As a fantasy writer, one of my absolute favorite parts of the writing process is worldbuilding. I love creating new worlds, cities, and people groups from scratch. I probably either have a God complex or am fighting OCD tendencies, but whatever. It is what it is :). And I know I’m not alone. I’m sure many of you are also fascinated with this process, and still others are curious but daunted by the whole thing. It used to be kind of scary for me, too. This is the main reason we created One Stop For Writers’ Worldbuilding Surveys—to simplify the process and make it easier for both avid and newbie worldbuilders. To that end, I’d like to make the whole thing painless and show you how it works.
First: Where Do I Start?
When building a new setting, look at which parts you really need to create. It can be helpful to use the following hierarchy of possible aspects of the world:
A Solar System
Realms, Kingdoms, or Countries
Cities, Towns, and Villages
People (citizens of each area)
Groups, Factions, and Organizations
Sacred or Magical Objects
Obviously, all of these aren’t necessary to research for every story; the next step will be to zero in on which ones will play an important part. I typically end up planning the main city or town, the realm it’s a part of (because governing laws and structures will affect the city), the people who live there, and a super brief overview of the planet (since this determines certain considerations like climate and geography). If my character will be traveling, I’ll research each town she visits, along with the people who live there.
Had L. Frank Baum used this hierarchy when building his world, he might have come up with the following for the first book in his The Wizard of Oz series:
Cities, Towns, and Villages: Munchkin Country, Quadling Country, the Emerald City
People: Munchkins, Quadlings, Winkies, witches and wizards, the dainty china people
Creatures: winged monkeys
Sacred or Magical Objects: ruby slippers
In this case, none of the other aspects were necessary to research. You can do the same, narrowing down an entire world to only the parts you’ll need to plan.
What Questions Need to Be Answered?
Once you’ve got your short list of aspects, it’s a matter of picking where you want to start. Some like to begin with the largest and work downward, since certain elements of the larger regions will affect smaller areas. Others prefer to start with the aspect that excites them the most.
Once you’ve found a starting point that works best for you, you’ll want to create a survey for that aspect. To do this, log in and go to the Worldbuilding Tool at One Stop and add a new survey.
From the dropdown list of survey types, choose the one you’d like and create a name for it. A list of possible questions will pop up. And this is where the fun begins :).
From here, scroll up and down through the questions. Rarely will you need all of them. Just click the ones that are important for your setting, drag them into the Answers field, and fill in your answers. If you decide you don’t want a particular question, you can drag it back to the Questions field:
You can even add your own custom questions and answers!
And that’s literally how simple it is. When you’re done, save it in My Workspace. You can choose to save it to a particular project (related to a book, series, character, etc.) or keep it as a loose survey within your workspace. Adding more questions or changing existing answers can be done any time with a simple edit.
Then, repeat this with any other aspects of your new world that you’d like to explore. If you like hard copies, you can print your surveys—even compiling different ones into a single PDF document.
Building a world from scratch isn’t easy. It takes quite a bit of brainpower, imagination, and filling in the gaps. But with the right tool, the organization part is a non-issue and the process becomes much more intuitive. If you’d like to give this a try yourself, just sign up and start your free 2-Week Trial.
If any of you are currently using this Worldbuilding tool, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you!
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.