World building 101

I wanted to talk about world building. It’s something that I absolutely love, and simultaneously hate. I love world building that is super detailed in other people’s books, but I kind of hate doing it myself- primarily because it’s so much information to keep in my brain at once. Plus, trying to come up with names for things is harder than you might think.

One that I struggle with the most, but absolutely love in other books is food. Writing about food is hard for me for many reasons but I adore books that do it well. JK Rowling does it well in the Harry Potter books- so well there are cook books with her foods in them, food sold at the theme parks, and recipes all over online on how to make them. George RR Martin also does this well in Game of Thrones, detailed enough that there are cook books about it. Both of these authors took fairly traditional food and tweaked it slightly, creating unforgettable food for their worlds. My all time favorite author who does this is Brian Jacques. He is the king of food descriptions. If you’ve never read the Redwall series, please do yourself that favor and drool over the food. I swear, in order to write food well, you have to be a chef. I can’t write it worth beans (I also kinda hate cooking, I’m not bad at it, just hate it), but it will add something unique and exciting to your world if you can be specific and have cultural differences within the food.

When we think of world building, we often think of building planets or earth-like continents. We think of the detailed maps and place names. We think of flora/fauna. And these are all very important. If you don’t specify how many suns/moons are in the sky and how bright they burn, then you can’t determine your days and nights or your seasons/temperatures. But world building goes so far beyond that.

World building is in the details. Really. You can write an entire book without world building, but adding in those details creates a rich story that people want to stay in. You have to consider what the dominant religions are, what god/gods they worship and what that looks like (daily prayers, sacrifices, attending ceremonies, etc). You have to consider other things like what building materials are available, what do their houses look like, how are their cities set up, what do the poor do/how to they live and what about the rich? World building is something you can do as you go along (impulsively add in details that sound right) but make sure to write them down and keep a world log of some kind, otherwise those details can get mushed and confused.

And finally, culture. This is possibly the most fun. It really ties into how you can make your world unique, stand out from the rest. Are the people nomadic, farmers, city dwellers? Do they celebrate certain holidays and what do those celebrations look like? What is considered rude in their culture? How do these different cultures work together or how do they bump heads? That conflict between cultures can really drive a story.

In my most recent book, Secrets & Swords I refrained from much world building. And I plan to do more in future. I want to write more within that world on different continents. The two countries I wrote about are very similar and mostly your basic medieval structure but I do mention two other countries that I’m excited to write more on in future: Downhaven and the Night Isles.

My upcoming book, Born of Air, has much more world building. I created the Valdir as a bit of a nomadic culture that draws from both Native American and Viking cultures. I wanted a very tribal people. I’m super excited to finish the last two books in this series, as each book allows me to expand and reveal different aspects of this world.

How do you world build? Do you use a world building questionnaire? Or do you just make it up as you go along? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Shoot me an email: authorr.a.lewis@gmail.com.

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