Wednesday, February 7, 2018

When You Need More Research and Worldbuilding

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

I need more world building.

At this point, I've done A LOT of brainstorming and making lists. I have a list of fairy names. Lists of types of stones and what their magic will be. List of colors and their meanings. Lists of different types of fairies. Lists of place names to use if I need them. List of character names. I have a map. I have research on thin places. I have pictures I printed off the internet for all my main characters and many side characters. The list goes on and on. In fact, I have a file folder filled with research and a 3-subject notebook full of worldbuilding work and research. (See pictures below.) I once had tentatively called the Belfaylinn series Ultraviolet, so that is what is written on the tab of my file folder and the front of my notebook. I think you can get an idea of how much worldbuilding I've done so far. That's about two inches of stuff.

It's a great start. But I'm still finding it difficult to answer some of the "why" questions I had from the initial list in my first blog post, specifically: Why are these fairies peoples fighting with each other? Why are they hiding from the modern world? And why do they continue to live without technology?

I think part of my problem here is that I haven't developed the culture of the three fairy types beyond the physical and the location of their homes. Arials have wings and live in the mountains. Grounders live on the ground. Merrows have webbed fingers and toes and live in or near the ocean. That's all good to know, but it's surface stuff. I need to go deeper. I need to know why there are three types. I need to know what each type (race? species?) values. I need to know the goal of their ruler. That will help me as I set out to answer those three "why" questions. I can't really answer them well until I know more.

Besides that problem, I've found some other areas lacking in this story. I spent a lot of hours the past few weeks reading over everything I had in that series file and notebook. I also read the chapters of Onyx Eyes I wrote and made a list of plot holes and problems I need to fix. So, I've taken all of that and made this updated "To Do" list for more research and worldbuilding.


-Develop the culture for the three fairy types. Include a history for their land, how they came to live there, what each kingdom cares about, and why they are fighting.
-Why are they hiding from the modern world?
-Why do they continue to live without technology?
-Fill out a detailed character chart for Drake and Kaitlyn. Perhaps also for Tagboth and Roose.
-Brainstorm sayings or popular phrases that have to do with colors to incorporate into fairy dialogue.
-Research the Hebrew "Breastplate of the High Priest" that has twelve each to represent a tribe of Israel. See if I can somehow incorporate it into the story or backstory.
-Interview a Hebrew speaker on some of the words I'd like to use.
-Make a list of books or series to read for inspiration that either have to do with fairies or Celtic mythology. I want to know what is out there so that I can make my story different.

That's where I am so far. Before I can really dive in and get writing, I need to figure out a few more things. I have several charts I've made over the years to help me brainstorm, but for the most part I really only need to know the following about all three people types to get me going:

Chief resource:
Type of government:
Ruler's goal:
Ruler's motives:
Internal political problems:
Nation's colors:
Nation's flag/standard/sigil:
Type of dress:
Adjectives that describe these people:
Types of food:
Any important animals:

So while I'm working on that this week, I'd like to challenge you to answer a question about the culture of one of the peoples in your story. I'd like to know:

1. What does that culture most value? (Wealth? Power? Freedom? Happiness? Family? God? The environment? Survival? Food? Water? Individualism? Loyalty? Logic? Tolerance? Etc.) Share your answer in the comments.


  1. I’m currently brainstorming a medieval fantasy, but I haven’t made it to the government yet, so I’ll use my dystopian society instead. It most values power. There are three rival gangs in my city and they’re always competing for who holds more territory, who controls the water and sulfur pits. They fight all the time over having the prettiest girls, the best food, and who shoots the fastest. Which I think all boils down to who has the most power over the others.

  2. The characters in my story world value safety and protection. The interesting thing about its magic is that the magic can do anything BUT kill. There is also a pair of magic gates that students - who aren't performing well in school - are trapped inside. This is supposed to keep them from running into dangerous problems outside of the school gates. ~Amanda

    1. That's very interesting, Amanda. Good job!

  3. One of the cultures in my story values the principle of creation above all else--that is, the shaping of stone and metal, and the statues and carvings that come from doing it. By extension they also value the world that provides the raw materials and the One who made it, though that gets a little more complicated. Other important values include courage and honor, especially in battle.

    1. Love that. Very well thougt out. It's so true that one value will lead to other related values.

  4. One of my cultures can be summed up in three words: Fight, Conquer, Die. It is very depressing, but the entire culture is built around the idea that someday, there will be a battle they can't win and all they can do is go down swinging.

    If you are looking for a series with Celtic mythology, read Iron Druid.

    1. That is so interesting. With cultures who value something that other cultures might consider irrational, there is often a character, or a group of characters, who rebel against that value. I wonder if your story has such a character/characters?

      And thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out.

  5. This is a great post. I never thought much about my culture before. Interestingly I have a pretty similar idea to you Mrs. Williamson. There are two main races, a race that lives on floating islands and one that lives on the ground. The Terranese (the race that lives on the ground) value family since their political structure is mostly tribal. The islanders value pride more, they think they are above the Terranese because they live above them.
    - Book Dragon

    1. Nice! That sounds like you have values that clash, which is good motivation for two countries that fight with each other.

  6. Hmm. I haven't thought nearly enough about my cultures. I copied your list to print out (repeatedly) for all of my cultures.
    In the meantime, I'll answer the single question you asked. What does my culture value most? Bravery/Heroism. The willingness to protect others, to use your skills to fight for what other people can't fight for. That's what my culture values most.

    1. Good, Christine. That's a great value. I can picture how it would feed into honor and heroism and such too--and the opposite for any who refused to fight.

      And I hope the list helps with your culture brainstorming! :-)

  7. Thank you for another great example of how to craft a story, Mrs. Williamson! I will have to answer those questions myself.
    As for your question about values, the Shocti is a militaristic society that values justice, strength, respect, and good blacksmiths. The social classes are based on military rank, and middle names are granted based on this rank as well. This value system guarantees that the nation always has a strong army; those who are physically capable of being soldiers/spies fight for the honor and pay their own way, and those who are not physically capable (or are too poor to afford basic equipment and training) then fall into positions of production to supply the equipment and provisions that soldiers need to purchase. Weapons blacksmiths are given more honor than commons blacksmiths. Most children (even a lot of girls) undergo training to see if they qualify for the army, so even the lower-class, non-fighting citizens are capable of defending their nation in a crisis.

  8. Hmm. I can't say I've given much explicit thought to the values of the different nations/kingdoms in my current project. When I start world building I often set out my notes like a Wikipedia page...

    Etymology/naming conventions:
    Geography and climate:
    Cities and towns:
    Customs and culture:

    Values are a good one to consider actually because, alongside customs and culture, are one of the key influences on how characters from that location are likely to behave. Thanks for the great post!

  9. That's definitely an important question when developing a culture, and it's one that I considered when creating the cultures for my story "Until the Stars Fall."
    I have three countries, but one of them is a fairly recently brought together group of people of different cultures, so I'll leave that one out.
    But the other two, Korval and Rish, value justice and loyalty, respectively. Knowing these before I started writing let me incorporate them into the characters from these countries, which was super helpful for the story.