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.
>I created the main character or storyline then created his culture and world around him.
For me, it went like this...
Many years ago, I needed to create a new D&D character, for a Temple of Elemental Evil AD&D campaign our group was about to run. We are given a 2 week notice that our old game is about to end and to create a back story to give to the DM next week so he can approve it and match his champing to it.
I want to be an Elf wizard who wears pink. His favorite colour is pink, He grows roses. All his spells have pink glitter, pink smoke, and other pink effects. He's going to wear Liberace's pink turkey feather cape from the RaidoCity concert in 1984. (this cape if you've never seen it:
I'm a female. But I was play a male character. But I want to dress as him and I want to wear fancy dresses. He's also a transvestite (a male who wears female cloths but continues to use male pronouns).
Wait! I've never heard of a transvestite Elf before. Do Elves have laws against that sort of thing?
*Searches every D&D splat book on Elves... all 5 editions of them, then Pathfinder too, then Green Ronine, then Role Aids, then the online wikis, then I go re-read ElfQuest, look of Toilkien references, research actual medieval Alfar lore.... 200+ books and 100+ pages deep into Google search result sites and I can find no mention of transgender anything, in any Elf lore.*
Contacts DM on his FB and explains situation.
DM says: "I need a player to play a Chaotic Evil Necromancer, who pretends to be part of the group, but is really the boss villain at the end of the champing and is going to turn on the group and kill every one. You've played D&D the longest, you've played evil aligned characters before. Think your Elf wizard could be pretending to be a woman so no one knows he's the evil necromancer?"
Next thing I know, I'm a level 27 Chaotic Evil Pink Necromancer in a level 3 Good and Lawful Good party, using deliberately handicapped spells, created specifically so they would back fire and hinder the group instead of help the group. (Example: army of orcs is attacking, the wizard casts a lightening bolt spell, and DM rolls loaded "fumble dice" so the pink lightening hits the group's best warrior instead of the orcs) When players become suspicious, a "truth spell" by another wizard in the group reveals the Pink Necromancer to have his bag of holding loaded with opium, LSD, and mushrooms - the very high, High elf can not get his spells right, supposedly, on account of he's a drug addict. The group believes the and the party continues on.... almost... the Wood Elf doesn't trust the High Elf, says he doesn't act like he's on drugs, so on his next round, he says to the DM - "I take the drugs and put them in the High Elf's drink to see how he REALLY acts on drugs."
How does he really act on drugs? The group had 2 High Elf wizards, both end up with spiked drinks. Both start to see monsters surrounding the camp, both plot together to create a spell to kill monsters that are not their. 2 other wizards in our group are both paranoid conspiracy theories. They overhear the High Elves plotting. They jump in to add "power ups" to the spell. DM is furiously calculating the math... this spells has these hit points, that spell has those hit points, powered up by this many more hit points, powered up again by that many more hit points.... he rolls the WRONG dice... the wizards fumble... and we knew we did something, as the DM's expression changed. He looked horrified and the whole group is looking at the 4 wizards asking "What the hell did you do?"
The DM closes the book and says: "The spell worked. You killed every one in your group. Every one in the village. And every one in the surrounding region, as the spell triggers a chain reaction when you blow up the mountain, which unknown to you was a volcano with an alchemists lab underneath."
The game ended, we went on to a new champing, but I completely fell in love with the Pink Necromancer, and so, I started writing stories about him....
However, I didn't want to write him in a D&D setting, so I had to create a world for him, and I went back to my original question: "What is the Elf society's views on transgender people?"
I began researching how transgender people are treated in our real world. Started talking with real transvestites, spent time with local trans people. I started seeing a tend in a complete lack of acceptance on a whole. While a few close friends and families may accept them, most lost their friends and were cast out of their families. Suicide rate was high, depression was a common problem. They were being told they could go back to "who they really were" at any time and that they were just being "stupid and stubborn". I started looking into the history of trans people and found that they were actually MORE accepted in Medieval times then they are now in our time, and that it was in Victorian times that the animosity towards them started....
Once I had all this research I was left with: "Now what am I gonna do with it?"
I started answering questions about my character:
I do more research. In doing so I meet the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK attacks my family in real life because I now have gay and trans friends, thanks to my researching this. I start asking the local LGBTQ residents about the local KKK problem, and find it's a really big problem and some 140+ families are being terrorized by the KKK just in our town alone.
