We all know how hard world-building can be, and there are so many good methods that there isn’t really a right or wrong way to go about it.
So, how about you become your own mini tourist?
Sometimes, just making the world feels a little artificial without a living voice to direct it. This is kind of a mix of the two, and it’s the most rudimentary. I do this a lot, and its sometimes the most enthralling. Build the most basic foundation, start writing a story, and let your imagination take you where you want. The most likely to go wrong, and you’ll end up having to mop up your own mistakes even more than usual. However, in the worldbuilding process, this is all fine. You’re allowed to make mistakes, as long as you make notes for future reference.
However, the journey is perhaps the most enjoyable, and it’s the best way I feel early on to flesh out your story world. This is what I did with Uldur. Take this little short as an example. I usually use a single POV character to begin this, and use him as an eye (stand aside, Sauron!) into the world, and just branch out as you go.
Example 1: The Sorn Rebellion
“Selm,” Augon whispered. He was shaking, his normally well natured face twisted with rage. The grip he had on his spear tightened, his knuckles turning white. Ivan took a closer look at the one they named Cur Selm. He wasn’t a large man, with heavy lidded eyes and a pointed weedy chin. Why, Ivan thought. he looks peaceful, harmless, It was disconcerting to believe that this man was responsible for such horrendous crimes. The crowd of men and women who followed Carrow to this early victory, his soldiers to retake the keep, fell silent as the commander cleared his throat.
“Cur Selm.” Carrow spoke hoarsely, and even as the noise in the hall slowly rose again, the warriors and his bannermen braying for the blood of him, his whisper carried across the entire room. “You are prisoner here, and you stand in this hall of the Iris keep to answer for the price your own blood paid for your treachery. You sold the freedom of our free people to the scourge of the Pharos Order, the yoke of their families and conspired with the other traitors to let them into our lands and oppress us.” His temple pulsed as the coward lowered his gaze, unwilling to meet his eyes. Cur Selm refused to look at him. Ivan heard whispers of “craven,” and “bastard” emit from across the room.
“LOOK INTO MY EYES, DAMN YOU!” Carrow snarled. He slammed his fist against the cobblestoned wall behind him with a brutal crunch.
Selm lifted his eyes finally, sharp teardrops shifting in the blurred faces of the crowd surrounding him, getting used to his surroundings. The left side of his face was puffy and yellow with bruising, the callouses split open and blistered. He looks afraid, Ivan thought to himself. He had known little of this man during his occupation as Carrow’s ward, but his face showed the same he had seen in so many others in the years which had passed; discomfort and self doubt.
“Well? Do you have anything to say for your transgression?” Carrow’s teeth bared, grinding together as he always did when he was angered. “I am surprised. You served as ambassador to our king before you betrayed him and us to those incompetent cunts you chose to protect. You seem quiet now. Nothing to say?”
That amused Selm, Ivan saw. He smiled wanly up at Carrow, his teeth cracked. “Transgression, Lord Carrow?” Selm’s tone was courteous enough, but still had traces of arrogance. “I would call it honor. The families and your new high council saved the Kahal from Temujn and his path of terror.”
“Loyalty?” Granson, the Bear of Blood stood with a clatter, his great oak chair crashing backward onto the floor with a loud, echoing bang. He was a beast of a human being, even taller than Carrow and his voice drowned out even the baying din of the murderous crowd.
What can we learn?
Several things. A brewing rebellion is happening in the Kahal, and there is much anger in the Pharos Order’s occupation. Little things like this taught me a lot about the world. (which is a heavy influence on Counterbalance. A lot of characters are directly affected from this rebellion, bringing in a lot of disgruntled factions swearing revenge, which is why this part of the world is harsh and war-torn, with little mercy.)
In my upcoming series Counterbalance, this little scene is very poigant on many themes of the series. This is the beginning of a brutal civil war, (which is a heavy influence on Counterbalance. A lot of characters are directly affected from this rebellion, bringing in a lot of disgruntled factions swearing revenge, which is why this part of the world is harsh and war-torn, with little mercy.)
This piece will not be part of the Counterbalance trilogy, although it was originally planned to be. As it stands, I still have all the work I wrote on this side segment, including 15,000 words of the overall story as well as 10,000 written words on the lore of the civil war. I might turn it into a novella at some stage, or convert part of it into my planned triple anthology.
