So here’s where the world building part starts to get a bit more complicated, but oh wow, do I have fun with it!! Again, this is just the way I do it, and all this BEFORE I start setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, rather).
You’ve got your main character and you have an idea of where your char is, but there’s so much more to the world than that.
If you’re doing a piece of fiction without magic, etc, you aren’t done yet! You have it a bit easier in some ways. Is the world just as it is now? Spifficus! You may be good! Time to sit down with my dear friend Google and get a better grasp of what has come before.
But if you’re doing fantasy – whether urban or high fantasy – or sci-fi/future, you got a bit more to go.
Take whatever makes your char special, and let’s start asking a few basic questions.
- Is this the first time that special has occurred?
- Ex: I knew Jo was going to have super powers, and I created the Nasaru to explain where they came from (yes, there’s still a bigger picture, but I’ll only talk so far as Mother Knows Best here). She is NOT the first, and there ARE others like her. I decided I wanted the Nasaru to reincarnate, their powers passing from life to life.
- If this is the first time something special has happened, why now? Is it widespread or only your main (or someone around your main) who is experiencing it? Remember, it doesn’t have to be your main character who has the fantastical element. Maybe they are the only ‘normal’ one while everything else was going nuts around them? Example here, what if I was writing from Jenny or Brian’s perspective? Or maybe Thane who could grabbed and had the supernatural forced upon him? Questions still apply.
- Are there other people/things out there with their own, for lack of a better word, special?
- Ex: Not only are there other Nasaru, but there’s Others out there as well (love how creative I got with my labels?). Jo has already come across a few examples of this: The K-boys (Dong-Gu, Ki-Bum, Hunter, etc), the White Lady, the Golem, ghosts – just to name a few. There are so much more.
- How well known are the fantastical elements?
- It’s possible that everyone knows about specials – Like Kim Harrison’s Hollows series. The fantastic was outed, and people know and accept this. Or you can do the other end of the spectrum.
- Ex: While there is at least one (relatively) secret organization who knows about the supernatural (Order of St. Jerome), by and large, people don’t know about this stuff. It takes place as part of our greater world, and while people will talk about ghosts, werewolves, and vampires, while they dream of this and there have been very real experiments about psychic activity, by and large, the populace doesn’t believe.
- Did this change history? How?
- To me, introducing any fantastic elements is going to clearly change history, though to varying degrees. This is going to be the longest question you have to answers. If you’re doing the more subtle idea that the supernatural elements have been trying to keep things on the down low, their very presence still would have effected major events all through history. Give yourself some time to consider this, and consider a balance that kept the world from dramatically changing. Maybe some events happened the way they did BECAUSE of these fantastical elements. Maybe there were opposing forces at work which kept the balance.
- If everyone KNOWS about the fantastical, you need to figure out when and where these people/events were outed. Was it one major event? Has it always been this way? When and where did the big IT come in that started to change things? Was it a slow spread? Fast?
- Ex: With the Nasaru coming into play along with the Others, there are a lot more minor ‘unexplained’ events in the history, or examples of how humans (St. Jerome’s order or no) swept things under the rug. There will be some changes to myths, or rather, some of those myths were very real, and simply changed in small ways through repeated tellings. When you see common aspects in myths, legends, tall tales, that was likely a Nasaru or an Other flexing their powers. Once upon a time, it was more ‘accepted.’ Smaller population, the Fantastic would be more obvious, stand out more. People talked. There were witches, then burnings. A lot more of these things were very real. And while people, by and large, tend to try to explain it away, especially in the modern age of science, a lot they simply cannot explain. And yes, the Supernatural has been on both sides – the good and the bad. Balancing forces.
The above questions go with high fantasy as well., though if you’re working with pure high fantasy, you’re likely creating the scope of history to begin with. The above questions will still give you a place to start.
If you’re still playing with supernatural elements in the future (do not knock my precious ShadowRun!), then you will still need to go through all of the above, so you better get to cracking!!
With future in general, though, you have a few more questions to start asking on top of it…
- Dystopian, Utopian, or did we not change that much?
