Worldbuilding 101 – Part 1

Worldbuilding 101 – Part 1

I can write anything, but my first love is speculative fiction. That’s a broad category for anything that’s “weird” or “unusual,” and it’s my default setting when I’m writing. I think it’s because I grew up loving Star Trek and My Little Pony and Transformers. My brain is wired for weird, so when I sit down to tell a story, fantastic worlds come out.

My brain is wired for weird, so when I sit down to tell a story, fantastic worlds come out.

At the end of March (Lord willing), Crosshair Press will be releasing the first book in my new series The Legend of the Lightkeepers. It’s an epic urban fantasy for young adults, and I’ve been writing it since I was 11 years old.

That means I have 20+ years of material about the world I’ve built stacked up around my office and saved on my computer’s hard drive. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a series on my blog, and I realized that now is the perfect time. So for the next couple of weeks, every Wednesday about this time, I’ll be posting tidbits from my worldbuilding process.

My process may not work for anyone else, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share it.

Actually, it’s hard to call it a process. It’s extremely organic. Perhaps a bit psychotic. And definitely schizophrenic. But this is how I’ve done it. So at least you’ll be able to see what not to do, right? 😉

We need to start with the basics for those who are new to the speculative fiction realm. And you can’t much more basic than: What is worldbuilding?

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Every author is a worldbuilder.

There are a lot of books on the subject of what it is and how to do it, and I’m certain they more about it than I do. But, to me, worldbuilding is exactly what it sounds like. You, as a writer, construct a world in which your novel/series takes place.

To a certain extent, every author is a worldbuilder. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing non-fiction or fiction, you have to use words to build a world where your story happens. If you’re reading a romance novel where the story occurs in a fictional West Texas town, someone had to build that town in their minds.

It may take place in normal life. It may not have any magic or aliens or dragons, but the town doesn’t actually exist. So the author had to make it up. But no genre hinges on worldbuilding as much as speculative fiction.

What is speculative fiction?

Sometimes it’s called visionary fiction. Some folks lump it all into one category: science-fiction and fantasy. It’s stories where strange things happen outside the normal flow of life.

Time travel. Ghost stories. Space adventures. Dragons and vampires and aliens, oh my! Whether the protagonist sees dead people or flies around in a steampunked zeppelin, it’s all speculative fiction.

In a speculative fiction novel or series of novels, the world where the story happens is actually a character you can get to know. This is true more in some stories than in others, but before an author can really delve into the backstory of her characters, she has to understand the world itself.

What do you need to build a world?

Every author builds a world differently. It comes down to how your brain processes information. I tried using notecards, which someone told me would help me organize my thoughts, but my thoughts are such a wild, random mess, it only confused me more.

I started with notebooks, usually the nice five-subject ones. I devoted each section to different parts of the story I was telling. The first subject was for book titles, which have always helped me plan my stories. The second subject was for character information. The third subject was for setting detail and geographic locations. And so on and so forth.

The point is that you have to start somewhere. If notecards work for you, use them. If you like writing things down in notebooks, do that. If you need to do everything on the computer, go for it. Or, if you’re like me and you need to use a random combination of all the above (plus restaurant napkins and church bulletins in extreme circumstances), do it.

The beauty of building a fictional world is that you don’t need bricks and mortar. You just need your imagination.

The beauty of building a fictional world is that you don’t need bricks and mortar. You just need your imagination.

So now that we’ve established what speculative fiction is and why the concept of worldbuilding is important, we can move on to the nuts and bolts behind how I built the world of The Legends of the Lightkeepers. I’ll be posting information at the same time on the series website, www.lightkeeperlegends.com, so keep checking over there too for more fun bits and bobs.

I’ll also be including a list of books on worldbuilding. I’ve got quite a collection, and I’ve learned so much from the amazing fantasy writers out there!

Come back next Wednesday for the next installment in this series!

A.C. Williams

Amy Williams left a lucrative career in marketing to write novels about space cowboys, clumsy church secretaries, American samurai, and alternate dimensions. Along the way, she also discovered a passion for teaching other creative professionals how to use technology to make life easier. Through video instruction or one-on-one coaching, she teaches software, blogging, basic graphic design, and many other useful skills that help creative entrepreneurs get stuff done minus the frustration.

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