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World Building 101: My Process

December 5, 2017

Alright. In the previous part I gave some tips and some guide lines to follow when integrating your world into your story which, I think, is the trickier skill to use. I was thinking about what to write in this next section and it occurred to me that I didn't give any advice on how to flesh out a world, to actually build the setting that your characters will exist in. Every process is different, so what works for me won't necessarily work for anyone else. But, hey, that's pretty much any tutorial on writing. I also will not say that this process is correct. Nope, I won't. Call it my 'fine print'. I will say this is how I do things and maybe reading my process will help you find what works for you.


There, legalese is out of the way, let's get cracking.


Worlds, like stories, usually start with an idea. Sometimes you create a world to support a story and sometimes you create a story to support a world. They're complimentary things. In this case study I'm going to start with a pretty simple idea, it's actually the idea that I used to seed some of my Angel Home stories. The idea: what if magic was used as a currency? Yes, the idea is a question. In spec fiction, stories are often grounded on the exploration of a certain trail of questions. Think of it as a thought experiment into a world that is fundamentally different than our own, a world of 'what ifs'. The first idea is a starting point, we need some answers to that question as well as another set of questions. Let's start with answering the first 'what if' and build out from there.


If magic is used as a currency, it must have a unit. I called this unit a Roule. Maybe there's a bank that deals in Roule, so let’s add that to the list of things this world has that are different from our world. People need to be able to spend Roule, is there a physical representation AKA paper money representing the amount of Roule exchanged? Or are people able to trade real magic for goods and services? I chose to have Roule available directly for each person through a system like our real-world debit card system. No need for represented physical currency, a person's account is debited and credited through a device I've called a 'Mod', all wireless and on the go. Can people use Roule as magic? I said yes, through the use of their Mod, but I can't just have a society of people running around able to do magic willy-nilly, so Mods are regulated and monitored. There will have to be police to enforce that. 


Alright let’s pause and recap. So far we've taken one world building idea, a starting question, and thought a bit about what it means, answering the questions that pop up. We have a unit of magic called a Roule that people can either exchange for goods and services as currency or else use as 'power source' for magic. Both actions are made possible through the use of a piece of technology called a Mod. Great! This is a good start. Now there's a couple BIG questions to deal with. The most obvious, perhaps, is this: what is the source of the Roule?


This is a very big question that has significant impact on the world. I chose to answer that question like this: each planet in the Angel Home universe has natural magic, though some is very wild and not easily tamed. the planet with my Roule currency has extremely hard to access magic and there are very few natural magic users. On this particular planet, a super powered being called an Angel has set up his residence and, as a gift, has created an orbiting factory that converts the hard to use natural magic of the planet into the far easier to use Roule. All Roule is sent to banks for distribution to the masses, thus making the banks the most powerful organizations on the planet.


There, those are the high point differences between my story world and the real world that my readers are familiar with. These are the concepts that I'm going to have to convey to my readers in order for them to have the same world in their mind that I have in my mind. Most of the rest of the stuff is just details, there'll be trees and animals and parks and people and all the things you'd normally expect. Since the Mods exist, I'm putting the technology level around 1980-2010 era. There'll be bits and pieces that will need to be added as I write, but these are the big ideas that will form the setting of my story.


That's world building. Notice there is absolutely NO story telling in this world. No events and no character design. The trick now is developing some story ideas that fit nicely in this world, that show off its uniqueness. It wouldn't make much sense to have a story about some mine workers that get stuck in a mine shaft for forty days in this world, right? That could happen in any world. What would make sense is maybe some stories about a special police division tasked with investigating Roule related crimes. Or maybe there's someone creating counterfeit Roule that has the nasty effect of poisoning those that try to use it. These are more 'what if?' questions that are directed towards events and characters than the world. The trick is to create a story that compliments the world you've built. Alternatively, you can create a story first with questions like 'I wonder how a world where everyone is a superhero would work?' and then build a world around that.


Asking yourself questions and then answering them is how I build out any story idea, either World Building or Storytelling. 


That's my process, take from it what you will!


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