Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Building Worlds...

World building. Sometimes it sounds like fun, but when you figure in everything you need just to begin, it becomes a bit overwhelming.

Think about it, you are about to create a whole world. At first it gives you a giddy, God-like feeling. But then you realize, you have to get the details just right or people will rip it apart.

Begin with the basics. Doesn't matter if you are writing fantasy, romance, horror, etc. You have to make sure the world around you is realistic. If your setting is in this world, you've got lots to draw on from memory and make sure you write about areas you are familiar with. If you haven't been where your story is set, you are going to fail. Why? Because people will read what you've written, see you've gotten something wrong with the area they actually live in and it very well may turn them off from reading your book. You don't want to name a historical landmark and then plop it in the wrong location of your book.

When I read the first Joanna Brady mystery book J. A. Jance had written, I was smitten! Yes, I realize I rhymed. But what ignited that spark? Sadly, the character's husband had been shot and killed. She was at the hospital in Tucson, Arizona. University Medical Center! I gave birth to my two children there! Her character then went outside, walked across the street and down to a local hotel I used to pass by on a regular basis. I could see Jance's character, Joanna, walking along that sidewalk! I could practically hear the traffic on Campbell as she walked away from the hospital.

THAT is what initially made me fall in love with her books and that particular character. The rest of the books were written in Cochise County area and I knew it from visiting there on several locations.

Get where I'm going with this? Good!

So get your geography of any area straight before you begin writing.

Now if you are building a world from scratch, you've got lots more to think about. Why is it cold in the north and warm in the south? Flip that around if you like. Or, make it colder to the east and warmer in the west. Be creative, don't stick to the norm, if you write fantasy. This is your chance to think outside the box. But make it believable! Explain why your world is different. Maybe the tilt of your planet in comparison to that world's sun is wonky. Yes, technical term there, wonky.

When I first drew a map of my world, I started with a city. That soon turned into a small blob of a kingdom which grew into a continent. I added several more blobs that transformed into other kingdoms. Next, I had to work on each area and decide what the society would be like. What customs did I want to incorporate? What types of food, speech or clothing? Were they simplistic in nature or were they extravagant? Farmers? Merchants?

While there is a lot to think of and work out when building a world, if you are organized you can accomplish a lot. If you have to name characters, rivers, lakes, kingdoms, cities and the like I strongly suggest you have some lists you can pull from first. Figure out what would be good names for these things and categorize them. I have a whole three ring binder with pages of names ranging from Gaelic based to Asian based, to mythological and common. I first label the page with 'Lakes' or 'Cities' then I list the names. Don't cross off the name after you've used it! Label it with what you used that name for.

When I am naming characters, I do cross off the name on the list simply because I know I've used it. But names for things like inns or taverns, I list the location of each one. City names are labeled with the kingdom, etc.

I have several good name generator links in my links page of this blog. I have dozens of print-outs of names and labels. Figure out your surroundings before you plop your characters down into unknown territory. Figure out vegetation, water sources and forests. Where will you place a swamp? If you don't know, research the sort of climate/area that would create a swamp to begin with. But make a map, make lists and keep notes! You will have to use them more than once while writing, I guarantee!

What's your organizing like when writing or building a world?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't do maps, but I can visualize the setting well.
The setting for my second and third book is a desert planet, and since I used to live in Arizona, that helped!
And there are so many characters in my third book, I had to list all of their names to keep them straight. (Just so I'd get the spelling right every time.)

Mel Chesley said...

Oh yeah, you learn a lot when you live in an area like Arizona. You never forget it either. I still retain my desert survival skills. ;)

Good list, too! It is important to have consistency with names. I kept forgetting my dragonkin name. Dragorian or Dargorian and constantly asked my husband. lol!

Unknown said...

That what I love about reading books that are set in London - I've been there a few times, and it makes me happy when I read about an area I recognise.

I love starting with a zoomed in map of a city and then expanding outwards from there. I think it's one of the best ways to nail worldbuilding.