August 10, 2020, 08:53:30 AM

Author Topic: Worldbuilding Guide  (Read 3274 times)

Offline Phoenix

Worldbuilding Guide
« on: February 21, 2017, 09:29:41 PM »
So u recently type up a worldbuiding guide for other authors, here it is, hope it doesnt suck.

The key to making a good fantasy world is to make it as realistic and detailed as possible. Though building a complete world can be extremely difficult on the fact that one must create everything like plants, animals, food, geography, politics, war and strategy, climate, astronomy, history, magic (if there is any), even psychology and behavior. Though this may seem daunting creating a world for your book(s) can be extremely beneficial also and puts your book that far ahead of all the others that are only based on Earth or known planet. A word of advice is if you want to create a realistic world then you should try to become familiar with the world you come from whether its Earth or Mars, read encyclopedias, study geography or animal behavior. Get a basic understanding of the most important things like how physics work. This may seem like over doing it but believe me you’ll thank me later, this will be the difference from creating a bland black and white world or a detailed completely realistic and awesome one! I think the hardest part about world building is not necessarily creating the world itself but finding the time to do. This is a very time consuming endeavor, don't expect to whip up a world from scratch in a matter of hours! I've actually been working on a world for the past 3 years and I’m not anywhere close to being finished. Alright, enough chatting let’s get down to work!
Part 1-
Step 1: Study the ‘Greats’
If you want to become a great writer you must then study the big shots like Tolkien or George R. R. Martin. Read ALL of their books, find articles they wrote, even study the world they created (Middle Earth, Westeros, Alagaesia, the lands of Jordan's Wheel of Time, Discworld). Notice the flaws and tuck away what they did good. Those of you familiar with Lord of the Rings may notice that Tolkien took ideas for Middle Earth from ancient Norse mythology and Celtic legend.
Step 2: Names
This doesn’t always have to come first but I like to get it out of the way. Your first (or last) task is to create a name for your world. When making names for places or people I typically take a characteristic or word that describe the place or person and translate it into another language. I typically translate words into either Greek or Latin but it’s your own choice. I then “warp” the word to make it unique by swapping letters, so for example lets go with the word Aether. I drop the ‘a’ turn ‘e’ into ‘I’ and add a couple letters and bam! Aether turns into Eythiran (no stealing that’s my world name). If you don’t feel like creating a name from scratch, then it’s perfectly fine to draw inspiration from mythology but before you do make sure you research a bunch about it and make sure it’s not overly used. Take the name Thor for example it’s been used so many times that he’s practically real.
Step 3: Geography/Environment
Though it’s important to be consistent and make it believable, your world doesn’t have to be completely scientifically realistic. Middle Earth, geographically speaking, doesn't work. There should be a rain shadow east of the Misty Mountains that would make the large forest of Mirkwood impossible. Also remember that the physical world you build for your story will affect the civilizations and characters in both subtle and dramatic ways. Before you develop the world(s) first ask yourself how did the universe come to be, was it always there? Did a god or some primordial being create it? These questions are very vital, but once you get down the universes origins then you can start populating the universe with worlds. Your first world must be your ’focal point’. It’s easier to create a world if you take ideas from the Earths characteristics and climate. The North and South should be cold and full of ice unless there’s multiple suns, but be careful adding more than one celestial bodies because then it could have drastic effects on the world, two suns might actually make it uninhabitable or the waves of the sea might be way more powerful, but a colder sun might plunge the world into an Ice Age. And unless your world is a complete ball of iron or other substance, then remember you must then have tectonic plates which create valleys and mountains, Mountains are typically found on the edges of coasts but not always. I typically fashion my Races or species at the same as the world so they ‘grow’ together. Make sure your geography is plausible, if a race lives near a body of water don’t make them unable to swim. It’s much more likely that they are fishermen and can swim. And if a race lives in the desert don’t make them have albino white skin, its more fitting if they have darker skin or a biology that suits the harsh climate, like the ability to go long periods of time in the heat and without water. They might also be cold blooded like a reptile. Don’t forget geology and metals/minerals in the land, if a group of humans live in a land where there’s plenty of iron its more realistic if they have iron weapons or tools but it doesn’t have to be if they have a good trade movement going on.

