Friday, September 2, 2011

A spoon full of OH GOD makes the worldbuilding go down in the most delightful way.

Summer's over. You heard me. September 1st is when summer ends, in my books. You might still eat ice cream in the heat of the day or dream about beaches when it hits an odd 90 degrees, but the fact of the matter is SUMMER IS OVER AND WORK/LIFE WILL SOON GO BACK TO NORMAL.

This summer I went on vacation. Not to Tahiti, or Europe. No, I went somewhere better for a full two months. I saw a million things and ate a million new foods, and made new friends who will stay with me the rest of my life.

Where exactly was this place? In my head. Yup. Sounds nerdy. Sounds terribly psychotic. But hey, HEY, if you're a writer, you better be a little psychotic, or your writing might turn out boring!

Seriously, though. Let's talk about worlds.

A lot of people (okay, two people, and they were drunk) ask me how I write such vivid worlds. I answered them like this at the time;

"HUGGGGGGHBLURGGGGH well, y-you know, I just write, just sit down and goddamn write, where'd the spiked iced tea gooooo I need a refilllllllll!"

In retrospect, that question haunted me a bit, and I've got a better answer, now. Worldbuilding can be hard. We all know that. Some people are just better at it than others, some people specialize in ONLY worldbuilding, some people learn it, others refine the skill. The point is, worldbuilding either comes to you, or it doesn't. Worldbuilding is abstract thinking in its finest form. You need to know every detail, down the last bit.

That's what they say, of course.

In reality, if you're like me, you run away at the approximate speed of THAT IS A TERRIFYING PROSPECT if someone brings up the word 'worldbuilding'. I know how it feels, loves. I know. It's hard. And scary. I used to be like this to the nth degree. I used to get very good advice from agents I was querying that told me to beef up my worldbuiling considerably, but they wouldn't tell me how. I got so frustrated knowing I had to work on an aspect of the book, but not knowing how to!

So this summer, I figured it out.

When people say worldbuilding, what does your mind jump to? Tiny details of food and places of an imaginary make, right? You need a whole seven notebooks to keep it all straight, right?



Worldbuilding can most certainly be complicated, but it doesn't have to be intimidating. Don't keep a book unless it really helps you. These are the three vital questions that you need to know the answers to to write your world convincingly;

1. People

2. Environments

3. Beliefs

PEB. That's a great acronym. It doesn't sound suggestive at all.

People means what kinds of living beings inhabit your world, be they people or aliens. Think about your races - tall and dark to the south maybe, and pale and short to the north? Maybe the west part of your world is infested with sea-going people with red hair. Keep the traits simple and each race assigned to certain areas of your world.

Environments refers to what your world looks like, acts like, and moves like. Think seasons, what types of plants, animals, and weather. If you feel overwhelmed by that, keep it simple - divide your world into North/South/East/West sectors. When thinking about environments, also keep in mind what types of civilizations there are. Maybe in the north it's only tiny villages that brave the harsh and rugged winters. Maybe in the south, there's huge metropolises that thrive off hydroelectric power because they are so close to lakes. Remember, the natural environment of the world determines what shape civilization takes. Don't overthink it, just go to the most logical conclusion. Big bodies of water? Civilization in that area will focus on sailing, fish will be their largest sustenance, and trading will bring in lots of variety in terms of people.

Beliefs are a little more complex, but don't make it agonizingly hard on yourself. When thinking about beliefs, first think about what major religions/organizations there are in your world. The scope of Beliefs can range from churches to militias to a single village to an entire society built around a belief. Huxley had one in Brave New World - the belief that some people were born better than others formed the basis for the society in the book. If you have a large religion, ask yourself where that religion dominates in the world, and what it's core principal is. A core principal should only be one sentence. If you need more than one, you're overthinking. Ask yourself what the main purpose of the religion/organization/belief is. Is it providing spiritual relief to downtrodden people? Is it, like the Hunger Games namesake pastime, used to keep people in line? Is it, like in Harry Potter, an entire school devoted to education for young magical people?

Honestly, these three things are just a way to get you started. When you think about these things, everything else will sort of fall into place in your head or come to you while you're thinking - it's a guarantee. Dive into your world headfirst, and dive hard, dive like you live in that world everyday - food, children, relationships. Focus big, and then go small. Worldbuilding is meant to be detailed, but it's not good if you lose your sight of the big picture, first.

And good luck!!


  1. Great post! Loving that acronym.

    I remember when I first started world building at the beginning of my revisions that I only saw it as a painstaking experience that I was really dreading. But once you get into it, it really helps to envelop you in your world and the mindsets of your characters.

  2. this is a wonderful and very helpful post, michelle. I will be bookmarking this one for sure!

  3. Yay worldbuilding! These tips are really good.