writing tips

World Building 101: Starting with a Premise


Welcome to my new series, WORLD BUILDING 101, with me, C. M. Rosens, and Guillaume Velde. Velde and I are building a world together and thought we would open up about the process since we do this kind of thing for fun.

Premises: Building From a Seed

Sometimes stories come in characters, in scraps of dialogue or wisps of plot. The setting builds from there, organic in its growth, or with diligent research and brainstorming. Sometimes both.

My latest world is just in my head at the moment, but Velde and I have been discussing it. It started with a scene in my head, which comprised of a few lines, a vague character concept, and an aesthetic. I left it alone to take shape while I did other things, and sure enough I started having Ideas.

Based on the aesthetic in my head I knew I wanted it to be dystopian sci-fi, which I’ve never written seriously. It was originally conceived as a new world, but making it a version of our world worked too. I once had an idea about a post-apocalyptic Britain where mutations roamed free (and were werewolves called Margams, because they all lived in Margam Park). That idea never came to anything, nor did my floating eco-city setting idea, but I did manage to slot the world of the Dead Cities into my stories, The Book of Death and The Reckoning, where a dimension-hopping character visits this world.

I mention all these ideas because they are all elements of what became Cadair Bran, the world we’re using for these posts. A fully fleshed out world does not need to be brand new. If you have stuff from unfinished drafts, random brainstorms, writing prompts etc, all sloshing about, chances are the right premise could come along and unite these ideas with a bit of adaptation.

What is your vague seed of an idea? Is it a character, a few lines, an aesthetic, a setting, a scene or partial scene?

Growing the Seed

In my case, my first questions were:

1. How did the world get to be in the state I am imagining?

2. What cultural influences are going on in this world? How do they relate to (1)?

3. How are the characters either embedded in, products of, or rebelling against their society? Are they doing all three in different ways? Why?

I knew it was a dystopia. That presents me with tropes, conventions and reader expectations, as with any genre. I knew it was also post-apocalyptic, but kind of post-post-apocalyptic, not in the immediate aftermath but a few generations later. Things were established, not being established. I wanted a future where people had re-populated ancient sites, rebuilt castles, but still used trains and airships (not aeroplanes) and had some tech.

Brainstorm what the world you picture is like, so you can start to reverse engineer its history and have a supporting framework for the culture/s within it.

If you’re brand new to world building or you just fancy reading what other writers have said on the topic, you could check out my Pinterest board, World Building Tips, which has collated content from around the web!

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