Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating the World

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

Oz, Wonderland, Narnia, the 100 Acre Wood, Middle Earth, Terabithia, Neverland, the United Federation of Planets, Hogwarts, Jurassic Park, Bedford Falls, Gotham City, and a galaxy far, far away.

These are storyworlds that someone invented, someone who was once like you, learning to tell stories, learning to write. And these authors invented fictional places that have become real in our minds and hearts.

You have the ability to create such a world for readers. Isn't that incredible?

I had the opportunity to teach and speak about storyworld building several times this summer. And I had so much fun doing it, I thought I'd do a series on the topic here. I'm mostly going to talk about mythical storyworlds, but you could apply these same principles in creating a fictional town on earth, like Bedford Falls or Gotham City. I'm going to be talking about this for the next three weeks, so hold on to your fezzes!

GENRE
The first thing you need to do in storyworld building is decide what kind of story you're going to tell. An epic or high fantasy requires a different level of storyworld building compared to a swords and sorcery or heroic fantasy story. A middle grade science fiction story requires much less storyworld building compared to an adult science fiction one.

So what do you have? Long swords or blasters? Horses or land speeders? Both? And for what age?

Minas Tirith from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
If you're not sure what you're writing, read. Find the books that are similar to yours and note the genre they sold in. If you're not sure which genre you want your story to be, go with your strengths. I am no scientist. The amount of research I need to do to write a believable science fiction novel is tough for me. It doesn't come easily. And that makes it harder for me to tell a good story. So I'd rather write fantasy. But I confess that it took me writing ten books to figure that out. Sometimes you have to try different genres to know what you like best. And that's okay.

PLANET
Once you know your genre, think about the planet (or planets) in your story. Consider astronomy and things like tides, orbits, habitable zones, suns, moons. In the movie Pitch Black, every twenty-two years, the planet experiences a month-long eclipse when all three suns go dark and the little beasties come out. Consider for your world, how long is a season? It's unlikely that the planet rotates and orbits the same as earth. How long are your days? Years?

TERRAIN
Consider the geography of your planet. I've talked before about how I like to start new storyworlds by drawing a map. Whether or not you do draw a map, think about mountains, canyons, plains, and coastlines. When you think about water, remember that rivers flow downhill into bigger bodies of water (bigger rivers or lakes) and eventually into the ocean. How might these things influence your plot? In the Lord of the Rings, the fellowship parted ways when they reached the waterfall on the river Anduin. The water forced them to take another path, and it just so happened that they didn't go together. Study a map of Middle Earth. It has lots of interesting terrain like the Dead Marshes, the Gap of Rohan, Fanghorn Forest, and the mountains of Moria.

Did you know about different types of biomes such as aquatic, desert, forest, grasslands, and tundra? I stumbled onto biome types while reading encyclopedia entries when I was building my Blood of Kings storyworld. You can research what types of plants and animals grow in what types of climates. That can be helpful when brainstorming terrain. Check out this website for more information on biomes.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
And while we're talking biomes, what are the temperatures like in your world? What's the weather like? Think about your astronomical factors and how they might affect the climate and weather. In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, the planet experiences seven years of summer and then winter comes, hence the commonly used phrase in the books, "Winter is coming."

What about animal life? Do you have any mythical creatures? Dragons? Unicorns? Something totally unique that you made up? I recently read the book Dune, and I was fascinated by the giant sandworms. Dune wasn't the only story to use giant worms, though the ones in the movie Tremors weren't quite as big. And you couldn't ride them. Let's face it. Riding a sandworm is pretty awesome stuff.

A "Graboid" from Tremors
What about natural resources? In Dune, the planet Arrakis didn't have much water, but it had a lot of "spice," which was an addictive substance that gives the consumer telepathic abilities. In The Empire Strikes Back, the planet Bespin is rich in tibanna gas, which is refined and used to make blasters and coolant for starships. These things affect the story in different ways. In Dune, the desert Fremen learn to recycle their body's water and the overuse of spice turns their eyes blue. In The Empire Strikes Back, Cloud City is rich because of the tibanna gas, which drew the interest of the empire to try and extort money, which was why Lando made the deal to give them Han Solo. The trick isn't merely coming up with all these cool things, but in deciding how they interact and come into conflict with other aspects of your storyworld. That's what makes it interesting.

Consider disease. Could something in your environment cause illnesses? A plant, animal, or something in the air? In Artemis Fowl: the Atlantis Complex, the Atlantis Complex is a psychological disease common in fairies who suffer from guilt. In the real world, Myxomatosis is a disease that affects rabbits and causes blindness and was used in the novel Watership Down. The superflu kills off most of earth's population in Stephen King's The Stand. And in my book Captives, the people in the Safe Lands all have the Thin Plague.