Tomorrow, I’ll post The Map portion of step 3 and start with Creating Species and Plants
Part 2-
Step 3B: Map Making
Now how about its time for us to create a map of your world? This part isn’t that complicated and if you want a simple map then you don’t have to be artistically inclined that much, but if you want it to be really detailed and you don’t think you could draw it then I recommend you either contact someone who could like a cartographer or use some map making software (for your convenience I listed a few that you could use below).
As you might have known there is some software that can enable you to make some pretty cool maps, some software is good to use but others are way too complicated to use unless your good at that stuff. And behind those software packages, there are groups of people who enjoy creating maps and might do yours for free or for a small fee.
If you want to have a cool map, probably the software is the way to go. None of these applications are things you can just start using overnight, however, they are not impossible to grasp.
Here are the ones that I know:
Campaign Cartographer ( )
Fractal Mapper ( )
Dundjinni ( )
AutoREALM ( )
Tiled Mapeditor ( )

Of course, you can always use one of the major graphics programs, such as Adobe Photoshop. But for people who can’t draw, using one of the programs above is the only way to go. I also recently stumbled across a relatively simple map maker that creates really nice ones. If you’re interested, its free with no download necessary and most of it is just drag-n-drop.
Inkarnate Beta(
Step 4: Creating Species
As you know Fantasy is a lot of fun, but it’s also a LOT of work. And the expectations are very high in the genre. If you can’t create realistic races/creatures that people will love, then your story is going to fall flat. No pressure, right?
So I’m going to help you with it and break the process down into 3 phases (or steps)
Phase 1: Appearance
One of the first things you’ll need to decide is what your race or creature will look like.
If you don’t want to create a creature from scratch, another thing you can do is base a race off of an animal but give it a twist. For example, animals that are larger than usual, can speak, or have magical abilities. Simple, right?
This also applies to human-like races. You don’t have to make a fantasy race look completely foreign. They don’t have to have blue skin like they’ve just stepped out of Avatar. A lot of fantasy beings (elves, dwarves, faeries, witches/wizards) look similar to humans but with slight physical differences and/or added magical abilities.
Phase 2: Environment
Another very important element for developing a good, realistic Fantasy race is the environment in which that said race lives. The environment affects certain aspects of our lives such as clothing, materials, food, resources, jobs, and trade, even behavior! These are all important elements of a society.
Our environment also affects what sort of food you can grow, what animals are available to hunt, and therefore what sorts of dishes can be made. In Mexico they grow chili peppers, avocados, and limes, while in Greece they grow figs, dates, and olives. Both countries have very different dishes! Also, note that when you have two countries that each have something the other does not, this can lead to either trade or war.
Another thing to consider is what sort of jobs your environment creates. If you have an area rich with coal, you’ll have a lot of coal mining jobs like in The Hunger Games. If you have a lot of land, more people might be farmers. If you’re on the coast, you’ll have a lot of fishermen.
For Fantasy creatures, think about what sort of habitat it lives in. Does it like mountains or forests? What does it eat? Is it prey to any other animals? Do people hunt it as a resource?
Put a lot of thought into the environment in which your race or creature lives and how it influences their way of life and you will add layers of realism to your story!
STEP 3: Culture
Developing a culture is probably the most daunting aspect of creating a fantasy race, which is understandable. Cultures are extremely complex. There’s a lot to think about and it can get overwhelming quick. Making up a culture for a race that doesn’t exist is no small task!
While trying to find a way to simplify what makes up a culture, I came across this article that suggests there are seven basic elements of a culture. I would argue there are more, but since some of the things that are missing like food, clothing, etc. we touched on in the last step, I feel this list fits perfectly for the purposes of our discussion.
So what are these 7 basic elements of a culture?
1.   Social Organization (family units and social classes)
2.   Customs and Traditions
3.   Religion
4.   Language
5.   Arts and Literature
6.   Governing Systems
7.   Economic Systems
I think if you spend time exploring these seven points you’re going to have a nice, fleshed out culture! Now, just because language is on here don’t think you need to create a whole new language (or several!). I would actually advise against it unless you can do it with the same finesse as Tolkien. It’s good to consider if you have races that speak different languages and how this could be important to your story, but you can imply a language barrier without actually creating the languages.
Additionally, I would suggest borrowing from cultures in real life. Tolkien did this in Lord of the Rings–for example, the people of Rohan are based off of Celtic culture. Drawing from real-life sources will help to add realism to your story.
I would also highly recommend studying sociology and history, either by taking a course or getting some books on your own. Studying these subjects will help you to understand how intricate cultures are, how they work, and how different cultures have interacted with each other over time. This will help you to write more complex and realistic cultures in your own stories.
Other Helpful Resources:
Race Template

