Ixthos

How you world build

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Most people who read the creator corner part of the forum do so either because they both enjoy and want to world build, or enjoy and want to read others writing :-P Here, I propose, anyone interested can outline their own approach to world building, in great detail or small, on any point they like. So, without further ado, here is a brief summary of how I like to world build. If anyone is interested, I can go into deeper detail.

 

Firstly, when I world build I tend to world build as part of a meta-structure, a connected setting which covers the major things I like in science fiction and fantasy - alien aliens, unique magic, time travel, other universes, extra dimensional beings, mysteries, and spiritual matters. This meta setting is the backdrop of when I world build and each setting I think on is a part of this, one that is linked to it, and thus to the others, but also stand alone. Events in the meta-setting define the background and some of what is present, but within the setting the setting itself defines the rest of its history, and likewise this adds new parts to the meta setting. The meta setting is a foundation, and each setting is a structure on that foundation.

I tend to enjoy mainly building from a cosmic scale, starting from a broad scope, and then narrowing down. This isn't a one way process, however, as some details lower down in the development can have ramifications higher up. For example, a space fearing civilisation might be designed from its origins being linked to an ancient war that ended with new races emerging into this conflict and uniting to stop it, and then working out the natures of each species in that group, then to the individual histories of those people as well as their collective history, then down to adventures of a single colony of that civilisation and its defenders, with the events there requiring a backstory which can work its way back into the cosmic scope of the war that started the unification of the races.

Another thing is I like to work in setting bases that are both similar to archetypal settings from stories I've enjoyed, and more importantly, much more importantly, naturally emerge from the meta setting. Galactic civilisations of explorers, epic fantasy, cosy Edwardian or Victorian murder mysteries, steampunk civilisations, cyberpunk capers, and most importantly, eldritch and alien aliens, are examples, and used as a base for a setting. Using that idea and seeing how it can naturally fit into and flow from one another, characters, events, races, and peoples flowing and touching one another without knowing is something I like, and it also can help give extra depth to the story. And even if one cyberpunk setting is designed, it doesn't mean there isn't room for more :-) each unique, each touching on different ideas or done differently, but still bound by the rules of the foundation.

Sometimes I start with the idea for a story - a seed idea of a certain plot - and sometimes the seed is, not a plot, but a setting to develop first, which could gain a plot as it matures which then guides the world building, or connect to another setting and so add elements to that other setting and the story for it.

 

What is your approach? :-)

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A lot of times I come up with a cool idea for a type of magic/power sand store it away until I come up with a good setting where I can use it. My settings are usually inspired by something I've seen/done and want to expand upon. 

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I have a couple of steps/methods.

First, I usually decide to set my stories in a setting based off a period history I'm currently interested in. Feudal Japan, Habsburg Spain, Mesopotamia, and so on. Taking inspiration from other cultures and nations offers a nice groundwork for a story and a society's little intricacies and quirks can add a nice flavour to the story.

I also like taking figures of speeches and making them literal. It's a basic technique but can result in some truly fascinating worlds and civilisations. Usually in addition to this, I like looking at the current world and seeing if there are any issues I'd like to touch on through the exaggerated fantasy worlds I create. Part of the reason I love fantasy is its capacity to interrogate the problems of our world through metaphor and magic.

Most importantly, however, I like to make sure my settings are specifically engineered to hurt my characters. Settings that stack the odds against the main character. 

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My stories usually start from a character idea which then triggers some scenes within my mind. The imagery in those scenes then dictates the main look of the setting (like whether it is a city, desert, or whatever). I might do a little bit of preliminary worldbuilding to set up conflicts with the character but I'm usually so keen to start writing that I just begin writing one of the cool scenes in my head. As I write the scenes I gradually fill in worldbuilding elements that are relevant and there is usually a point, triggered by the introduction of new characters and conflicts, where I start considering bigger picture worldbuilding elements (like galactic empires and whatnot) and then that in turn impacts the main story. I rarely sit down and actively world build in a document, but I do try to keep notes on the things I've established (though I quite often forget to do this when I'm focused on writing characters).

