World-building is one of those novel-writing bits that I could spend weeks on because it’s both fun and challenging. If you’re newer to world-building, check out the blog post I did for Paranormal Romantics earlier this month. There you’ll find some more general world-building 101 tips and tricks.
For today’s post, we’re going to focus more on the invisible pieces of your fantasy world that play into the overall structure of the place where your characters live. Because whether your MC (main character) is aware of it, or not, there are so many tiny bits and pieces that make up the world they are living in.
What are some of the things that you like to consider after you’ve gotten down the more general stuff that your characters eat, speak, live in, etc? For me, I consider what sorts of things they consider luxuries (food/clothes/house-wise). Most of my characters are pretty middle-class in their worlds, so what does luxurious food look like to them? In my real world, it’s steak, but in theirs, it might be fruit. Those are the sorts of details I find the most telling about a character. Have you ever met a friend that thinks about money in a way that feels foreign to you? How did that change the way you look at that friend? How might that play into how you treat/consider your character’s overall arch (especially if the things they consider fancy are not the norm in your fictional world)?
How much does your character know about their government and how important is the government in their day-to-day lives? Government tends to be a more general world-building aspect, but what I focus on when I’m trying to really figure out my characters is what they know about it. What their government does vs. what they know about it is a lovely detail I could spend quite a long time on when I’m world-building because this will tell me a lot about whether my character is a trees or forest concept person. It might also tell me what kind of education they have, and how much interest they have in the bigger world around them.
Who actually lives in this world you’ve built? Are they all the same? I sure hope not because that would be boring. People add so much vibrance to a world when a writer populates it realistically. Sure, there are plenty of minor character interactions that happen over the course of a story, but I find that the stories I love to read and write the most are full of interesting people. What your MC notes about the people in their world will tell your reader so much more about them than their height/hair color can. What kind of friends does your protagonist have? Who owns the shops they visit? What happens when your MC runs into a rude person in a random interaction as they travel around their city? I hope you’ll take the time to write more than hair/eye/skin color as you populate your lovely world because there’s so much more to a person than that.
Trade. What do they trade? How do they trade it? Who are the bound, set, and determined to not trade with? If your world is full of farmers, cool beans, but who is buying that food? This is also my favorite trick to add on to a world that I’ve already built. If I’ve written a story in one place, but I want it to go to another place I think about trade routes. What new kind of people can I add based on trade routes and how can that complicate what I’ve already got planned for my MC?
What do they pray to? Yep, we’re talking religion, but don’t panic 🙂 I’m not looking to convert you or your protagonist. I’m much more interested in how religion has played a role in your world’s government, trade, wars, etc. Because that’s what religion does. It greatly affects how a world and a population think, so how has it affected yours? How have these beliefs played into your character’s day-to-day life? Do they have some interesting superstition based on a long-standing religious belief? What happens when they learn that? Does it change their mind or do they continue to go along with it?
What are your favorite big world-building concepts to consider when you’re writing a character’s life? Share in the comments below.