My Writing Process: World Building

This is one of the more difficult writing process posts I've written. I think it's because a lot of this happens during my brainstorming phase, and it's one of the elements I end up working on as I go vs. planning it out in advance. I have some general ideas as I start drafting my book, but I work out the details as I write and in revisions. 

First of all, "world building" is a bit of a writers phrase, and not one other groups of people use very often. So, let's define that. 


World building is anything that has to do with the world the characters live in. At first glance, it's about setting. Where the characters live, the geography, etc. But it's so much more than that. World building definitely is about their home, their neighborhood, and other geographical elements. But it also spans to culture, politics, slang, swear words, religion, magic, where the characters hang out, where they go to school, values, ethics, clothing styles, what characters carry around with them, the list can go on and on. 

This is partly why I tend to world build as I draft my novels. There are so many details, it can get overwhelming. If I approach them as I need them, I can have a bit better of a handle on it. Then, when I go to my revisions, I can see where the gaps are in my world building and fill them in. 

Some writers can create whole binders and guides to their world. I think about some of the big fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin and how they could have several books just about their politics and family histories and languages. Which is awesome, and I love that they can put such great realistic detail into their work!

I'm not one of them. I wish I could be one of them, and maybe I will be someday. But today is not that day.

One misconception about world building is that this is exclusively for fantasy and sci-fi fiction. This is not true! Contemporary, mystery, historical, and any other genre also need to have well done world building!

Let's say you're writing a book about a modern day teenager in the mid-west and most of the action takes place at school. I don't know about you, but the high school I went to was VASTLY different than the one only a few blocks away. Each school has their own groups, culture, trends, after-school activities, views, etc. The local hang outs will be different for each student body. Maybe one school wears uniforms and the other doesn't. One might be a public school and the other is religious. All of these are world building elements. This is what makes those books feel so real and relateable.

For historical, you have do a lot of research for clothing, culture, the way the homes were built, what was happening politically at the time, etc. I'm actually slightly terrified at historical fiction because there's so many details that I'm scared to mess them up!

When I think about how I've been going about setting up my Vampire Snow White novel, I did a lot of things the more traditional route when it came to my vampire lore. I had the main action happen in Chicago, which is where I live, mainly because I already know the city so well I would be able to put more of my focus and research on other elements. (Not that I don't have to research my home town - I totally do! There's a ton I've learned because of preparing for novels.) Some vampire stories do a lot of twists to the legends, which I really like. But, personally, I liked keeping some of the traditional things. Particularly when it came to weaknesses. (No daylight, wooden stakes can kill, can't touch silver, religious icons burn, etc.) Vampires are already very powerful creatures, and I didn't want them to be too powerful. A creature without weaknesses felt boring to me. So, that's the route I went. 

Once that was decided, I started to research the origins of the Snow White tale as well as German folklore. Since it is a German story, I wanted a lot of my magic and other world building aspects to be influenced by that history and culture. I was excited to see that some elements of the German vampire were slightly different than the traditional one we always see. So, even though I have a lot of the classic vampire in my book, there are a few unique twists I snuck in. 

For other world building elements, I tend to think of them and brainstorm them as I go according to the needs of the plot and the characters. If they need to have dinner in a scene, that's when I start to think about what sort of food they'll eat. When they go to buy something, that's when I'll brainstorm the economy and stores they'd go to. 

I for sure would love to improve my world building skills, because there are many authors who excel at this and I want my stories to feel like they're in real places happening to real people!

It does help to take some notes though, because if you're anything like me, you'll forget some details! I've also found that if someone presents me with the questions about my world, I can easily answer them. Having to come up with those guidelines on my own, I struggle. Check out my World Building Pinterest Board for some of the resources I've used. 

What are some books, movies, or TV shows where you've felt the world building was really well done?

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