I am answering random questions today about world building, over on Reddit and decided to take my answers from there and expand upon them even further over here. So that's what this page is. Me rambling on about various aspects of world building techniques I use when writing the Quaraun series. The questions I am answering are embedded here. Clicking the link in the embedded question will take you to the original Reddit page where you can see the original answer along with other people's answers. If you wish to comment, you can do so on the Reddit page where a place to do so is provided.
With me, it's all about the characters. Worlds are interesting, yes, but it's the character who tells the story. The world is just the place the story happens. And when you get right down to it, any story can happen on any world, with only minor tweeks to match said world.
So for me, I always start with a character.
Build a character that I know I'll fall head over heels in love with.... and figure out
and THEN... figure out:
Once I've got that figured out, then I create the world:
Now, once I reach the point of knowing WHO my character is and where he lives, now I figure out his personal background...
It's time to go back to worldbuilding again... this time we take what we know about the people he grew up with and we ask:
Now we build a story ...
With the character in mind, now ask yourself:
Now go back over all of your answers to all of these questions and ask yourself... is there a story here that I want to expand upon?
Usually I find that by doing this, I end up fleshing out both my world and my character at the same time, and in figuring out my character's connection to the world he lives in, in turn inspires me to write stories about his life and his interactions with his world and the people who live in it with him.
By doing the world building in this manner, I am not just straight doing nothing but charting maps and designing geography, but rather, I'm building my character's origin story, and giving him a culture, and doing it in the world he lives in, building the world around him as I go.
For example, the main character I'm using now, is an Elf who was born in Inukjuak, Quebec, the son of the King's young brother, so he's a low level prince of sorts, but he has no political power and his title really doesn't mean anything either in his kingdom or out of it. However, in spite of his low rank, the King favoured him and named him heir to the throne, which caused his father (the king's brother) to hate him and become abusive of him. The boy's father/king's brother thought he would be the next king and hates his own son out of his mad drive for power. So he kills the boy's mother, then hires a squid-headed demon priest to kidnap the boy (the boy is 9). The priest does as he's paid to do... in this world it is common for priests to kidnap young boys and force them into horrific lives as slaves to the church.... so basically the boy is sold into slavery by his own father.
The priest takes the boy to a temple in Persia, where at first he's a slave, but he learned fast and proves very adapt at their religion's magical ritals, so soon, even though he's an Elf and they are Demons, they teach him the priesthood and he grows up to become a powerful Psyonic Wizard-Priest. Even though he's a French Canadian, he lives a very Persian/Muslim influenced lifestyle because of having been raised by the priests.
As an adult he later goes back home to Quebec, the King is overjoyed to see him alive (they had thought him dead), but his father in infuriated that his "long lost" son has returned and immediately begins plotting his death. He developed this huge plot to marry his son to a princess, then kill the king (his older brother), then once the son is king, kill him, his wife becomes queen, then he marries the widow and becomes king. (The girl is in on the plot with him.)
The son however, has lived with the Demons for so long, he has no clue how to act like an Elf or live in Elf society, and being a priest extremely devoted to his religion, he wants nothing to do with becoming king or marrying the girl, and instead goes off with a non-Elf commoner lover, who the king's brother then has killed... which devastates the wizard-priest, causing him to question his religion, turn to Necromancy to resurrect his lover and then turn around and kill his father and the king, just so he doesn't have to deal with them fighting over who the next king will be.
The story STARTS with the wizard-priest and his now resurrected undead lover on the run, because now he's a murderer. The story is his fight to survive in a wor;ld that sees him as a villain and his lover as a monster. The entire story following the now homeless vagabond wizard as he and his undead lover trek the planet in search of a place where they can be allowed to live their lives in peace.
All this is just backstory that I used as a way to build the character and the world he lives in. Now that I have this backstory I can look at who he is today, and how his past shaped him, how his world effected him, how various cultures he encountered in childhood influenced him, and now I can ask myself... "So what is he doing today, right now, and how can I turn it into a story?"
The answer took 40 years and 130 novels to answer and I'm still answering it... the series has been going since 1978 and has no end in sight. Over the years the characters changed. I started out with Roderic. Then after a few novels about him, I switched to writing stories about his son. Then a few novels later I wrote stories about his other son. Then a few novels after that I wrote stories about his butler. Then a few novels later I wrote stories about the butler's father who turned out to be Roderic's uncle. Then a few novels later I started writing about Roderic's grandfather, who is the current character... the one whose backstory you just read.
What started out as me writing the story about one man and his haunted house back in 1978, turned into a series of 130+ novels written over a period of 40 years and constantly evolving along the way.
As I write new stories about each member of the family, I end up creating new things about the world around them. I'm constantly expanding their world. For example, most of the series is set in cold Arctic regions along the coast. Then one day I discovered, Roderic's butler had a collection of shrunken heads and had to answer the question, how did he get them. Turns out he was a missionary of sorts to an aboriginal headhunting tribe in a rain forest jungle. So of course now I had to research the Amazon rain forest to figure out how to build a rain forest for my world. I discovered the Rupa-Rupa Cloud Forest of Peru in the process, and ended up creating this vast cloud forest civilization that I had no clue existed in their world, but now is an integral part of the economy to the world they live in as a whole.
