into much detail.
    You could become a blogger or something and expand this.
     
  11. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    Your discussion points aren't bad, they just have little to do with the specifics of your title. You could have just said "how to write fiction".

    If you want to lecture on worldbuilding, it would be worthwhile to have something very specific to say about that specific topic.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2019
  12. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    You're being ridiculous.
    You can't possibly Worldbuild without every other aspect of the story seeping into the process. Indeed, every element of the story should permeate the process of Worldbuilding.
     
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  13. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    Apologies - that was supposed to say "aren't bad". Edited.
     
  14. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks for the edit! I can see your point, to be honest. I'm going to try to put a bit more thought into it, and see if I can curve it more towards Worldbuilding. It seems like I boiled it down to be too general. I appreciate all the input!
     
  15. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I was kinda being funny when I posted that, even though I've GMed a lot of sandbox fantasy RPGs, and love bat in the attic. Since the goal of novels is so different, you aren't going to spend time developing the same things.
     
  16. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I play some D&D as well in a world I built! I'm always down to learn how to better the craft, and these look really interesting. So thank you!
     
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