So I start researching the KKK to find out, who in the heck are these people and why are they traumatizing the local LGBTQ residents of my town?
Next thing I know, I'm changing the back story for my Pink Necromancer and I base his race's culture off the Ku Klux Klan. I take the typical High Elf arrogance always seen in High Elves and I amplify it by extreme radical terrorize acts by a religious group that runs the community and is using terrorism to keep the Elves in line. Most of the High Elf community is raised to believe any one different from themselves is unworthy and must be eliminated.
The world starts to evolve from there, as these super radical High Elves are too radical even for other High Elves and get chased out. They form their own community, but no one wants them around so they are chased farther north, until they reach a region where there is no one to chase them out... the Deep Farth North, a frozen arctic region of ice and snow.
Isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, their radical belief system reaches paranoid levels as the centuries pass and there is no one "different" to challenge their views they they are the bestest, purist, greatest race on the planet... until one little 3 year old boy starts wearing his sisters dresses and the radical High Elves declare him demon possessed and take to extreme abuse in the form of exorcisms. At 9 years old, the boy is still trying to be a girl and a priest agrees to take him away from the village, leave him in a far away desert to die.
One his own with no one to tell him not to dress like or become a girl, the Elf grows up in the desert, finds a group of hermit wizards who take him in and teach him magic.
Now I have to create a desert society. I base it off Persia and realize the desert wizards who taught him magic are Di'Jinn.
He leaves the desert and walks back to his people. It's been too long and he left too young, and he doesn't remember what they were like. But to walk from the desert to the arctic... that means I now have to build that rought system.
I now have to create all of them.
Then he gets to the arctic... what does he find? How has his home culture evolved? How has the ice region changed them (they were not native to the icelands, been here for centuries/generations, it must have evolved them physically, mentally, emotionally, and culturally, along with changing their religion, but how?)
Not accepted back into his own culture, he wanders the world trying to find a place where he belongs. Now I have to build the landscape and peoples of each place he wanders too.
And this is all BACKSTORY... stuff that happens before any of the novels begins, and was used simply as a way to build the world in which to write the novels.
In other words, I created the character, then set out to find out how he became who he would become, and built the world that would mold him into who he is.
It's now almost 2 decades (and many published novels) later, and I'm not yet done world building. Every story I write about the Pink Necromancer is set in a new location, so I'm constantly having to build new cities, with new cultures, and new backstories to explain their cultures.
In the end, what I have is a vast planet, based largely off our real Earth, with hundreds of cultures and ethnicity and I'm constantly having to add new cities, new towns, new regions, new countries, new cultures, new societies, in every single novel, because he's a wandering vagabond wizard who is traveling the entire planet aimlessly with no real sense of direction, he's just going and going and going, hoping eventually he'll find a place to settle down, but always seen as an outsider and never being accepted into any culture, so packing up and moving on in the next novel.
I love this style of world building, because each time he goes to a new place I have to do a ton of research into our world. Like I had him end up Peru once. Well, all I know about Peru at the time was llamas and alpacas came from there and people do a lot of shawl and blanket weaving. But then, in my research I discovered Rupa-Rupa Cloud Forest and was: OMG! That is where he is going! I did a whole bunch of research into the aboriginal tribes of the Rupa Rupa Rain Forest and the birds and... they have pink dolphins!!! I had no idea there was such a hing as pink dolphins... but I ended up building this entire "lost civilization" living in a hidden valley of Rupa-Rupa cloud forest, and building this vast cloud forest into his world. I had no idea things like cloud forests even existed before then.
Each place in the series ends of being based of a real place in the real world, but due to the series being fantasy (with dragons and faeries and such) it's not fully the same as our real world of course.
One of my favorite parts of world-building is researching the mythical beasts of each region and incorporating them into his world. Like in Peru, there is a folklore about a giant 50 foot long anaconda. Well, it's basically a dragon mythos about a dragon sized snake, right? Well, if medieval fantasy can have monster lizards, why can't there be monster snakes too?
Japan has Kapa, Australia has Bunyips, Polynesia has Aswangs, Scotland has Phookas, Mexico has chupachabra... I've used all these things. So he doesn't encounter dragons EVERYWHERE in the world, no, he encounters monsters based off the real live folklores of the real live region, his fictional region was based off of.
It is just so much fun building the world this way, because I learn so much about our world along the way and I never know what I'm going to find in my research so I never know ahead of time what direction the story will take until I'm done writing it.