Writing yarn 2: World Building

As many of you know, I recently published my new novel, “The Chariots of Orion 2: The Contract”, the sequel to “The Chariots of Orion 1”. I sometimes get asked by people how I did the world building behind the story, and behind the book, so I wanted to make a little post about how to create your own fantasy or sci-fi world.

1. Inspiration

This one sounds probably lame, but it is actually quite important. By inspiration I mean something that will give you an idea as to how your world could look like if you’re just starting out. Some writers will tell you that you need the story, first, but I’d say you can forget about that. I think that on the contrary, the setting helps you create your story, and you should have your world, first.

Inspiration is actually quite easy to get. You could, that’s obvious, read fantasy and sci-fi books, preferably those with strong world building, but don’t try to copy any of them, because your work should be your creation.

I also like to read books that show ancient maps, because this will inspire you when you start drawing your maps for your world, and I also recommend that you read books about travelling, books that show marvellous landscapes, because this will inspire you for the landscapes in your world.

2. Context

You don’t need to have your story yet, but once you have an idea as to how your world could look like, it’s time for thinking about the context. Is your world a futuristic civilisation on a planet in another constellation? Is it a people of hunters living in a rainforest? Is your story in the range of fantasy or sci-fi, or something between? Is it a space opera with colonised planets, or a city where only wizards live?

Before you start building your setting, think about the context. World building doesn’t start in your head, it starts in your story.

Wait, you think. Didn’t you just say that you don’t need to have a story to start creating the world? That is why you only need the context.

You can’t just sit down and start making up names to create a fictional civilisation. Well, you can, but it may not be that realistic.

Alien landscape

3. Physics

It’s getting scientific, now. If you have read my book, you may know that I have spent months researching how an exoplanet could look like, before writing the story. I don’t say that you have to spend months researching, but I am convinced that if your world is scientifically good researched that it might help your story. I wanted my world to be as realistic as it could be, so I wrote down what I had to find out about my planet. So, I wanted the planet to be really realistic, so I actually went to talk to scientists. I made a list that you could use:

1. How large is the planet? It will have an impact on how much you would weigh on the planet, and therefore how the people on that planet look.

2. Does it orbit a sun? Or more? How many? What kind of suns? If the sun is a Blue Giant and very hot, but you want a cold climate, the planet would have to be very far away from its sun, and so on.

3. What is the planet composed of? Stone? Gas?

4. How tectonically active is the planet and how do the tectonics work?

5. What is the atmosphere composed of? The atmosphere on my planet contains more oxygen, which leads to higher danger of fires, which is why all buildings on the planet are made of non-burning material, so this will have an impact on the way your citizens build their cities.

6. How many earth-years is a year? How long does it take the planet to orbit round its sun? (You can find that out if you know the mass of the planet and the sun, and the distance)

7. How is the axis of the planet? Is it tilted like on the Earth, or straight? Your decision will have a great impact on the climate of the planet (tilted: seasons, straight: no seasons, more extreme climate zones).

8. How is the climate? (First, decide what the axis of the planet is)

9. Does the planet have moons? Maybe rings? Artificial stations in the orbit? The moons are very important as they will affect your climate. So if you have three moons, as on my planet, your characters might witness a good deal of floods and tsunamis.

Once you know the characteristics of your planet, you can start defining the land masses. The characteristics you have found out before will now help you create the lands. A planet that is larger and that is highly tectonically active will look different than a smaller planet which is not so tectonically active.

Animals are part of the setting, too.

4. Lands

Now comes the fun part! After analysing your scientific characteristics of the planet, you can actually start draw your maps. When drawing the outlines of your land masses, always consider your list to help you. Your planet is very large and highly tectonically active, and does have more than one moon, such as my planet? Your outlines will look jagged and torn, and there may be a good deal of erosion. Your planet isn’t tectonically active at all, far away from its sun, but does have more than one moon? Your planet may be known for its ferocious storms, and it could be raining methane. What about a methane flood? It’s science fiction after all, and although I really like realistic worlds, it should still be fun!

Also think about where your cities are, if there are rivers, where the climate zones are. If you have a very advanced species, you may put your capital into an arid, dry plain with no soil to grow food, because you could presume that a very advanced civilization could likely grow their food in farms within the city. If your world is medieval, you might want to think if the setting where you have put the city is realistic, if the people there are capable of growing food. But it’s fantasy and science fiction, so, if your species can eat stone, or they just hunt, that’s fine.

5. People

You may have already thought about what kind of species you want to write about in your book. If not, then you can create them based on the characteristics of your planet and your land masses. If the planet is far away from its sun, it may be very dark, and your species need large eyes. If the planet is larger, they may be quite skinny, because they are heavier than they would be one the Earth. Did your species evolve on your planet, or did they colonise it?

What do people in your world look like?

6. Environment

Are there animals on your planet? If no, then your characters probably won’t be eating meat every week. Once you know what the climate is like, you also can start defining what kind of life the planet supports. Also think about how old your planet is, because it will affect evolution.

7. Culture

I saved this, because it’s the most fun- but also quite important. The culture of your civilization will affect your story greatly. It might define whether your civilisation is peaceful, or belligerent, whether they are religious or not (on my planet, one civilisation is very religious, the other one not), and their language. You have to figure out:

Languages (see below)

What language does your civilization speak? Do they have any writing system?

Music

What kind of music do your civilizations have? If they have music at all.

Do they have a religion?

If yes, you will have to think about what kind of religion, how much that religion affects their tradition, and what the religion is about, how it evolved.

Entertainment

Entertainment and culture are intertwined, so you will have to figure our what kind of entertainment exists on your planet, or in your world. Note that if you make up some kind of dance you will have to explain how that dance evolved, and it might help if you know what kind of music your civilization does have.

If you make up steps for a dance, you could test how it looks when you play the music you have already created.

Clothing

What are people wearing in your setting? You will have to decide what kind of climate your civilization lives in before you decide on their clothing.

Buildings

Buildings can tell you whether a civilization likes embellishment, or if they don’t care about things like that.

Tradition

What kind of tradition does your civilization have? Are they conservative? Are they only interested into progress, and don’t care about tradition?

Etiquette

What is the etiquette in your society, if you’d have to advise someone who wants to travel to your fictional planet or world, what would you tell them not to do?

8. Languages

Before you can make up your languages, you should have defined the culture of your species. The culture will affect your language, and both should merge so that it looks realistic.

Writing system from my planet

You have to know a few things:

1. Do your species talk? Do they have a mouth? Do they have a body at all, or are they beings made of some kind of fog? Are they colonial organisms? If you know this, write it down, because the way the species communicates will affect the language.

2. How old is the civilisation? The older the species is, the more complex the language will be. A very ancient civilization might have altered its language innumerable times, because languages change.

3. Do your people have hands? Do they have writing? Because then you will have to invent a writing system, too!

4. Find inspiration from languages from the Earth. I started to learn new languages, like Hebrew or Mandarin, and started trying to read hieroglyphs for my book, just to learn the characteristics of those languages and as an inspiration for my fabricated alien language. I’m not telling you that you have to learn new languages just for inspiration, of course, but only learning some words and a bit of grammar might already help, because it helps you understand the way languages work.

5. The language should merge with the culture. This will make your language look more convincing. Also figure out what the music of such a species would sound like (if they have music). I created some compositions for the civilizations on my planet, which actually were helping create the languages. I will upload them once I’ve mixed them.

Another thing I did was writing “interviews” with some characters, in their native language. It’s another way to “test” if the language sounds convincing and realistic when spoken.

Hope this guide will help you create your own world and let me know if you have created one:)

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