In the first half of this guide, we looked at the initial steps of worldbuilding, such as how to set up the map, the period, and how it might slot into your planning process. In this second and last section, we’re going to examine all the nitty-gritty, and look at how to add oodles of richness.
I believe a world’s richness comes from how multifaceted it is. A world is a complex and varied place, and so to make sure yours is immersive as can be, it needs to contain many different aspects. The method behind my worldbuilding process is to look at every aspect of our own world, and then translate or mirror them in my fantasy world. Sometimes we can be guilty of not covering all the bases, so it’s a good way of making sure you are. Don’t feel as you have to dedicate half a page to each world aspect, as just a single line can add a lot of intrigue.
A big part of this process is also asking myself questions to help cover every nook and cranny of my idea. That way, I find the world evolves in a logical way, and my understanding of it is deeper. It’s then up to me how much I drip into the story. I’ve included some example questions as we go through, and here are some of the areas I look at when building my worlds:
Every landscape needs weather. Be it ravenous storms or droughts, weather is an integral part of a world. It affects characters and their arcs on a daily, even hourly basis. It can influence moods, travel arrangements, even shape the outcome of a battle or similar event. It could even play a part in magic systems.
Weather is also another opportunity to dabble in the twisting of reality. What if lightning was red? What if fog was poisonous? Go crazy. It’s your world after all.
Elves, dwarves, minotaurs, witches, orcs, wildmen, dragons... The races and beasts of your world are all up to you. All you need to do is bear in mind that beyond the exciting and fantastical, each world will have a defined animal kingdom and food chain. What animals do your races or characters hunt and roast over an open fire? Are there beasts of burden, and if so what are they? What animals hunt your characters? Don’t forget that this will come from your landscape, which we mentioned in Part One.
Now flora, like fauna, will depend largely on your landscape. Deserts might demand hardy plants or hardly any vegetation at all. Lush rainforests will teem with plants.
As humans, we interact with plants and trees every day, from building materials to food to medicine. As with flora, fauna can play a large part in your plot, as countless fantasy stories have done over the decades. One recent and very well-known example of this is the finale of The Hunger Games, which hinges on nightlock berries. Harry Potter features gillyweed in the Triwizard Tournament. Athelas, or Kingsfoil, is key to helping Frodo survive the battle of Weathertop.
Now we start drilling into the details of society. Atheist, agnostic, or zealot, every one of us has a belief. It's part and parcel of the human condition - to find solace or purpose in a set of creeds and defining beliefs. If you're looking to deepen your world, your characters and surrounding players, should be the same. Do your characters fear a god? If so, how does that dictate their actions? Does the lack of a belief make them an outcast?
Also bear in mind that religions can dictate social rules, hierarchy, and conventions. A very devout society might have rules on dress code, sexual freedom, employment, daily schedules, diet... Essentially, A LOT.
Creation, history, and mythology.
Every society also has a creation myth. From 7 days of creation and the Big Bang to the slaying of Ymir by Odin, the question of how we got here is an important one, and should never go unreferenced in your world. Even if it's just a little nod to the history or whether the plot hinges on the events of yesteryear, it can give credence to the shape of your society, and even to the driving forces behind your characters.
It's a difficult task to find a society in our history that was ever truly equal. As such, don't forget to include social hierarchy, from the ruling classes to the proletariat, and everybody in between. Also think about the method of rule, or the factors that define a hierarchy. For example, is yours an autocracy, a monarchy, or democracy? Does it rest on magic, troops, or birthright?
Whilst transport methods might seem obvious to include, or done naturally, transport heavily affects the timescale of your plot. Travel is sometimes awkward in a book. Your characters might need to get somewhere, but if the journey isn't crucial then you'll need something convenient to shorten it. In Emaneska I use quickdoors, essentially portals using space and time magic. However, you might be writing an epic journey story arc, and want to chronicle every step and the peril that entails. Just be careful of introducing alternate (and rather convenient) transport methods late in the game as it can raise questions for readers. For example, I’ll mention a certain brace of hobbits and a few eagles.
Don't afraid to be quirky with your transport methods either. Travel can be so mundane for many readers, especially if they're reading your book on the tube. Why not ignite some imagination?
Recreation and Employment.
And last but not least, recreation and employment. If there’s a currency, then almost every world will feature some kind of employment or trading system. There may even be slavery. Employment will hinge on all of the previous aspects, as it’s heavily influenced by all of them, especially transport and society.
With work, of course, comes play, and even an orc likes a bit of fun every now and again, so don’t forget to include some recreational activities. It could be gambling on a hog race, or brutal bloodsports between minotaurs. Once again, let your thoughts run away.
And that’s my guide to worldbuilding! These are just some of the aspects you can feature, and there are plenty more to explore. I hope it’s been useful to you, and don’t forget to drop me a line on Twitter (@BenGalley), on Facebook (/BenGalleyAuthor), or by email at hello (@) bengalley.com.