If you type in the search-term world-building into bing, one of the very first results is a list of fantasy world-building questions. Famously, these questions can range from inquiries about the type of government to what shapes tables are.
If you find these types of questions useful while constructing the ins and outs of your world, great (just beware of world-builder’s disease, which will be the topic of another installment of this world-building series). But before you delve into those lists, I have the two essential world building questions that you need to answer first, before any others. These two questions will set you up for success, so that the world you create is cohesive, and that the answers you give to future world-building questions aren’t simply arbitrary. Does it really matter what shape the tables in your world are? Well, it might, if your tables are round because your world takes equality very seriously and that’s important to your story.
This questions will be most ostensibly useful for Scifi/Fantasy writers, but writers of realistic fiction can also benefit by concentrating on the micro-world they are creating between their characters.
Essential World Building Question #1:
What makes the world exceptional compared to our own?
What are the differences between the world you are creating and the real world? For example, in the Harry Potter universe, the answer to this question is that there is group of people who genetically inherit the ability to use magic. All of the other smaller differences (pictures moving, magic wands, etc.) stem from this one major difference.
You should also ask yourself if your new world is somehow connected to our own, or if it is completely separate. The Harry Potter world is contained entirely within our own, while the Game of Thrones world is a completely separate reality. Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and worlds set in the future are all connected to this world through cause and effect. If your world is contained in our current world, or has stemmed off from it somehow, you’ll need to know how the existence if this sub-world or future world affects the ‘real world’, and vice versa.
Essential World Building Question #2
How do these differences relate to your story?
As a writer, it is important to remember that your world is a mere back-drop for your story, like a set in a school play. Of course you want this set to be believable enough to not be distracting, but story always comes first.
Many writers make the mistake of making the world the focus of their book, and may not even really have a story in mind. These people are not writing novels, they’re writing history and science books for places that don’t even exist. They’re committing the dreadful sin of info-dumping. They are suffering from world-builder’s disease, which is a terrible, terrible affliction.
It is possible to create a story from a world. The first step is to figure out who the people who populate the world are, then to figure out the problems inherent to this specific world. Decide which characters are caused the greatest amount of suffering from this problem. Then write about them dealing with it.
That’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll be continuing the series on world building.