If you’re still with me, then thank you and stay tuned for part 3 where I explain how to develop languages

"My death shall spark a war, and from the ashes of the battlefield I shall be reborn"

Offline Ashur-is-King

Re: Worldbuilding Guide
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2017, 08:55:57 AM »
In reference to the OP: I freaking love this. I’m with you all the way in considering geography and environment. This is something I spend a *lot* of time thinking about, because it’s a genuine passion of mine with regard to the real world. Geography has had a tremendous impact on history, and it’s completely fascinating to look at how this is all played out. It’s also, of course, enormously relevant to a fantasy world.

To give one example, rivers have been profoundly important in history as sources of water for agriculture and as conduits for trade. It’s no accident that the great ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and the Indus all developed on major river systems. It’s no accident that Northern Europe, with its many navigable waterways and large, broad coastal plain (the North European Plain), ended up rich but politically fragmented.

Understanding these kinds of real-world dynamics can have profound ramifications for fantasy word-building.

Offline WilliamRay

Re: Worldbuilding Guide
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2017, 06:12:39 PM »
Wow, that's almost totally the reverse of how I approach things.  For me, geography is usually towards the end!  I definitely agree on the importance of geography shaping the cultures and civilizations, but since I want those cultures and civilizations to adopt certain shapes, I need to shape rivers and mountains around them instead.

With fantasy, I tend to begin with vague notions of the society I want, and then the next step is the creation myth.  Gods and devils dance around, doing some big picture world making stuff, and then from there I work forward to figure out how that progressed to the spot I want it all to end in.

Unless the story is actually about geography, starting with geography feels counter-intuitive to me.  I tend to think more about what I need to happen, and then work backwards, so if I need a challenging journey, I can symbolize that by making it uphill, or slap a river in between to create a crossing-over moment with a literal bridge.  If I need cultures to be alien to one another, I slap some mountains in between, and put rivers where I want trade or agriculture.  I can see some advantages to having a geographical map already in-mind for later in the creative process, but to my mind, the mountains are merely figurative molehills in the grander scheme of things, in both novels and RPG setups.

Offline Yora

Re: Worldbuilding Guide
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2017, 06:27:22 PM »
Starting with geography (and gods and a magic system) leads to a world that evolves. You start with some basic parameters and then build upon them, usually based on what seems appropriate. You can get a very high level of consistency that way, but you won't know what you will end up with.

I'm also much more in favor of designing a setting by starting with defining the desired result as a collection of images and themes and atmosphere. Then I work backward looking for what elements will be needed to make such a world seem plausible. When designing like this, geography can come very late as a rough sketch and might not be developed to any further detail.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Yora

Re: Worldbuilding Guide
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2017, 09:25:34 PM »
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor