Over the next month or so, I will be posting seven different post all about world building in novels—specifically for fantasy or sci-fi novels which literally take place in a different world, but if you are working with other genres, then there might be a few things which will interest you, too.
Early this year, I had to do a ton of world building work—not because I was starting a new novel but because I needed to fix a novel which I had already written. And oh! did I wish that I had taken care of my world building sooner! Now that I am mostly finished with fixing my world, I wanted to share a few tips which I discovered.
This post is about the most basic part of your world: its geography, and the simplest way to start on geography is to make a map.
Now, I definitely am not an artist, so I can’t give you many tips on how to draw your world. My first maps were woefully simple, but I was fortunate enough to find a friend who made a beautiful map on the computer for me.
Here are several tips and things to remember when you create your map.
- Make your world at least twice as large as what you need. If your characters will be traveling 300 miles, then make the world at least 600 miles wide. However, I would recommend making the world even larger. You may even want to develop full continents where you don’t even plan to have your characters travel. This gives your story a more realistic feeling and gives you the flexibility to expand your “travel plans” as needed or even write a sequel later.
See, I’ve highlighted the area in which my first novel takes place. It is tiny compared to my whole world!
- No world is flat. *Unless it is Narnia 😉 So many fantasy worlds are imagined by the authors as if they are flat, and the truth is that worlds are spheres! (Unless you actually address why your world is flat in your novel like C. S. Lewis did in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) So is the majority of your world covered by water like the Earth, or is it mainly covered by land with only a few places that have water? Even if your characters do not know that their world is round, you should know as the writer!
I’d suggest buying a one dollar inflatable ball from the store and drawing a quick sketch of your world on it with a sharpie. Of course, you won’t be able to put anything like that in your novel, but it is great for thinking it through.
- Your world should probably have multiple climates. If your world is anything like Earth, it should be cold up north, then warm near the middle, and finally cold again in the far south. And insides of that you could have rain forests, pine forests, savannas, deserts, etc. Of course, you could be dealing with a planet that is farther away from the sun (like the fictional Hoth from Star Wars) or a planet that is closer and is extremely hot all the way around. So this tip might not apply to your story.
- Are there stars? Now this is not totally necessary, but sometimes it is cool to think out a couple of constellations for your story. Unless you are an astronomer, I wouldn’t suggest trying to figure out when each star appears or come up with thousands of constellations. But it could be a cool addition to your story to have four or five constellations or stars which appear (especially if they are tied into a myth or become a symbol for something.) If you have read the Lord of the Rings, you know how Eärendil’s story ties into the stars, and how that can add a lot of depth to a book.
- Convert your map to an electronic form either by scanning it or creating it using some type of software. I have found this helpful several reason. First, I can print out multiple copies of it, so I can draw various travel lines on each copy without compromising the original. The second reason I do this is so I can measure exactly how far my characters travel. I open up the map in a certain computer program (Gimp), and I can use a tool to measure various distances on the map in pixels. Then I can convert the measurement in pixels to miles or leagues or whatever distance I am using. This is super helpful when I need to know how long a trip will take.
Also since, I have always converted by maps to some electronic form, and it is cool to see how they have transformed over time!
I hope this was helpful, and I would love to hear about how you created your worlds! It is always fun to share ideas and learn about other people’s stories.
Also at the end of each of the world building posts, I will put a list of the seven topics which I will be covering. As I write and post about each topic, I will go back and fill in all the links on every page.
World Building Series:
- Map Making
- Types of Government
- Having a Cultural Focus
- Using a Base Culture
- Creating History, Legends, and Myths
- Thinking Through Technology
- Guest Post: Developing Fantasy Races