World building is important for all authors, but for fantasy authors it is paramount to a successful story. Before I started writing, when I had the genesis of the story I wanted to tell but not much else, I sat down and thought about where it would take place. Looking back now, it’s almost surreal to think that I originally planned for my protagonist to begin her journey on Earth and then ‘somehow’ end up in an alternative world.
I actually wrote my first few chapters like this, but it lead to all kinds of problems. So, I scrapped everything and started again. I took my protagonist away from Earth and put her somewhere completely different, right from the beginning. And it was better… SO much better.
But as it came to the point where I needed to move away from my initial location and start my protagonist’s journey through the world I’d created, I realised I didn’t know very much about its geography. I needed to have a picture in my head of where things were - distances, the weather, the climate, trees, animals, etc. So, I paused, and I did these five things:
1. Research. I watched a lot of David Attenborough. I devoured the Planet Earth and The Blue Planet boxsets and took copious notes about climates, seasons, animals, forests… it’s amazing how many magical things already exist on our own incredible planet.
2. More research. I knew I wanted elephants to play a large part in my story, so I watched lots of documentaries and YouTube videos. I also read Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult because elephants are a huge part of the story and, as always, she did lots of research. (If you haven’t read the book - do, it’s fantastic).
3. Drawing. I drew some really terrible sketches. Lots of them. I moved things around, thought about where the coast line needed to be, where the mountains needed to be, the different kinds of terrain my characters came from and would experience. Then, when I’d settled on a layout I liked, I scanned it into Scrivener so it wouldn’t get lost!
4. Calculated distances. There’s a fantastic chart, that I’ve tweeted before, which breaks down how long it takes to travel certain distances by foot, by flight, by horse, etc. This was incredibly handy when working out where places needed to be and how many nights / days / hours my characters would have to travel. (I added a column for elephant travel too!)
5. Note taking. After all of this, I made some notes about how climate and geography would influence my characters’ physical appearances, their clothes, and their customs.
Following these five steps created a world building framework that I referenced and added to as my story progressed. It proved absolutely invaluable - even the rubbish map! Because it allowed me to visualise where my characters were going and what they were experiencing. It also prevented consistency errors that would require a lot of fixing. Next week, I’m going to start editing my first draft and I know I will find lots of little kinks to iron out but, because my world’s foundations were set from the beginning, I know there won’t be any insurmountable errors.
Have you got any world-building tips? If so, I’d love to hear them! Just comment below or tweet me!