Worldbuilding is defined as “the process of creating a fictional world that can be as complex as designing an entirely new and unique location with exotic creatures, societies, religions, and governments.”
Most people think creating the story is the first step of a writer. Wrong. The first step is creating the world. Sure, the story is the idea, but you can’t have a story with the world it exists in. Whether that be another world like Middle Earth or a dystopian future, version of the United States, you need to create it first so you know the elements you’ll need in your story. We’re talking people and races, type of government, land masses, bodies of water, etc. Your cities will need names, what religion do they worship (if any), even the technology used (medieval, steampunk, cyber-tech, etc.) all need to be considered.
In the Forever Avalon series, I had to create the island of Avalon, from the various races, land masses, creatures, etc. It was a daunting task. I started with the capital, New Camelot, and worked out from there. A lot of my world building included a lot of research on myths and legends. From the Elven city of Alfheimer to the Dwarf mountain of Hursag, these are places within the our world mythology when it comes to Elves and Dwarfs. Since Avalon became a repository for all magic in the world (in my story), I wanted it to accurately portray the legends while adding my own touch.
When writing, you set your characters out on quests and journeys, and to do so, you need to know where they’re going and what lands or obstacles are in their way. Forests, mountain ranges, towns and cities all need to be identified with unique names and their own personality, for lack of a better word. In Avalon, the Fenris Mountains were named because the jagged peaks resembled the teeth of the legendary creature. Blackbriar Forest so named because, in the deep recesses of the woods, no light can pierce the canopy, leaving it a dark and dangerous place to travel. Merlin’s Pinnacle is a lone peak that stands separate from any mountain range, said to be the resting place of the eternal magician. These are just some of the places I created within the world of Forever Avalon, and even now, I’m adding or changing things as the story progresses.
One of the best tools in world building, for me, was Dungeons and Dragons. I played the RPG religiously as a young adult. As a writer, I found it to be a great tool in world building and character development. In fact, I took some of the characters and places I used as a Dungeon Master and player in D&D and used them in my novels. For example, in my latest novel, The Outlander War, there is a new character named Abdel Ben Faust, a half-demon mercenary. This character is based on a half-orc fighter I played in the game. I had to make some adjustments since Orcs don’t exist in my world, but the basis for the character came from D&D.
I also took inspiration from other fantasy novels, which I’m sure many authors do. In the Forever Avalon series, the home of my protagonist, Lord Bryan MoonDrake, is the floating dragon island of Emmyr. I took this from my love of Michael Moorcock and the Elric series, in which Melniboné (The Dragon Isle) and only surviving city is Imrryr, known as The Dreaming City. For many of us today, it’s the authors of these series that has inspired us to write our own stories. As they say, imitation is the most since form of flattery.
Another great tool for world building, especially when it comes to names, is Google. Searching through the different names in different cultures, whether its a Surname list or using Google translate to look up words in different languages for a town name, it becomes a helpful tool for writers. For example, when I named taverns and inns in Avalon, I always named them after an animal with an adjective to make it more colorful: The Grinning Toad, The Weathered Wren, The Green Griffon, The Crooked Goose. This kept my thought process in line as I was writing the stories.
Maps are also useful. I’m no mapmaker, but as I put things together in my novel, I made a makeshift map of the world I was creating. I just marked the major points so I could figure out directions and to ensure consistency as I wrote my novel. I didn’t want to say they went north one time, and the next time they were going to the same place but I said south instead. You need to be consistent in your planning.
So, you need to think long and hard about the world you’re creating. The landscape is as essential as character development.
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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.