To Build A Story: World-Building

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but have never gotten around to it. So here it is!

For a long time, I never really considered world-building when I wrote. I focused on plot and characters, and the world was just kind of a backdrop. I think a lot of writers overlook world-building, or don’t give it enough attention in their writing. I wrote this post about the importance of world-building, and some things that great books do to bring their worlds to life. You should definitely go read it if you haven’t already, because I take a deeper look into what makes a good, realistic, deep world. Now I wanted to give you some of the resources I’ve found to be helpful as I develop the world for Nightfire. 

This is the first WIP that I’ve really spent time developing the world, and it’s shown me a whole new side to writing. I really love the process. Even if half of this never makes it into the actual book, it has helped me understand the characters and story so much more, and made it all feel real.

1. Name Generator

One thing I am terrible at is names–you may have noticed from the multiple posts asking for your help choosing names. There are many different generators, but this is a great one that I’ve used for Nightfire. I like to use generators when I need variety, or for non-English names. I don’t usually use the exact names they produce, but it’s a great starting point.

2. Character Generator

Now I know this isn’t exactly world-building, but this is another great resource, especially for those side characters that help flesh the world out (which I wrote about in the previous post mentioned above). Seventh Sanctum has a whole bunch of great generators, like this one for characters, or a couple others for settings and combat.

3. Map Generator

Similar to the name generator, this map generator is a great starting point. I never realized before how helpful it is to actually have a concrete mental image of how the world is laid out. It makes logistics so much easier, and the action feel more real. Instead of them journeying from point A to point B, they are travelling from Cinder Lake to the Anvil Mountains. I could never come up with all the landforms and names on my own, so the generator really helped me get started.

4. Map Making Software

This is a little bit more technical, but don’t let that scare you off. AutoREALM is very easy to use (It took me less than an hour to figure out the basics on my own) and is amazing. Seriously, amazing. Creating a real map to have as a reference has been so helpful, and even inspired different storylines and aspects in the book. Not to mention they turn out pretty awesome looking, for such a simple software. Here’s mine for Nightfire (which I did in three hours, including the learning curve):

realmap

Pretty awesome, right? Not bad for a couple hours and limited technical skills.

How do you world-build? Any resources of your own to share? What do you think of these–did they help at all? Let me know!

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24 thoughts on “To Build A Story: World-Building

  1. This is great! I am going to have to check out all of these generators when I get home from work. Right now I am just doing really bad sketches that only I understand, and I bet the name generator will help me tons, I always have a hard time with names.

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  2. I must admit, the only maps I’ve ever made were crude hand-drawn maps that only I was able to read. I must try the software you used. It will help immensely.

    I’ve also never used a character generator. I may even play with that a little in the future.

    The name generator I’ve used in the past is: http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/. It’s pretty simple and works for what I need it to do.

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    • Haha, I’ve always drawn stick-figure maps so I definitely understand that one 🙂 It’s been a lifesaver! Character generators are super helpful to me for making memorable and interesting side characters, which really help flesh things out. I’ll have to check that out! Thanks for sharing and reading 🙂

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  3. Ooooh! I’m especially interested by the Map Making Software, since my attempts in Paint are… well, like many of the visual-art things I do — seriously lacking. I’ll have to check that one out! 🙂

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  4. I am having a lot of fun swimming around in an extended world-building phase at the moment, but I have to admit the only software I use is a name generator, and as you said it’s just a starting point. I’ve been world-building and drawing maps since *cough* the ’80s, so it really is second nature to me. It helps that my brother is a graphic designer who creates role playing systems, and I can draw inspiration from his work (I proofread his latest RPG manual and got very inspired!). I have soooooo many maps and plans at the moment. I haven’t ever done so much before, but I needed a break from narrative writing and consequently have delved into my world like never before. I’m hoping that having the world set firmly in my head will help the writing process when I get to that stage, even though the story only uses a very small part of my planet.

    And now I’m going to stop babbling… heh.

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    • Haha! Swimming, I like it. It is fun though 🙂 That is super cool! I started mine as a break from writing too, and it’s really helped. Yes I think it does help a lot when you actually get to writing, to have a clear understanding in your mind even if it doesn’t make it onto the page. Haha! Thanks for reading 🙂

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  5. I’ve seen the map generator, but not the others you mentioned. I was at an authors talk recently and the speaker mentioned a pet peeve being fantasy maps that have the rivers running straight through, north to south, so geographically incorrect. So maybe looking at real geological maps would be a good start.

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  6. I tried the map thing once and in the end it just annoyed me, now I just gloss over the actual travel as much as I can and focus on the setting. I tend to do more world building on my blog than anywhere else by writing a weekly post on a particular location or characteristic of the world – getting a coherent post out of it usually requires a little more thought than a line in a story.

    For now I’m writing in the real world which is a whole other can of worms since people either aren’t familiar with the setting and need everything laid out or are and will complain when I get it wrong.

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    • Really? Interesting, I love the process. Though I can see how it could get tedious and frustrating. In fantasy I think it is crucial, since there is no real-world reference and the story really can’t take place on an empty stage. That’s a great idea though! And I can see how that is tricky, one of the reasons I am not good at writing contemporary. Thanks for reading, and good luck with your writing!

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  7. I used AutoRealm a few months back (actually, last year, I think) for a project that’s way off my radar right meow, but it was super simple to figure out so that was a great resource. I haven’t seen any of these others ones, but the point you make is tempting for each. I’m gonna look ’em up.

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  8. That name generator is awesome!! 😀 I would’ve killed for something like that back in the day when I wrote only fantasy. Makes me want to do another story with fake places/names just so I can build my own world again. hehehe

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