Writing a book isn't just about the plot and the characters. Any good book needs a solid foundation - the world in which those characters live and the plot takes place. Everything is linked. When one element fails, it ruins the whole book. How do you build an entire world with its own rules from scratch?! I'm going to outline my own process.
When you're building a world for your book, you need to accomplish two main things:
1. Build a believable world with rules and history.
2. Release information about the world without overwhelming/annoying readers.
Today I'm focusing on point 1: building the world.
1. Build from character
For me, everything starts with character. How they act, think, dress....characters are a product of the world they inhabit. There's a reason for everything, although we don't need to know them all...more on that next time! Once you start getting to know your character, you learn a lot about their world and its problems. This in turn helps shape your plot. Maybe your MC is a slave. Who do they serve, and why? Who do they fear, and do their masters fear anyone? What was their life like before? Is slavery common in their world - could your MC's goal relate to freeing themselves, and maybe even others?
Sometimes I'll know a little about the world I want to write in before I find the characters, but I tweak the rules to suit the characters. Never force a character to fit into a world - let it develop from those living in it. Listen to your characters, and you might be surprised what slots into place for you.
2. Be consistent
This is especially important in fantasy. At its most basic, every world needs a governing set of rules. If you want to write about magic, you have to decide on a magic system. Can everyone use magic, or only a certain class of people? What is 'magical' in this world - are spells a part of daily life, and are dragons as common as cats? Is magic legal or illegal? These are some great initial questions to ask, and the answers help generate plot and conflict, too.
If we get even more basic, does your world have the same concept of time as ours? What about gravity and geography? Does it have four seasons? What about animals, food, and plants? Asking these really simple questions sometimes offers up unexpected answers - allowing you to build richer, more original worlds.
Whatever your world, you should stick to the rules once you know them. If it's impossible to fly in this world, your MC can't suddenly use flight when it's convenient. If it's always dark, don't include scenes involving the sun (unless your MC is remembering a different time, or something). Don't be afraid to rewrite the rules if the world no longer feels right, but don't bend them because it's easier than figuring out a solution to the problem.
You need to figure out how your world is governed. Do you have city states, countries, kingdoms? How many? Who rules, and how effectively? You also need to question things like trade, religion, succession, crime and law, commerce, form of governance, rights, and the military.
History is GREAT for this. Seriously, it's a goldmine. Research will help you build great worlds. For example, how do wars break out? What were the motives behind them? Why did that kingdom stop trading with another? This can also help you build more convincing antagonists.
4. The little things
Sensory details reveal heaps about a world and add depth to scenes. They are key to a convincing story - the feeling of immersion as opposed to just reading words. Is a character drinking coffee? Mention the smell or the taste. Maybe it rains a lot and your character comments on having cold, wet feet. Or perhaps they're uncomfortable trudging through the desert with their clothes sticking to them. Little details enrich your story. They also add voice - let your characters show off their personalities!
Ultimately, everything I do comes back to character. Once they start opening up to me, I uncover the details I need to flesh out the world. And I always, always tweak the world to serve them when I'm outlining - not the other way around. World-building is FUN. Don't let it intimidate you! :)
Next week - how to release all the necessary details about your cool world and its inhabitants without overwhelming your readers!