I don't think this is a super efficient way to do things, and I don't consider worldbuilding to be my strongest point as a writer. I'm usually trying to give my worldbuilding a 'tip of the iceberg' feel but there isn't usually any huge mass below the surface, it's just propped up by flimsy scaffolding. I once wrote an entire draft of a book without properly worldbuilding important elements like how the magic system worked and how the government of the setting was structured, so I then had to figure all that out and retroactively apply it onto the next draft. That was no fun at all.

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@Dr. Dapper Oh yes! Logging ideas is very useful, from scenes to species, a culture to climax, and finding which work together best :-) Do you also find that something innocuous, like the way two plates are stacked, can give an idea, such as magic which requires two discs to be in alignment and configured in a specific way to give powers to whomever places them in that arrangement? Or the behaviours of insects could give the idea of powers related to what they can do, like ants - the ability to make imprints on reality to let others with the same abilities master a power in an area another has performed it?

 

@Pagliacci Do you find that placing two different cultures near one another and letting them interact while maintaining the root of their natures gives you entirely new cultures and relations, a sort of gradient between the two, with practices and technologies mingling?

I agree with the insight fantasy and science fiction can give on the current cultures and possible progressions cultures can steer towards :-P

 

@Kureshi Ironclaw Tip of the iceberg works :-) its all about what you are trying to do, and what you like. So long as a story comes out the end - if you want a story - then what works for you works :-) I will say I find having an extensive list of notes is helpful, but I am also fond of highly ordered structures - I find they tend to give me a lot of freedom as ironic as that may seem. And don't worry about your first experience! It was helpful to you - it helped you learn what works! If I may offer a suggestion, maybe between chapters, after writing the scene that motivated you to write, why not make a list of the directions you think the story is going and what it then needs, the world building and magic rules, for example, or as your first example showed, the type of government called for? Or write in placeholders, noted as such in the first draft with a colour code to make it easier to find and replace if it wasn't as important for the direction the plot was heading?

 

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@Ixthos 

 

5 hours ago, Ixthos said:

@Pagliacci Do you find that placing two different cultures near one another and letting them interact while maintaining the root of their natures gives you entirely new cultures and relations, a sort of gradient between the two, with practices and technologies mingling?

 

I do believe this, yes, most of the time at least. It seems to be the inevitable consequence in both the real world and in fiction. That is of course assuming one culture doesn't completely annihilate another cough colonialism cough. When two or more cultures converge it can create something truly beautiful.

 

5 hours ago, Ixthos said:

I agree with the insight fantasy and science fiction can give on the current cultures and possible progressions cultures can steer towards :-P

 

With speculative fiction we can look beyond what the world is and give a glimpse at what it could be. ;)

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@Ixthos yeah I've been working with noting down all the worldbuilding after I've written each scene and it is definitely helping. The old system worked because I was writing most days of the week so I could keep everything in my head as I went. Now I'm too busy for that so the notes help me keep everything consistent in the voids of time between me actually writing.

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Posted (edited)

@Pagliacci Indeed! Fully agreed!

 

@Kureshi Ironclaw Good luck with your writing and the methods you use to do so! Out of curiosity, do you usually put everything into a handful of notes now that you are using notes, or do you make a few documents for each topic? I tend to favour the latter, though it also makes keeping things organised more interesting :-P while the latter can make the particulars of something harder to find :-P

Edited by Ixthos
removed a repeat of a word - findings - to make it flow better
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@Ixthos I've been using WikidPad to organise all my notes, so it is like separate documents linked with hyperlinks. That way I pretend I'm writing a wikipedia article when I'm filling stuff in so it still engages the creative part of my brain. It's pretty handy because I can see the document tree and search for key words if I need to find anything specific.

