The world and what it has to offer
Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
In case you missed it, you can find a summary of what to expect during this blog series here. The most important thing you need to start world building is, well, the world itself. You need to know what kinds of things your people will face to know how they’d develop as a society, and it goes on and on and on.
“Where do I start?” you might ask. Well...honestly, it’s hard to know where to start. Everything bleeds into everything. Each decision you make when you start will affect something six decisions down the road before you even realize it. I want to start with what I think are the three most important basics before you dive further into your world.
In my opinion, the first step is figuring out what year your story is going to be set in and how old that makes your world. I’ll use our recorded history as an example. The current year is 2019, but time has been recorded ever since the Sumerians invented cuneiform about 5,000 years ago in 2900 BC—or BCE for you youngsters who went to school after it became “before common era.” So, if you were to go solely on recorded history, we’d be writing our checks as May 29, 5019 in our fantasy world. Or, it could be broken into eras by dynasties, and we could say it’s May 29, 649 AHE (After Hadrian Era, because you can call your eras whatever the heck you want). We’ll get into this a little bit more for a little later in this blog post.
Second, whether or not there will be magic in your world. There are several reasons to have magic—you want to have mythical races in your world, or you want to have witches and wizards, or just, in general, you plain ol’ want to. There are also reasons to not have magic in your world—you want to have it closer to our own world, or you want to make it strictly a SciFi where technology rather than magic reigns supreme, or you don’t want to bother with setting up the rules of magic in your world. This pairs with and leads into your third basic for your world.
Third, will there be any religion? Religion and magic can go hand in hand or be diametrically opposed, depending on what you choose. There are so many options for this one that it’s going to be its own blog post later in this series. However, it’s very important to mention up front because it will shape a lot of other decisions that will make your world what is it. For now, I’ll start with the simplest of options: Monotheism or polytheism. With monotheism, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Christian God most think of; it could be an entirely made up deity for your purposes. Polytheism can mimic any of the houses of gods, whether its Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Polynesian, etc. etc. With the latter, however, it is easier to tie in magic, but it also isn’t impossible to use it in a monotheistic religion without it being considered heretical.
To Earth, or Not to Earth?
This boils down to do you want your story to be on Earth as we know it with or without the same name as our current countries, or if you want to have something entirely different. This would also include our solar system—if you have a story set on Mars, it’s still going to be a familiar red planet for us. There is a lot more to this, but for now, I’m just going to stick with familiar versus unfamiliar. I’m going to be getting more into the physical features of your world in another blog post.
Having a fantasy world based on Earth doesn’t mean everything is going to be exactly the same. You can easily have different names for your countries and cities, but your plant life, fauna, and natural laws will follow what it’s like on Earth. I’ll use founder B. C. Marine’s A Seer’s Daughter as an example here: her world of Carum Sound has different names for countries, mountains, forests, etc. but it’s all based in her home state of Washington. So you’ll see very familiar things like a rain forest, cedar wood being prominently used, and a distinct lack of horses in her book because she’s following the natural order of things where she is.
Now this one you get to really play around with a lot. Will you have totally foreign plants that are semi-sentient and can uproot themselves when the soil no longer holds the correct amount of nutrients the plant needs? Could this be an interesting plight on crop yield to play with? Maybe. Could it be a bad idea? Also maybe. The point is to play with things that are different and unfamiliar. With a non-Earthlike world, you’ll also need to think of things like how gravity or the seasons work. You don’t have to make up every single law of nature for your world, but you do need to figure out the ones that will affect the world and people the most.
I’ve Got Time on My Hands
Earlier, we talked about how old your world is going to be. I want to tie that in with the calendar that’s going to be set up in your word. This is going to include anything from whether or not you want to have the same names for the days of the week, and how long your week is going to be. This will also tie into whether you’re basing your story on Earth and Earth time, or if you’re creating your own planet it with its own unique way of keeping track of time.
Not to worry, if you want to have your world based on Earth but still use a different calendar than the Gregorian calendar we currently use, there are plenty of examples throughout history ranging anywhere from the Mayan calendar to the Islamic Hijri calendar.
We The People
This is going to cover everything from how many people there will be to the kind of people there will be. This will affect commerce, trade, traditions, etc. which will be covered in later blog posts.
The first thing you need to decide with your people is, are they going to be human or non-human or a mixture? If they are human, you need to decide what to name the races of people, whether it's after the name of their country as we do in our world, or if they will be named something totally unique.
If they will be non-human, what will they be? You have your classic fantasy races—elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, goblins, etc—that you can use, or you can make up your own non-human races. Maybe you’ll have an aquatic being with webbed hands and feet, can breathe in and out of water, and has a mouth that can articulate words but prefers to stay in the water because its skin will dry out, but if it does need to trade with other cultures, they cover themselves from head to toe with a super absorbent cloth that holds water longer than any other fabric.
Maybe you won’t. You just have to make sure you know what you want your people to be before you get too far into your work.
Join me next week for next week’s world building installment on the physical features of your world.
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