CITIES & TOWNS
Think about the layout of your settlements. Originally, cities were formed as meeting places for trading goods with other people. Sometimes cities would form because of a specific location that received a lot of traffic like a bay. They might also form near natural resources like a coal mine. What kinds of cities does your world have and why? Consider some interesting cities like the planet Coruscant in Star Wars, where the entire planet is one big city; the Emerald City of Oz, which is green; Hamunaptra, the city of the dead, from the movie The Mummy, a fictional city in which Imhotep's priests were mummified alive; and Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, a city that was once magnificent and now in ruins since the Elantrians lost their powers.

Coruscant from Star Wars

LANDMARKS & BUILDINGS
Think about iconic architecture like in earth's own Seven Wonders of the Ancient Word or something as interesting as Stonehenge. What kinds of interesting things can you give your world whether that be great architecture of something else with significant meaning. In my Blood of Kings books, the Memorial Tree is talked about a great deal. It is the tree underneath which the king and queen were murdered, the place where the curse of darkness began.

Think of the lamppost in the Narnia books, the Doctor's Tardis, the castle Hogwarts in Harry Potter, the yellow brick road from Oz, the Daily Planet building from Superman with the giant globe on top, and the USS Enterprise---a building of sorts that travels through space. Or what about the Gates of Argonath or Pillars of Kings from the Lord of the Rings, which are the two gigantic statues of Isildur and AnĂ¡rion that stand on either side of the river Anduin. Pretty sweet, huh?

The Gates of Argonath from Lord of the Rings
So take some time to consider your storyworld thus far. Have you covered all these areas? Have you done lots of one but neglected another? Tell us what you're missing. And if you want, tell us one cool thing you have.

40 comments:

  1. Hey...

    so i've decided to write a fantasy, since it is time consuming, and I will have a LOT of time sitting in the car next year, traveling from one place to another. I just decided to do this today (your yesterday) THANK YOU SO MUCH, JILL!!! and i can't believe you're doing a series, TODAY of all times! such a great post in such a perfect time... THANK YOU AGAIN!!!
    i have to figure out the answers to these questions... soon...

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    2. Cool! You're welcome! It so exciting to start writing a new fantasy/sci fi series, and to be in that place where you're going to start all the brainstorming. That is my favorite part. :-)

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  2. World-building is such a fun, interesting part when it comes to writing...or reading And thanks to this article, it'll be easier to put into consideration all the place/setting aspects of a fiction world. Now I realise how details such as these affect a story in massive ways!

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    1. It's totally fun, Jemimah. And I love your name, by the way. In my book Captives, Jemma's real name is Jemimah. :-)

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  3. Really helpful post! I have one rough draft done in a sci-fi series I'm planning, and though I've done a lot of work building my galaxy, I haven't done much in the way of building individual planets. This post has inspired me!

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    1. Sweet! And you get to create multiple worlds, which is awesome.

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  4. Cool post! I'm not exactly creating my own world in my own book. Mine is set one thousand years in the future. The catch about the setting, though...America is living exactly the same way they did in 2034. No more scientific advances. No more new medicines. Nothing, because people were scared of the ideas of robots and flying and new weapons. It's rather interesting to write, because I need to make it a bit different from today, but in essence, it's as if I'm writing a present-time book. So confusing...:)
    P.S. Love the idea of illnesses and diseases. Never thought of that when creating a storyworld! Thanks so much!

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    1. That sounds like a really cool story!

      -Abby

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    2. I know!!! I would totally read this! :) Keep it up! It sounds really cool!

      ~Koren

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    3. That's fun, Anastasia! The trick is to make is different enough that we feel like we're in the future. Even if the world is similar to 2034, the language would have changed a TON in a thousand years. So you can have sun thinking up how to tweak English and use slang and new words. That would be cool. Also, social behaviors would have changed a lot too.

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    4. cooool, anastasia elizabeth.... i want that book....

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  5. Thanks for this post Jill!
    I'm writing a medieval fantasy where my MC must journey across a whole continent and face mountains, beasts, and lava pits.
    Adding landmarks would be great for the story!

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    1. Sweeeet, Samuel! Are you going to draw a map? *wink*

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    2. Ha Ha, I know you Mrs. Story-World-Fanatic.
      I have, but I haven't spent a whole of time on it. (*cough* Unlike you.)
      I'm going to go through and make better looking lava pits. And maybe creepier creatures. :)
      I ought to ask my amazing mother to draw it. She's a brilliant artist.
      (That's an advantage for a teen writer. A mother who likes to illustrate.) :D

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    3. That is an advantage. You'll have to offer to do lots of dishes or something. ;-)

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    4. Oooooohhh. Didn't think about that.

      Well, I better wear gloves so I won't get my hands wrinkly. ;)

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  6. I write imaginary lands that do not include magic and I find world building to be one of my favorite things to do. Cities and mountains and terrain, it all fascinates me. Another thing I love to work with is people groups. It's fun to make them realistic and varied. So far my favorite is the Parti proud horse people given to war and silence. The the Lempi time worshipers fearing the snake.