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16 hours ago, Kureshi Ironclaw said:

@Ixthos I've been using WikidPad to organise all my notes, so it is like separate documents linked with hyperlinks. That way I pretend I'm writing a wikipedia article when I'm filling stuff in so it still engages the creative part of my brain. It's pretty handy because I can see the document tree and search for key words if I need to find anything specific.

I've heard of that. Custom encyclopedia style notes can be both fun and useful, especially in a scholarly sense. Do you write your notes as though from an in-setting perspective, or more as a commentary to yourself, as in notes to yourself by yourself?

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Please note that when I say "I" in the following post, I mean my writing partner and I as we do everything in tandem.

When I world build I tend to work my way backwards (in most cases). I come up with a character idea, then decide which culture he came from and (in some cases) how that culture came to be in the world. There are some times that we have to rework some characters to match cultures, but the world we've created is so large that it's pretty easy to work new cultures into new areas of the world.

I will say this though, I'm not the best in the world at organizing thoughts and notes. My writing partner does all of that and he does it just in Microsoft Word or Excel and drops the files on Dropbox so both of us can view and review that cultures and civilizations we've come up with. 

I would also like to point out that this methodology can create serious issues and I don't recommend it for creating something from the outset, but once you have cultures and magic systems already in place, it's pretty easy to go back and add a new character to one of them and it can be a lot of fun trying to decide what their motivation is and how they came to be.

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@Ixthos how I voice the notes depends on what I'm writing about. I write a lot of setting history like it is in-universe documents and that gives the flexibility for me to turn around and say that whatever scholars wrote it were biased and it isn't completely true. For some of the parts where there is a disparity between the in-world document and what I deem to be canon, I leave a footnote to myself with a blander explanation about what went down. I find that having written the notes from in-world perspective I can quote them directly in the text and it is like the time I spent world-building also does some lifting for the prose; two birds with one stone and all that.

There have been a few instances where I've had to do the notes from my own perspective -- such as the aforementioned magic system -- because there are things in the setting that characters completely misunderstand. In these instances the things the characters, and the text by extension, present as truth might be completely at odds with what I have defined in the notes; but this is generally for the purpose of mystery for a later reveal.

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@Xardan Ta'Caran I meant to reply to this yesterday but forgot - sorry about that. That reminds me a bit of how David Eddings did his stories, with each of the companions being archetypal of their nation. It can definitely be useful, though I also like how Brandon has done his, with members of a given nation who are main or secondary characters also being considered atypical of their peoples' usual attitudes. Once you have worked out the basics of a culture based on a character do you use single existing or previous cultures to flesh out that base, or do you try to combine elements from a few cultures for each?

When it comes to notes, you have to use what works for you :-P if the method works then it's great! And you two together have a system that works, that's great! Much like in a story where each character plays to their strengths to cover the others weakness (life imitates art? ;-) )

 

@Kureshi Ironclaw Ahhh I like your approach :-) I'm actually codifying my notes right now, and using some of the earlier ideas as the ideas certain aliens and cultures have about how the meta-setting is constructed, with the older ideas being fairly similar to what the races believe and which isn't entirely incorrect. The misconceptions being told by a character to others does allow for interesting reveals when they discover the information isn't correct, or wonder at a seeming inconsistency, and so can serve as misdirection or red herrings :-) Side note but this actually reminds me a bit of something which I think was in Thud! by Terry Pratchett, where each side believed the other had ambushed them, but in actuality they had just bumped into each other. So misunderstandings like that you would list in the notes?

My own notes are written more as though from my perspective, with anything believed to be the case by the characters or species or cultures noted as such with the actual case listed before. Separate beliefs are listed in their own documents.

 

I'll add another thing about how I world build here as well, which I think has helped make the settings I work on more distinct.

