A Better Way to Worldbuild + A Free Worldbuilding Checklist
It’s Katie and I’m here to talk about writing again today. I’m going to be completely honest. I don’t always world build for my first draft. I just write and hope that what I imagine in my head is seeping down into my paper. Am I ever that lucky? No. I usually end up doing some world-building questionnaires about half way through my first draft because I realize the world I’m writing about is horribly boring and bland. Though I don’t mind the questionnaires, they can get boring fast, so I’m here today to pitch some new, more interactive ways to world-build.
Draw a Map
I love map making. Not only is the process super fun, it actually helps your writing. Now you don’t have to comb through fifty pages trying to figure out if your queen’s castle is north or south of the Lost Sea. I know that some writers, myself included, sometimes shy away from something that involves drawing because it is not our medium, but remember, this map is for your eyes only. It’s just to help you keep track of where everything is in your story. I like to start either by tracing a pre-existing map (I traced one of Ireland for my last project) or making a land-shaped blob that I will later fashion into a continent. From there, I fill in natural landmarks, so this includes mountains, lakes, forests, rivers, deserts, etc. After that, I add any man-made features and country borders. For reference, here are two maps I’ve drawn.
See? My maps are far from works of art but they get the job done. For the first map, I drew in One Note on my Lenovo Thinkpad, while for the second one, I drew in Paint (which they are sadly discontinuing). This is a fun way to flesh out the landscape of your world and it’s a great reference later on. I check my map all the time, like when I need to know the distance between two locations or if I need to remember what river runs through the mountains.
Sketch Clothing Designs
Just like every country in our world has different traditional clothing, every region in your world should have clothing diversity too based on the culture you’ve created and the climate (See? I told you your map would come in handy). Let’s look at my first map as an example. Somebody from the northern part of Ashland would not dress the same as someone from the Jephra Desert. I think that knowing how your characters dress is extremely useful to your story. How do their outfits constrict them? Do their clothes set them apart from other cultures? Do any pieces of clothing have special significance to their culture? I use traditional dress for one of my characters to show how she retains her culture in a different country. Once again, don’t worry about how bad your sketches look. If you’re having trouble getting the proportions right, Google something along the lines of ‘fashion sketch form’ and thousands of templates for you to draw on will pop up. If you’re stumped on what your characters would wear, research options from the real world that have similar climates to the places you have created. For example, if I wanted to research options for my characters in the Jephra Desert, then I might look up traditional clothing in the Middle East or the Sahara Desert to get an idea of what a character would wear during the winter there. If you truly do not want to draw, then there are plenty of doll makers across the internet. Almost like a game of dress up, you’re able to customize the virtual doll and dress them.
Cooking Regional Dishes
I love to cook and bake so this is really fun for me. I did this for my previous WIP and made fresh butter and oat cakes (but got stopped at boar stew when my mom claimed that we didn’t have any boar) and the experience allowed me to fully understand the experience of prepping and tasting the meal. Once again, this step might involve a bit of research. For example, let’s take Sahea from the map above. It’s surrounded by water on three sides so we can assume that there is a large fishing industry there and I’ve already decided that the climate is similar to the Mediterranean. From there, I could research crops grown in the Mediterranean, or focus in on a country, like Italy or Spain and research different flavorings and foods from each country. Another option is choosing existing recipes and reworking them to fit in your story. For Sahea, I might choose a dish like Cioppino, which is a fish stew, although not invented in Italy, but by Italian immigrants. You don’t even need to name the dish, but perhaps name the ingredients instead. For example:
Benjamin sifted through the tomato broth filled with crab, scallops, clams, and the Sahean delicacy of squid tentacles, which he had yet to learn to enjoy.
To me, food is a really important part of world-building that really sells the setting. It makes the world feel complete and three-dimensional because food is such a huge part of life. Not only do we need it to survive, we plan entire days around it, like Thanksgiving, and only eat certain dishes at certain times of the year. Culture isn’t complete without food, so make sure you’re not slacking when it comes to feeding your characters. Plus, if you ever get published and your book becomes extremely popular, you could one day compile the food you created into something a la the Harry Potter Cookbook.
Take a Walk
The best way to understand the world you’ve created is to experience it, right? Looking at my maps, I know I can’t experience anything south of Olsany on my first one, but I can explore much of my second map. I live in Northeastern Ohio, which means that I know a fair bit about deciduous forests. Go to the metro parks and get lost on a trail (but not physically, that would be bad). How would your characters see this world? Focus on what it’s like walking through the park. How does the wind sound? How do the trees move? Are there any animals? Understanding how your world works is crucial to writing it later on.
The Ultimate Worldbuilding Checklist
I put together this worldbuilding checklist to help you ensure that you’ve covered everything. Check each category off as you develop your world as a way to track your progress. Get it here: The Ultimate Worldbuilding Checklist.
I hope that this helps anyone struggling to create a living and breathing world. I know that it can get boring to just think and sit about your world, so switch it up and get your hands dirty. Worldbuilding is one of the most important parts of a story so make sure to create something whole and three-dimensional. For me, nothing takes me out of a story like a poorly designed world. Think about the most popular fantasy books. People like J.K. Rowling and J.RR. Tolkien had magnificent worlds that were so detailed that we’ll never see the entirety of them. I’m not saying you have to worldbuild so thoroughly that you create a new language but make sure that you have a solid basis to build your story off of, or else, your plot won’t be able to stand for long on its own.