In a very occasional blog series, I reach out to bloggers and yell "Help!" In this case, I had a speculative fiction idea, but the whole world-building element scared me.
"Gwen Tolios," I said, "how do you world-build?"
And she said...
My World Building Secret - Pretending I'm Five by Gwen Tolios
When Annalisa asked me to do a guest post on world-building, I was so excited. Because world-building is my favorite part of the writing process. I like naming things, drawing maps, figuring out how things work. To me, it's no different then going to a new city and hitting the streets to explore. Instead, I'm just hitting the keyboard and peering into stories.
So how do I world-build?
I ask my favorite question - why? - ten million times.
For example, in my current WIP I am running with the idea of humans being modified for space colonization instead of the planet. But this just can't happen, oh no, there has to be a reason. So why did it happen? Is it cheaper? Faster? A science experiment? Or maybe something a little more dramatic, such as the disastrous Moon Failure that highlighted just how risky living in artificial environments were.
The thing is, the world your story takes place in might be fictional, but it still has to function as a real one. It's real to your characters and it has to be real to your readers. And here in the real world, there is always a reason. Why aren't airships a thing anymore? It has to do with the dramatic intersection of incidents like the Hindenburg and the improvement of airplane technology. Why did Westeros build a giant ice wall? To protect it from the White Walkers.
It's often not just one thing, one reason. If I've learned anything in life it's how interconnected things are. America has a problem with obesity and it's because there are lots of fast food chains. But fast food is also cheap food and it can be the only way for low income families to get a full meal. Eating right and healthy is expensive and out of reach. So obesity is a poverty issue. Or maybe a cultural one, because America is a car culture that's also addicted to TV and the Internet. Or a social one, as social movements preach body positivity and more and more people are okay with being overweight.
Things can get messy, but that's life, and often times in your fiction that same thing has to happen.
Take the Hunger Games. Why do those Games even exist? It's a way for the government to install fear and control over the Districts. It is symbol of how a previous uprising had tried pull down the Capital, but didn't. It is a show of power. It is a distraction and entertainment for those in the Capital. It's a way to pit districts against each other. It gives the average citizen a rare chance at getting a better life.
Why is a minority treated harshly? Their country attacked this one 50 years ago, but lost, and it's the remnants of the army that live in the slums and fill the bars. Why must wizards use wands? They need its a buffer, because channeling magic through the body can be deadly. Why is do people never address gods by name? It draws their attention, which you might not want. Pick a part of your world, or even your plot, and ask why?
Dig deeper and deeper, asking questions, and before you know it you'll have a world with a history and a reason for why things are they way they are.
Thank you so much, Gwen. I love asking myself What If...? but now I know I need to ask Why? as well.