Here is another example, this time set in Uldur. Again, just a little snippet, and it’s pretty rough draft. I get the words down first, and leave editing and tidying better.
Example 2: Defense of Beruno: Ride of the Dragon Legion
Combrey Glarasaggon took a deep breath alongside his fellow dragonlords, ready for the signal. The poisoned chalice of doubt he had quaffed without thought, and now its potent grief had taken hold. If Beruno should fall, should the enemy defeat them here; all would be lost for them. But it was no time to dwell on such sentiments. He was one of the Dragon Legion, the elite corps of the Mer Empire. Not a single power in the world could match the Dragon Legion’s power. It’s hand stretched across half the known world. He would fight for his city, or he would die trying.
His fellow dragon riders stood alongside their steeds upon the cliff, overlooking the sun-baked plain. In the far distance, Combrey could just about make out a cloud of black upon the ground, inching ever closer. They were so small to him, less than ants. Holding an open fist over the stream, Combrey closed it, imaging he was one of the extinct Rade Giants, and the orc hordes marching upon his home were nothing more than rats scurrying around his feet. All he had to do was become the famed Piper, and lead the plague of rodents to their death. That memory made him smile. It lasted for only a moment, before the fate of dawned battle returned.
“You ready for this, Combrey?” Termaine asked him, as they stood side by side, as they always had. Combrey scowled at him.
“Don’t call me that, Termaine. I hate that name.” Scowling under his breath, he fumbled with the warhorn dangling by his side. It’s nearly time. The impatience was building. He never liked waiting. The dragon steeds amongst their human riders shared his sentiment, growling and snapping often. His own mount, Mimnir, was particularly restless that night. It hadn’t slept in days, and was refusing any food offered to it.
Combrey soothed Mimnir with a calm hand and soft words. He couldn’t blame them for their anger. I would be furious too, if I were made to fly in this hell. Part of him ached to flee; he had never asked for this, dragonrider or not! How could a middling man of no great talent stand alongside champions such as Termaine and the legendary Commandore, whose fighting skills were said to be greater even than the might of the Brazen Call of old, Lazil? But it was hopeless. He had no choice; he was part of the Dragon Legion, the hard core of the Empire. This was their duty.
The sky rumbled almost in dismay at their defence. Even the Octane laugh at our futile plans. Combrey wanted to kill something. The orks were smart to attack now. The Empire was overstretched, its armies battling futile skirmishes with each other as warring barons tore their lands apart, saw three rebellions in the past year rise against the capital. A large army had been dispatched by the vain Emperor Alens only a week earlier to see off the orc bands pillaging their lands. By the time news came of their massacre, it was too late. Beruno had lost it’s only defense, and all other armies were leagues away, too far to help. It was down to the Dragon Legion to defend their lands, and whatever desperate recruits they could cobble together. At the lip of the great mountain, sat on a tall ridge overlooking the killing zone stood the futile defense of less than a hundred Mer, set up in a defensive phalanx, with longbows and catapults behind. They are all going to die. But that was why they were there; to bide time for Beruno to evacuate, to pull back into the lush forests of the Limault. Emperor Alens had at least some sense.
The Beginnings of a new world: This was the first piece of work I did on my new continent. Already, there was a lot of questions I asked myself:
- What is Beruno?
- What is the Dragon Legion? Why do they even have dragons? What are they like?
- Who are Mer? (They are humans, a more powerful and advanced human race to be precise.)
- There are Orks in this world? Cool? Okay, what are they like? What makes them different from trope orcs?
- What are the legends and folklore? (Piper reference)
- Rade Giants? Why are they extinct?
- Combrey talks about men greater than himself. Who are they?
You’ll find just making blueprints will ask more and more questions, and it spirals into a larger web. From just 500-600 words, this little piece told me a huge amount about the status quo of the world and gave me so much to work with.
A final piece of advice. Just because you know everything about the world doesn’t necessarily mean your readers need to know it in your narrative. Going off maths, your readers only really need to know 5-10% at the maximum of what you know about your world. Much more, and they are treated to infodumps which are a slog-fest to get through. Fantasy has this biggest problem, so only tell the readers what they need to know. Save your info dumps for world codexes. It’s good to have the info, but your readers don’t need to know all of it.
I hope this helps! Next time, prepare for a review into a certain faithless world….