How to build a world
David L Dawson, author of The Fall
Building a believable fictional world can sometimes be easy, other times hard, and occasionally frustrating. It can also be immense fun. You get to build your own world! How brilliant is that? Years ago I imagined that setting a story in a completely made up world was a lot more preferable to setting something in modern times where I'd have to do hours and hours of painstaking research. I was wrong. Creating your own world means exactly that; you have to create it from scratch. You're a god of your own realm. Sure there are elements that you need, a template if you will. Dystopians are usually built from the ruins of the planet we know now, albeit in twisted, almost unrecognizable forms. Often the most fun is guessing what went wrong to turn this new world sour or discovering familiar things that have been distorted. An example is from my novel The Fall, set in a dystopian future where actual gods have destroyed the planet through their own fighting. The main character, Ben Casper, lives in a place called The Glass Palace. You find out that this was in fact a former shopping mall. Anyone who lives in England, or Yorkshire anyway, will probably recognize which shopping mall it is. I won't say which in case I get sued or anything, but it's pretty obvious (if you live in Yorkshire, anyway. If not then it'll forever be a mystery).
So you're creating your own world. The first thing you need is a basic idea. Ideas can come from all over the place. The plot for The Fall came from a dream I had that terrified the life out of me. I'd probably eaten too much cheese that night. I liked the idea of the dream, though. I thought it had potential as the plot for a novel. So I quickly wrote it down, just in case it slips from my mind. Having a pen and notepad at the side of your bed is essential. You never know what will come to you in your dreams. Having a pen and notepad with you at all times is also a good tip. Inspiration can come from any place at any time. If you’re a writer you need to be ready. That bloke you heard talking on the bus? He’d make a great character for your book! That annoying girl at the cinema who talks on her phone all the time? Kill her off in your novel! Everything you see around you could be potential stories.
Of course one idea doesn't make a novel (though some writers seem to think they can get away with it. I’m not naming any names but you know who they are). I'd advise not making a giant list of ideas and planning everything in meticulous detail. Ideas evolve; characters evolve. Your story is fluid. What I did was to put fingers to laptop and start writing with only the basic threads of a plot fixed in my head. Weird flying beings were destroying the Earth…how about gods…a boy living in the future…a shopping mall…You'll find that if you force yourself to do this the plot and the characters will just flow naturally. When I'd written enough to get an idea of what this world was I stopped and then made a book plan to see if it would work. Thus the world building began.
Don't create your entire world straight away. Don't reveal everything straight away. It's no fun for the reader and certainly no fun for the writer. You want to surprise yourself more than you want to surprise your reader; otherwise it becomes boring for the both of you. As you begin writing and building your world I'd suggest making your own glossary. That way you keep your world internally consistent. Readers hate it when character's ages change between chapters or the date of your apocalypse differs from book to book.
So there you have it. Once you get the germ of an idea start writing straight away. It might be garbage but you can change it later. Build your world as you write to keep the writing process fresh for yourself. Write what you want to write, no matter if it’s been done before or it sounds stupid. As long as you believe in your writing it won’t sound stupid to the reader. Keep a glossary. The world you create is yours; you can make it whatever you want it to be.
Hello world! My name is David L Dawson (the L stands for lion) and I'm a writer. I'm 32 years old and I live in Sheffield, England. I write mainly young adult fiction though I have been known to write some contemporary romance and about a thousand short stories about everything under the sun. I have two cats whose hobbies include eating and trying to draw blood from my arm every chance they can get. If you want to know more about me then start a fan club and become my official stalker. You know you've made it when you have a stalker.