If there is something I used to fear as a writer, it was the blank page. But not just any blank page. Sure, I sometimes have trouble starting a draft or a quick outline. But what I was actually scared of was the document named “Worldbuilding”, with a black line flickering menacingly, as I felt my ideas demanding to be put on paper. For me, it was like walking into a completely white, matrix-like room that needs to be filled. But there was just so much space, so much emptiness, it was overwhelming.
I wished I could have just blinked and I would have found myself taking a panoramic view of an almost-tangible place. Maybe there would’ve been a mountain with a castle in ruins, or a space station overlooking a hostile planet. But eventually, I learned that worldbuilding is a slow process. And it demands a lot of effort from writers to fill that white room. We are creating a new world, after all.
Where to start? I often got told that the first things to consider are aspects like geography, history, politics, and culture (which I will talk about in future articles). But personally, the first thing I define is atmosphere and mood. This is the very first impression of your world, and it is something you will probably modify throughout the process. I enjoy creating Pinterest boards, and though I’ve never tried making playlists, I have heard that doing so is a good method too. You can think about how dark you want your ambiance to be, and who do you want to take inspiration from.
Another thing that could be useful is a brain dump. Take a piece of paper and a pen, and write down the first words that come to your mind when you think about your world. Do you have a specific scene or place already planned out? Write without punctuation or order for as long as you want. When you are done, take a step back and look at your paper. It might be messy, but it will provide a general idea that will guide you once you start with the technicalities.
Parting from your keywords and concepts, you will want to consider a brainstorming session. Branch out your base ideas and start giving them an order. Place them in different categories, such as magic, geography, transportation, daily life, among others. If you find yourself stuck at any moment, do what some of the best authors do: place a parenthesis and move on to the next category. You will then have a graph of your world, and it will show you which categories are clear, and which ones you don’t fully understand yet.
The white room will not feel so intimidating anymore.
By doing this, you are playing with the lighting of the room, the colors of the walls, the materials, textures, and perspectives. Slowly, the white space is starting to take form. Now, you will notice that two doors have appeared at the far end of your space. Above each one, there is either a golden plaque or a silver plaque. The first one has the word “Fantasy” engraved on it, and the other one reads “science fiction”. By now, you must have an idea of which door to open.
If you choose fantasy, the realm of realms with magic and epic quests waiting beyond it, look out for the blog post of January 18th.
If you prefer exploring the vast universe or the infinite threats and possibilities of technology, mark your calendar for January 25th.
Whichever you choose, I recommend you check out the following resources to understand worldbuilding better. To improve our craft, we can always learn from other writers with more experience. Thanks to the internet, all this knowledge is at your fingertips. (Heads up: many of the concepts from these resources will be featured in future articles.)