World building can be intimidating and overwhelming, but no one should ever be discouraged from attempting to build a world for their story.
You already have a huge natural advantage when it comes to world building because you actually LIVE in a WORLD! And it’s full of examples and good ideas you can steal for your own story.
When you first begin to think about the world you want to write it helps to break things down into chunks. There are three key aspects to a rich and realistic world: Science, Society, and History.
This is where you get to describe your world. What is the geography like? What sort of plants grow there? What kind of animals? You can really stretch your mind and let your imagination run rampant during this part of the process.
Next you need to take an in-depth look at the people of your world. How do they survive? Can they feed themselves? What do their day to day lives look like? Who is in charge?
Finally, what condition is your society in and how has it gotten to that point? Track your society back through the years and observe how it has changed. In the same way that a forest can bear the marks of ancient fires, your society should be scarred by the events of its past.
However, none of these categories exists in isolation! Instead, categories blend, merge together and influence each other. Society and history are both molded by the natural world they’re set in. How will cities develop inside canyons? In the same way science is impacted by history and society. Does the earth bear scars of progression? All three elements are intermingled, sometimes in delightfully surprising ways.
Once you have your world established you’re ready for the next step in the process.
Stop and ask yourself one very important question.
Do your readers scare you?
If they don’t then you’re probably underestimating them…
A little boy with a tiger for a best friend once asked his dad how people determine the load limits for bridges. He was told bigger and bigger trucks were driven over the bridge until it broke. Then the last truck was weighed and the bridge was built again.
As a world builder it’s time you hire a few truck drivers.
The technique described above is called “stress testing” (although I don’t think it’s ever actually been applied to bridges) and readers are the ultimate stress test of your world. It’s a scary thought because if you don’t find the places your world starts to fall apart, your readers will.
To stress test your world you need to start asking questions. Ask questions about every aspect of your world! Not every question you ask will need to be addressed in the story and most questions may not even be relevant, but each and every question is beneficial.
Asking questions is like following holes through an apple. Most will be empty, but every once in a while you’ll find a hole with a worm in it.
There’s no telling what sort of trails a simple question will lead you on. I’ve discovered a number of different ways to spark my brain into asking questions about my story, but those questions are going to have to wait for the next article.
Wesley signing off.
7 thoughts on “World Building 101”
Great article! Very informative and fun to read!
This is so great! I’ve not yet done a stress test – just a lot of research. Looks like it’s time to line up the trucks! (I love that you included Calvin and Hobbs!)