From Hogwarts to Middle Earth, the most compelling speculative fiction worlds are not just believable, but make readers want to envelope themselves between the pages and inhabit that world.
The devil, as always, is in the details. When it comes to developing a world that comes to life in full color for my novels, I always find myself coming back to a single question:
For me, a new story almost always starts not with the world, but with the character. Everything else fills out as an extension of that initial voice.
The beginnings of the world, therefore, are filled out to help me understand who the character is and how they became that way. The why behind it all.
When I started writing my first novel, Mud, I started with little more than a mood and voice from the golem who became the story’s antihero.
Why is this character on the streets?
Why is he hiding from everyone in a shuttered building?
Why does his soul feel so desperate?
These are all questions I asked myself at the earliest stages of the story’s development, and the answers heavily influenced the shape of the world that I built around him from those small nuggets.
Incredibly, before I knew it, I had not only a voice but a complicated character rich in history and shrouded in mysteries driven by the nature of the world he inhabited and its terrible history of wars between the gods and rebel demigods determined to overthrow them.
Why does the why method work? It is a flexible approach that you can put to work from any starting point for any project. The open-ended approach prompts your creativity to reach for the answers and encourages deeper thinking automatically.
Most importantly, it inherently encourages logical cause-and-effect worldbuilding that builds an internal logic to your world as organically as a sapling grows from a seed.
So the next time you find yourself stuck in your worldbuilding, keep this simple word in your pocket and give it a try! I hope it stretches your creativity as much as it has mine.
E. J. Wenstrom believes in complicated heroes, horrifying monsters, purple hair dye and standing to the right on escalators so the left side can walk. Her award-winning fantasy series Chronicles of the Third Realm War (City Owl Press) includes Florida Writers Association’s 2016 Book of the Year MUD (#1), RAIN (#0), TIDES (#2), and more books to come.