    Another cool thing about world building is the politics. Possibly the best part I think.

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    1. Yes, those are all very fun parts of world building!

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  7. Thanks for writing this! My book is based in another world, so. . . . :)

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  8. Oh my goodnesss, Jill!!
    I am so excited!! I am in the beginning process of planning my NaNo book, which will require building basically a whole new country/government...so this post is exactly what I needed!! Thank you so much!

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  9. Just when I thought I was over my LotR obsession, you come and mention the breaking of the fellowship. Anyway, this is great. I *love* making other worlds. It's so much less restrictive than writing in the real world. The advice in the post is fantastic- and it doesn't hurt that you mentioned the Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who. ;)

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    1. It's always good to mention them as much as possible. :-)

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  10. Well, let's see. This is my first spec fic. :) The climate is vital to my story, since the whole story problem is about the ever-present rain that disappears one day and my MC gets blamed...so whooooo! Worldbuilding is obviously something I'm quite new at, so this will be so helpful :P I did draw a map and came up with some pretty weird city/town/village names. I remembered the bodies of water and mountains. :) But landmarks...hmmm. I'll have to think about that. I only have one I think. Thank you!

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  11. I love world building!!! Indeed, that's what I've mostly been talking about on my blog this month. I have several worlds, mostly fantasy, but there are a few sci-fi. My favorite part is determining the physics and the culture. I don't like geography though, and consider it a necessary evil for when my characters have to travel.

    The world I'm writing my 100 for 100 in is called Colluna, and completely coincidentally, the place has two moons (Which do affect the tides properly!). Chlorophyll is replaced by pinkophyyl, which gives plant life a reddish hue. Colluna is inhabited by elves who have divided themselves into two hostile groups, the intelligent and pale-skinned Lilnia, and the athletic and dark-skinned Harshia. There's a third group, the Salvia which is made of people from both parties who have decided that the fighting is stupid. I'm having a lot of fun in this world.

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    1. please alert me when this is published!!

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    2. I haven't finished writing it, so I can't tell you how long it'll before I get to the point of publication ... but I'm hoping to publish it within the next two years. I'm not going to rush this book however, since it's told me that it wants to take its time.

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    3. Sounds like a lot of fun, Kendra!

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  12. I'll hold onto my fez! Fezzes are cool! I could do better on worldbuilding. I'm far into the future with a socialistic government, which turns into a tyrannical Christian-persecuting one. One cool thing I have would be the road systems in the dictatorship. The cars are roundish like bullets and hum along the road without gas. Solar/heat panels are embedded under the sun-soaked asphalt and powers the cars along. The cars also have a major GPS system. You don't drive anymore. You program it to take you there itself. The downside is that the government can override your car and do whatever it likes to you.

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    1. OOh, I like the idea of those cars. :D Sounds awesome!

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  13. Wow! Now I want to write a fantasy story just so I can build my own world!!

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  14. Really cool post. ^ ^ I have a fantasy world. One of the most interesting places is the capital of a realm that I need to name, but it's a massive hill with a spring at the top that has been directed to flow out in man-made rivers of stone that carry water to different rings of the city. :) The castle is at the top because it is the safest and because the royalty are descendants of a celestial race so they like to be high up. :)

    Stori Tori's Blog

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  15. This seriously could not have come at a better time!! I'm just starting to plan a speculative fic story, and as my notes from your sessions at the OYAN summer workshop aren't 100% legible (XD), this will be perfect!
    I say speculative fic... It's kind of sci-fi, and also historical fiction. Sort of. But it's not time travel... it's rather confusing to explain as I've just started to flesh out the idea. XD :P
    Basically, there are these different created worlds that are based off of different time periods in history, but with a little bit of a sci-fi twist.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series of posts! And I'm going to go decipher my notes from the workshop. XD

    ~hannah!♥

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    1. Nice! You get a recap. :-)
      I was watching a video of myself, and I talk really fast! I'm surprised you guys could hear me sometimes. *rolls eyes at self*

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  16. Wow. This a great list with a few points I'd be never thought about before. You make story world creation sound like such an enjoyable pastime - I will definitely have to consider this for my next fantasy novel (Larkenland). Right now I am working on a historical fiction and can vouch for the fact that almost all these considerations are still utterly applicable ( unfortunately the research and conclusions you draw in each category may come more from sweating in a library and less then long pleasurable preambles through your imagination.

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    1. Very true, Dr. Sus. And with fantasy, there aren't too many people getting on your case if you get a fact wrong as with historians. You have the greater challenge!

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  17. The thing I'm struggling with the most for months is creating a map.
    I have no clue where and how to start. :/

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