- I likely should’ve put Utopian in quotes. Or, hey! What if the main char feels they are in a Utopia, but that’s all suddenly being threatened now by Something Bad ™. I personally prefer the dark underbelly of dystopian books, but that just may be me…
- How far has science gone?
- Space travel? Cybernetics? Bioware? Medicine? Environment?
- Did we slide back like with Terry Brooks Shannara series? Where we are living in the next dark age without electricity? Sure, there’s magic there, but please see all that stuff above.
- Or are we living in Trekkie-verse where every planet is a bold new adventure and with varying levels of technology, but we’re “safe and sound” upon the starship Enterprise?
- What about a grand mix, and we rock the Firefly-verse, partner? Where it’s a comfortable mix of both? (or not so comfortable, as the case may be)
- You can also do ‘modern’ sci-fi. Hey, it’s a thing. Just look at Stargate! The science advancements that came were slow in coming, but it built upon each other with introduction of technology from alien races or discoveries of ancient alien artifacts.
- Was there one big event that launched more? A series of smaller ones?
- For Shannara, we basically went to war and destroyed ourselves and each other. Nuclear holocaust which decimated our population where we are only left with remnants of what once was.
- For Star Trek, if you’ve followed the movies, you’ll know there were a number of steps. Big one? One brilliant man set up a beacon which got the attention of someone outside our solar system. Them coming to our planet was our next big step showing we were ready to expand into the great beyond. Alliances were made. Progress snowballed.
- For Firefly, “Earth that was” was dying, and it was time to find a new place to live. Planets were terraformed. The bulk of humanity settled upon the new ‘core planets,’ but people were encouraged to expand outward. It’s all beautiful on those core planets, but you go out to the fringe, you’re dealing with the old west… with laser guns and spaceships on top of it.
- For Stargate, the discovery of the rings, and when Dr. Daniel Jackson figured out how they all worked. This rather set it all off, and you can see how the story extended.
- Are there other species?
- Are we dealing with alien life? You’re going to need to figure out the who and the how of it all here!
- Shannara – Other ‘species’ evolved due to extended living conditions. For examples, the dwarves came about because those people went underground when the nukes hit. They became short and stumpy, their eyes sensitive. Trolls went to the mountains. All of these changes were pure evolution through hundreds of years of environmental changes. Then we have the elves… who claim to have always been there, hiding from humanity once upon a time, living side by side in secret.
- Star Trek – Every planet is another alien life for one to meet and greet. Lots of excitement.
- FireFly – No aliens. Sure, there’s the Reavers, but we rather did that all to ourselves. Those were humans who went out to the brink, and when they stared into the vast nothingness…. they snapped. (I’m a Browncoat…. can you tell?)
- Stargate – Oh good heavens, yes! And not just one!!
- Is there one Big Bad? Or many? Or are we doing it all to ourselves?
- Shannara – There’s always a new Big Bad rearing its ugly head. I’m going to go ahead and blame the druids here…. But no, they have multiple.
- Star Trek – Again, over so many series, so much going on, we have multiple Big Bads, but sometimes… sometimes there is a Bigger Bad. Klingons were awful, for example, but the Borg is/was worse
- Firefly – Again, we do it all to ourselves. Mostly, this was working on a smaller level, but then you have the “two by two, the hands of blue” (stupid overarching government) and the Reavers, but Captain Mal found plenty problems outside of that.
- Stargate – Ah, Stargate…. Each season had its Big Bad. The Goa’uld, the Replicators, the Wraith.
- The longer a series goes on, the more nasties your peeps are going to come across.
- Do people KNOW their ‘modern history’ (from the real present to whatever events you are writing about)?
- Shannara – they have no real clue what happened. It was all pieced together throughout the books and the many, many series Terry Brooks wrote about it all
- Star Trek – Clear, concise history
- Firefly – Mostly clear, though likely, for the outer rim planets, they’ll likely know less and less
- Stargate – History was rather the whole POINT of what they were discovering! And they were picking it up as they went
For each of the questions above, let yourself go down rabbit trails. Be the toddler, and ask yourself “Why, why, why” at every turn. When you feel confident you know the history of your world, you know where it all takes place, and you have a grasp of your char… Now it’s time to start getting to the real fun!!