So you’ve got an idea: cat-lover saves the world from gum-spitting bees. The bees spit half-chewed gum at the cats and people of the world, trapping them in a disgusting, sticky prison. Your protagonist decides to defeat the bees to save the cats.
Three hours later, you come up with a gorgeous outline, complicated characters and enough gum-spitting action to satisfy the Violet girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
If you’re like me, you immediately begin writing, only to hit a snag about…two paragraphs in. The name of this hideous snarl is What The Fuck Does This World Look Like.
It’s a very long name, I know, but what can I say? It’s only appropriate that this horrendous bit of storytelling has an equally annoying appellation.
You might have guessed by this point that I don’t like world building.
Since I stupidly started world building AFTER finishing my first draft (don’t look a me like that…the entire book takes place in two rooms, it wasn’t like I desperately needed to know about everything immediately!), all the little tricks I used to finish world building faster are still fresh in my mind. Especially since I’m still using them.
Ahem. Totally finished planning my shit.
Please bear in mind that this is a very short list of tips on refining your world, or organising yourself while creating your world. This is not a list of instructions on how to world build.
List of Cheating Strategies:
- Don’t be lazy. I realise this is supposed to be the lazy person’s way out, but I’m being serious. Don’t sacrifice the logic and integrity of your story because your poor little head hurts. You chose the write a fantasy or a sci fi. You are a writer. Fucking act like it. For instance, in my world, aliens have immigrated to Earth and have begun intermingling with humans; because some aliens had compatible -ahem- downstairs bits with humans, they made hybrid babies, which went on to create a whole new culture. I therefore had to figure out the culture of mama alien, guesstimate how that might mix with the culture of papa human, figure biology and habitat and then plan out the future of that species: live, mingle DNA with other species or die? Evolution is a bitch to deal with. So now it’s your turn. Do me proud.
- Make a fucking list. Don’t write down bits of ideas on this paper, or that paper, or on your arm. Get a notebook, label it “Fuck Everything”, and keep it in your bag so you can brainstorm species or geography in your spare time. Personally, I do it in my breaks between classes. Yep, for those ten minutes, I’m focused as hell on planning my shit out. If you don’t keep a nicely organised notebook, trust a fellow chaotic thinker, you will lose everything, followed my your mind as you realise you have to start all over. Also, it’s convenient to just flip through a dictionary of definitions and sucky sketches to find a description of a place or person. I even keep my character profiles in my notebook.
- Don’t plan everything at once. I guarantee you will get overwhelmed and stop writing. You will convince yourself that you’re not a real writer, or that you don’t have the time for this shit, or that you’re not organised enough to pull this off. The solution is to plan things as they come along. For example, if you’re in scene where your protagonist is interacting with a different species, now is the time to figure out stuff about this species: name, habitat, culture and biology are all you need (biology is so you know what if looks like and what will kill it). If your protagonist is walking through a forest, now is the time to figure out what the forest looks like, what sort of things are in there, where water/food can be found, how big it is, and what lies outside of the forest. Otherwise, you will get lost as you write it, and your descriptions will not be consistent, making editing harder.
- Draw things. I don’t care if you’re bad at drawing, you should still sketch
your creatures and locations. I cheated on a few of my characters; they look mostly human, so I googled until I found another human who kind of looked like them. For new species, this won’t work, so you should sketch. Sketching helps you visualise exactly what you’re trying to create, and works a hell of a lot better than the bare-bones description you were probably planning. It also brings to light the horrible decisions you were about to make. At one point, I wanted to create a bird with the legs of a giant human…sounds fine until you behold the horror of a Tweetie hybrid.
- Channel Mother Nature. If you’re basing your creatures on mythology, this doesn’t apply to you. To those of you that are creating your world’s inhabitants from scratch, you need to stop making everything humanoid. I know it’s hard to figure out how a blob of goop can interact with your very human-looking protagonist, but that’s what imagination is for. If the same force that created the amount of diversity we see now on Earth from a little blob of cellular blandness, created your world…yeah, you need to start thinking like evolution, known by her pen name Mother Nature. That means figuring out how the environment that you’ve created would shape natural selection. If your environment is a bog, for instance, you probably won’t have very heavy creatures living there- or if they do, what sort of mechanism have they developed to be able to move around in that dark, mucky place? I once lost a boot walking in the mud, and bogs are worse that mud, so…how do you creatures walk there? What do they eat? Bogs don’t grow a whole lot of vegetation. If you have creatures that fly (fairies, I’m looking at you), what sort of wings do they have? And how do those wings support the rest of their bodies? What muscles do they use to move those wings? Why would they have arms and wings? Birds, bats, and bugs don’t. Why do they need legs if they fly everywhere? If your creature has a heartbeat and a brain, you should probably be thinking about what all those neuron fibres enervate, and where all that oxygenated blood goes. Otherwise, why would they even need blood/oxygen/electricity?
*side note: If you have different species of things, they really shouldn’t be speaking the same language. Even within species, there are different languages! There are 40+ dialects in India alone, so how can one planet, or one area have only one?
“Hey,” Human whispers. “What’s that freaky-looking dude saying to Jabba the Hun?”
“Like I would know. You’d have about as much luck as I would deciphering those clicking sounds,” Alien says.
“But you come from the same planet.”
“So? He speaks Banathialun. I speak Carni. You’re lucky I took Human in college.”
“I speak English, not Human. What the fuck is Human?”
“You have more than one language?”
Alien and Human gape at each other for a long moment before awkwardly turning back to spy on Freaky and Jabba.
So, did I miss any tips on world building? I definitely did, so please let me know in the comments! Do you enjoy this heavy mental exercise, or do you regret everything while working on your list of things in this realm?