When I write I find I have a tendency to use certain ideas often, such as the main enemy being extra-dimensional, or teleporter networks. So I made a list of the common elements when I design, and allocated them to different settings, making a list of which idea is used where, and how important it is in the story. While the settings all touch the foundation, each setting instead focuses on one or two or three of these, while other stories focus on other ones, and so each can be developed more distinctly.

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19 minutes ago, Ixthos said:

Once you have worked out the basics of a culture based on a character do you use single existing or previous cultures to flesh out that base, or do you try to combine elements from a few cultures for each?

Typically we try to work from "the beginning of time" forward. Meaning we take our most basic of cultures that existed at creation, then decide where the new culture would fit in physically and where in time, then we start developing the sub-culture and try to give motivation for how and why that sub-culture came to be. Sometimes we blend two cultures together to flesh it out and other times we just give a small group of one culture a good reason to branch off and become the culture we need to fit the story line. To be honest, it can be a blast to try to "reverse engineer" cultures like that.

We've actually ended up creating some major villains and some major heroes by reverse engineering cultures, then realize that we have the perfect opportunity to create a new character that fits into a story we already came up with, but was missing that "special something."

And honestly, I rely more on my memory than on notes. Luckily my writing partner is on the opposite end of the spectrum and checks his notes on everything, so between the two of us we're able to keep most things straight and, if not, we create the rules so we can keep the straight moving forward.

On a side note, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone on this topic! I'm finding this to be a blast to discuss the different methods of world building and I'm seeing things that I'm very much considering doing myself as far as noes and organization goes. So thanks everyone!

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@Xardan Ta'Caran I think I speak for everyone when I say you are welcome :-) its good for ideas to be sharpened on other ideas, and methods to be improved by learning from other methods. And yes, reverse engineering a culture can be fun! Working out what made a people embrace one thing, or how they developed a technology or custom, can help give a new appreciation for the cultures in the world we live in, as well as make the ones built for a story have more depth, especially when it serves to flow into the rest of the story in a natural way, something which makes sense for the people and so informs how they behave and how others behave to them.

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On 6/30/2019 at 5:54 PM, Kureshi Ironclaw said:

I've been using WikidPad to organise all my notes

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was looking for something like this XD XD XD

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42 minutes ago, Ripheus23 said:

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was looking for something like this XD XD XD

It's such a good tool for it.

 

On 7/3/2019 at 0:37 AM, Ixthos said:

Side note but this actually reminds me a bit of something which I think was in Thud! by Terry Pratchett, where each side believed the other had ambushed them, but in actuality they had just bumped into each other. So misunderstandings like that you would list in the notes?

Yeah I would note any misunderstandings like that specifically in the notes. Although sometimes I like to leave things ambiguous until I absolutely need to define them within the story. That's often a product of my laziness though.

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@Kureshi Ironclaw Laziness can be helpful :-P it also gives freedom to define it later and so add to it afterwards. A friend bought me a book for my birthday which is two books combined together along with a short story, about a young girl who was drafted by her now deceased grandfather to hunt ghosts who escape from the library where his (and now that she has joined, her) organisation keeps them. While the first half, the first book in the book, hinted that the grandfather had strained relations with her parents due to the lies he told and how frequently he just disappeared, it is the second book which actually shows the attitude her father had to him, and uses that as one of the driving forces in part of her breakdown, which is compounded by revealing that he wasn't as good at displaying a more understandable and normal face to her parents as either he or she thought. While some parts feel like the author went back and re-wrote how some scenes played out (making a few characters shown in the first book come across to me as more villainous or callous) the second novel is able to expand on areas the first didn't need to, but which in retrospect make a lot of sense to have been the case.

One thing I don't like though is just changing how things happened in previous books to make the story work later - it can work, and there have been good examples of it, though I prefer when I read I get new data, not get told what I had previously read didn't happen, but there are exceptions :-P ;-)

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Laziness can be helpful :-P it also gives freedom to define it later and so add to it afterwards.