>Basically, what you should do is imagine and dream your world instead of writing it altogether, and draw from natural people, events, tales, and phenomena to help you piece an original world in your mind. Of course, you will need to write down what stories and events you imagine in your mind, but brute-force-writing your ideas as soon as they come to mind without giving them figurative water to grow gives shriveled and uninteresting "world"-plants.
I completely agree with this.
Back in the early days when I was a pre-teen and just getting started in writing. The very first thing that got me into writing was the movie "A Year Without a Santa Claus."
It was the scene where Heat Miser and Frost Miser are fighting. One is sending blizzards all over the world to freeze everything, while the other is sending heat waves. Their friend Santa Claus is like "Hell with it, I don't want to deal with any of this any more, I'm retiring. Christmas is canceled. I'm sick of all the fighting in the world. I'm out."
I'm not sure what exactly it was about that segment of the movie, but it sparked this idea in my head...
The idea was: "What if Spock and MaCoy found these two planets side by side, one made of fire, the other made of ice, and both planets were dying because a comet had changed their obits, but niether planet knew it, so both planets were fighting with each other."
Next thing I knew I'm writing Star Trek fanfiction, about the Pirate Ship Rent A Prize on Planet Flame and Planet Crhystonia, trying to save the people of both planets before both planets cease to exist, but the Fire Elves and the Frost Elves are too busy fighting each other to realize theirs a crew trying to save their lives.
That was the very first story for the Quaraun series. A far cry from what it evolved into and became in the decades to come.
Now there is an entire galaxy with multiple solar systems and multiple planets, and Space Elves with intergalactic pirate ships zipping back and forth between time and space, in very Doctor Who methods to visit extremely Star Trek planets, with blatantly SpellJammer populations right down to Squid headed psycho priests and giant space hamsters, characters ripped out of InuYasha (Quaraun is unashamedly Lord Sesshomaru) prancing around with My Little Pony on the Great Space Coaster (is any one here, other then me, old enough to remember that LSD induced hippie feast Saturday morning live action cartoon of the 1970s? If you've never seen Great space Coaster - it's on YouTube - go look for it - most psychedelic show ever made), and the whole thing set in the house from Rocky Horror Picture show, complete with a family of human-eating transvestite vampire Elves from outer space who periodically like to drop everything to break out into drug induced song and dance for no reason at all, other then singing the Time Warp s a fun thing for psycho Elves from space to do. The Twighlight Manor series described in a single paragraph! LOL! (It usually takes me a few pages.)
Okay... now that I've mentioned them, I had to go look for them. Here they are:
Great Space Coaster....
here you go...
...a family of human-eating transvestite vampire Elves from outer space who periodically like to drop everything to break out into drug induced song and dance for no reason at all...
The series started out as fanfiction so when it went to mainstream publication, I had to totally rewrite it - create all new character based off the copyrighted originals, create a whole new none copyrighted world.
The Quaraun series is HEAVILY influenced by Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In the end it became an adventure of building this massive, super insane hippie feast world about Elves in Space, and filling that world with lots of people, and then finding stories to tell about each character.
It requires a lot of imagination and daydreaming to do that.
But that is where the fun comes in, because the world itself is just an empty place until you fill it with people to visit all the amazing places the world has to offer. And once you toss a bunch of people together, things are going to start happening because the people have to interact with each other, which results in events happening. And each event that happens causes even more events to happen, and soon it's a snow ball effect of one thing leading to another and before you know it, you'll be writing more stories the you know what to do with and you get so "into" your world that you'll never want to leave it. Or at least that's what I did.
For me I think the thing that helps the most is just having a character you can fall head over heels in love with and then digging deep into every aspect of that character's life to tell every story you can about them, then just build the world you need to tell that story about the character.
>My most recent worldbuilding (and true worldbuilding) projects focus more on a theoretic approach to viewing societies I create. Since I cannot bring myself to write mere descriptions of the world, I decided to go another way and explore, in a very in-depth manner, cultural aspects that shape it, so instead of writing about the linear, factual history of a city, something which I absolutely loathe doing, I went and wrote a long essay on how that city's inhabitants view the notion of body and its relation to space and being. I plan on doing that with multiple issues that spark my interest, and I think it makes me reflect and learn more about the world I'm creating.
I do this as well.
I think it is fascinating to write essays on the cultures of the world.
A thing I often do all well, is to at some point in the story, have a character use part or all of that essay as well. Maybe it'll be a newspaper report he'll read, or perhaps a paragraph from it will become a paragraph in some spelbook he's reading, detailing the location of some plant he needs to find that only grows here in this place, but is protected by the people of that region for being sacred, so the book contains the passage about the culture and how to get into their society to get the plant.
Something like that, allows me to take small passages from the world-building essays I write and use them to tell the reader little tid bits about the world, while being important to the plot and not being an all out info dump.