• T.P. O'Dúnín

World Building - An Introduction

The following series Blog posts are a general guideline on how I go about building a world. Other people will have other methods, but what follows is mine. As such, any opinions expressed will be my own, as will any errors. I honestly hope that you will find this to be as interesting as I do.

First a definition; What is World Building?

World building is the art of creating a fictitious world as a setting for a piece of fiction, be it novel, comic, or film. There are three approaches to the art;

  1. The top down approach

  2. The bottom up approach

  3. A combination of 1 and 2

The Top Down approach involves creating your world in generalities and over the course of multiple passes adding finer and finer detail. The Bottom Up approach starts from the bottom, creating a highly detailed part of your world, usually where your story is based and then working up and out. A combination of both is the ideal method but is time consuming compared to the first two. Because I like to be awkward, I use the third option.

For me, World Building begins with a series of questions.

  1. In what time period is the world based? That is to say, Historical, Contemporary, or Futuristic.

  2. How technologically advanced are the dominant cultures?

  3. How big of a world do I need to create? Is it just an island, a continent or an entire planet?

  4. How long of a timespan do I need to account for? A year? A decade? A century?!

The first question is answered easily enough, as it is determined by the story you want to write, and for me it’s generally either Fantasy or Sci-Fi, so that’s your Historical or Futuristic time periods. The technology level is mostly determined by the time period; Stone Age, Bronze Age, or Iron Age for example, and the needs of the story.

Questions 3 and 4 are at your discretion. I usually start with a continent but if I need more area, it’s simple enough to add the detail. Oceans make great borders. Timespan refers to the amount of back history you need to provide and that’s up to you, but your story may dictate a minimum time. I never intend to do this, but I usually end up with two thousand years or so of history. It’s important to note here, that doesn’t mean I have detailed accounts for each and every year. What I mean is that I just have a log of important historical events for the timespan. It’s not as difficult as you might think.

Fig 1. A list of Events and Rulers

Another element to decide early on is physics / magic. If you’re writing a sci-fi, does faster than light travel exist? For fantasy or even contemporary works, does magic exist? In the case of both it’s important to establish a system. The system keeps things consistent and more believable. In the case of Faster Than Light travel; Roughly how does the system work? Are there specific areas where the system won’t work or can’t be used? Is the system in common use or is it only used by a few? Is it a new technology or an old one? Does the system have limitations? Some of these questions could also apply to magic.

In building my worlds, I start with the Top Down method, and finish with the Bottom Up method. I start with generalities, building up the world, and once I have it outlined, I start getting down to the specifics. In the interests of simplicity, brevity, and my own sanity, I’ll be focusing on fantasy worlds. Trying to account for all the variables while bouncing back and forth between fantasy world building and Sci-fi world building is enough to drive a person to drink!

So this is the introduction, something to hopefully get you interested. If you have any questions, leave me a message on my Facebook page, or send me a message from the Contact page. The next blog will start getting into the details properly, with each successive blog adding more and more detail.


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