This kind of laziness has, on many occasions, turned out for the better in my world too. We tend to plan things for the current time period and know that somewhere in the past we're going to have to create a reason for it to happen. Then, as we come up with another idea for a new character, they fit in perfectly for the "lazy" story we had kind of left on the back burner. @Ixthos @Kureshi Ironclaw

My opinion is that sometimes laziness has a wonderful home in writing. It doesn't always serve me well, but sometimes it ends up creating a level of perfection we couldn't have come up with unless we had waited.

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@Xardan Ta'Caran I am reminded of a phrase: "How lazy are you?" "Lazy enough!" :-P

You need to be lazy enough to find the simplest and fastest route to a good solution, and the solution that requires the least amount of work overall, both now and later, a solution that doesn't require massive overhauling later - by being a little less lazy now, one can be more lazy in the future, investing in the now so as to collect the investment later. The key is finding out where to be lazy, and when to be lazy. Leaving room where something can slot in latter, and slot in well, is a good type of laziness :-)

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My worldbuilding is very different from most.

Usually, there's carefully planned worldbuilding and a story idea that came together worldbuilding.

Mine starts at the least helpful point, is reverse engineered, then engineered, and further expanded upon through talking with my friends.

For example, in one story I started by watching an episode of Tiny Toons, saw that they knew about the "can't fall until you look down" rule, imagined this as a scene for a real person, but a hellish world underneath and a dark expansive pit.

Then I decided on a name, "A Touch of Madness".

From there, I made it so the magic system is based around madness, the more insane you are, the more power you get.

I decided to jump right into writing from there, and got like four chapters, and a prologue, in. During this, I decided the power came from God, who in this world gave it up to be among mortals, but it was tainted by a war and couldn't be regained unless one was totally insane.

I also decided the story alternated between the viewpoints of three guys. Primarily Abraham, a regular person who has to deal with it (main), Deus, the former God, and a man who is the most mentally unhinged person to ever exist. 

Through conversation, I had to figure out better how the magic works.

So it ended up being that lower levels of insanity it's instinctive power. At medium levels, it's related to your mental issue, but can be controlled. At high levels, it's just access to the power store, and will let you play with God's power. At extremely high levels this will let you physically move continents, create entire species, break the laws of physics worldwide.

So the worldbuilding in this story is based off of IRL, and then turns into IRL who had too many shots, and then goes into IRL as a massive drug addict.

My worldbuilding is beautiful and you can stop judging.

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52 minutes ago, Ax's Boyfriend said:

From there, I made it so the magic system is based around madness, the more insane you are, the more power you get.

+++!

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Posted (edited)

My worldbuilding is either incredibly precise and detailed or the equivalent of Psychostick's "We Ran Out Of CD Space."

In the first scenario, I plan obsessively. Make maps, playlists, magic systems, rules, countries, codes of law, themes, characters, snippets, and histories.

In the second, I stay up for five or so days and then chug three gallons of Mountain Dew I've put a ton of yarrow into to soak to alter my perception doubly - sleep deprivation and the yarrow's natural effect in concentration. (I don't recommend this to anyone, it ends with you feeling like your head got jackhammered for five straight days and peeled off the jackhammer and tossed in front of a train then run over by a steamroller before being tossed into a pool filled with salt and lemon juice and dunked repeatedly.)

Edited by Invocation
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@Invocation You know, I don't think altered states of consciousness are actually that healthy for writing, whatever some famous artists might say ... :-P

Though I am reminded of an expression - "write drunk, edit sober". And that's an important rule. I mean ... not the write drunk part, the writing with abandon, putting things down, and fixing them later. When designing throw things down, and once you are done making things in a haphazard order, pick them up and put them in order, deciding what to keep and how to use it and where to put it afterwards - that is the hard part, organising when you don't feel inspired, but you must power on through.

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On 7/9/2019 at 7:44 PM, Ripheus23 said:

+++!

---?

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