Continuing from Tuesdays post about world building, I decided to share some of my own tricks of the trade.
Firstly, I personally try to keep things similar to what we already have. Perhaps I will add a slight twist, but it won’t be so unusual that the reader won’t be able to picture it. For instance, in my story Red Dust, which takes place on a strange planet, they have animals I named Doubleheads. They look just like horses we have here, except they have two necks and two heads. Different, but easy enough to imagine, right?
Another tip, be cautious when making up names. You want your reader to be able to know how to pronounce them, especially if it’s a name that comes up often. If you’re set on your odd names, throw a pronunciation in there somewhere, whether it’s in a glossary in the back or your character explaining to someone else how to say their name. When it comes to locale, I will often make up town names, but I also tend to use people’s last names. In Embers to Ashes, the town my main characters come from/start their journey in named Corso, which is the married name of one of my closest friends. It’s easy to read and not overly common. The other caution about making up names is you better write it down somewhere or remember how to spell it. You don’t want to have to keep looking back to see how you chose to spell that weird name.
If my characters are taking a journey, I must sketch a map. Now I’m no topographer or a cartographer, so my maps are very very basic. They contain town names, squiggles for rivers and streams and upside down Vs for mountains. Simple, but an important aspect in world building. You need to know what the landscape is like. Are your characters going to get flooded in a valley? Do they need to dress warm because they’re going through a mountain pass? Will they be going through a dense forest where they can hide out? Knowing those things in advance can help your plot move along and again, it’s good to have those town names somewhere where you can see them.
Another great use for your map, other than the world building aspect, is to use it for a timeline. You can track your characters from town to town, jotting how long it takes for them to travel from place to place. If I don’t do this, I’m often going back to re-read and see how many days have passed. If you want to keep your map pristine, use those little sticky tabs that they sell to mark pages in text books. They come colored so you can use different colors for different characters and some have a space that allows you to write on them so you can make your notes there and keep track at a glance where specific characters are.
The last tip I’m going to share is really something that can be used in any type of writing, but I find it especially helpful if I’m world building. It simply involves making a spreadsheet in Excel. Mine are normally all about the characters. I’ll make columns for their name, age, hair color, eye color, basic physical traits. As I mention in a previous post, I’m more about a character’s personality than their physical features, so it’s helpful to me put down the basics so I can find it easily if I don’t remember. I also tend to research names if I’m doing world building, so I will add the origin and meaning of the name to my spread sheet. In my YA fantasy Power of the Stars, there are 10 characters. Each one has a different power related to their zodiac sign. I make sure their sign, their actual birthday and then the power they have are in the spread sheet. Also, since they are younger characters (10-16) I pair them up to travel, to train together, etc. That goes into the spread sheet as well. When you have that many characters to focus on, you better write stuff down or you’ll spend a lot of time back reading to find answers to silly little things that are important to keep constant.
I will also add to my spread sheet any items I make up. Food names and descriptions will have their own section. When it comes to food names, I often will just use a name in a different language. For example an apple like fruit is called a ringu which is the Japanese word for apple. I may also make a page for plant life and it’s uses. In Red Dust, specific flowers can be ground into powders that will eliminate pain, stop bleeding, help one to regain strength, etc. I am sure there are several other aspects of Excel that could help with your world building and writing in general, but I keep it simple. The more things I have to update, the more time that takes away from the actual plot writing.
These are the basic things I will use. There’s also research into weapons, fighting styles, castles and strongholds, etc. anything I think will come in handy for the story that I can manipulate to fit the world. I have no doubt that many of you have your own tips and tricks you use whether you’re building a fantasy elven world or a science fiction futuristic planet. Feel free to share them here! I hope that my few ideas and tips will help some of you in your world building processes.