Pre-writing Process – World Building

Hi everyone!

So the term pre-writing…I’m not sure if that’s a real term or not, I just made it up, but think of it like pre-production in a movie.  It is, in my opinion, essential to writing a good novel.

Image Source: http://www.makingstarwars.net
Image Source: http://www.makingstarwars.net

What do they do in pre-production?  They finalize the script, select their cast, work through and approve things like concept art, set design, costume design.  Then they build the sets and create the costumes, build the props, schedule shooting times and arrange everyone’s schedule.  Production or principle photography doesn’t begin until the majority of these items are taken care of.

Why do they do this?  So that when they start production, it isn’t chaos, everyone knows what they are doing and when and how.  This also means they spend less money.  A lot less.  Sure things will change along the way, script changes, wardrobe redesigns, set redresses to make a scene look or work better, etc, but the groundwork is laid, and any changes become easier to work with within the given framework.

Pre-writing is the same concept, but is more about world building and character creation.  It is important so that you ensure your novel, and any subsequent novels you might make, is consistent, rich, developed, and interesting.  Even if you don’t use everything you create in this stage, it’ll create the universe more clearly in your own imagination.  And while readers might not consciously be aware of your efforts when they read the end-product, it has a very real affect on the quality of the final product, and readers do notice that.

Plus you’ll be saving yourself a lot of headaches in the end :)

World Building

Image Source - Google Images
Image Source – Google Images

World building can include a lot of things, and can be done in many different ways, but there are some consistencies.  For starters, as you come up with ideas, write them down!  Whether you scribble it on the back of a napkin, jot it down in a notebook, or type it up on a computer, get it down as you think of it, or as soon as you can afterwords!

Immediately putting it onto a tangible medium allows you to get the idea down before it starts to become ‘fuzzy’ in your mind.  However, remember that this is still pre-writing.  So don’t treat it like it’s prose or a final product.  Ask yourself questions on paper, answer them if you can or leave them for later, jot down things inconsistently if you have to.  Let your imagination flow freely!

Here’s an example from the journal I’m using for developing my modern fantasy: “The barrier is created to prevent a malevolent force from coming to Earth.  Why does that force want to come to Earth?  For that matter, who or what is it?”

It isn’t developed, it isn’t complete, it was just a couple of lines from the very first inklings I had on the story.  Only more recently have I figured out who that ‘malevolent force’ is.

Research

Which brings me to another important suggestion: Research!!!

No matter what you are writing, research is essential to good world-building!  If you’re writing a ‘typical’ fantasy novel, you need to research proper medieval attire, names and designs of weapons, fighting styles, city/castle architecture, basically anything that you don’t already know about the period your story will emulate.

If you’re writing a science fiction, well that becomes even more important if you want your fiction technology to be believable.  If there’s cybernetics in your universe, make sure you know how that technology might actually work, because the moment a reader thinks something couldn’t possibly be real, their suspension of disbelief is broken and they lost interest.

If you’re writing a romance, where does the story take place?  Have you been to that location before?  Even if you have, do you know everything about that location?  Just like any other genre, if you write something that rips your readers out of the story and into a doubtful mood, like if you say Las Vegas has a marsh just outside the city limits, you’ve lost your readers’ interest.

Or for my new story, a modern fantasy that ties into history, I’ve researched ancient myths to figure out who the bad guy really is.  And once I had an idea for the malevolent force’s identity, it wasn’t set in stone.

My initial idea was a Mayan god, which led me to Quetzalcoatl.  I figured out how I could tweak the legends and myths of this god to fit my purposes, but further research led me to other areas, until I found a Babylonian god who’s mythology and the actual historical characters that worshiped him made him the perfect supernatural being to act as the over-powered villain in the story.

Image Source: www.kadingirra.com
Image Source: http://www.kadingirra.com

Figuring out how this god, his son, and the Babylonian king who had his temple built (or rather, rebuilt) not only gave me a back-story and helped define the goals and motivations of the villains, but it also gave me ideas for how other characters would be motivated or affected by the villains.  It helped me flesh out the world, and gave more meaning to everything that happens in the story.

Setting up ‘rules’ for how fictional facets work is also important.  Very important.  Look at Star Trek, one of my all-time favorite science fiction universes.  Yet it has a consistent flaw of inconsistency with how most of the technology works.

The same goes for fantasy.  Magic is not real (unless someone isn’t telling me something…) but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be rules governing how it works within your universe.  Believe me, changing the rules just to fit the story is not a good idea, no matter how often you see big-name franchises do it!  So figure out the basic rules up front.

One last bit of advice about all of this: remember that until it is in a published story, the rules and history you create are not set in stone!  So if while you’re developing your story, or even if you’re already writing it, or even if you have a completed manuscript that isn’t published yet, if you get an idea to change something to make your stories more interesting or entertaining, don’t be afraid to do it!

Just make sure you keep your universe consistent!

I know I teased you all with some clues about the villains in my new modern fantasy story.  More shall be revealed in due time, don’t worry.

Thanks for reading!  I hope this was of some help to aspiring writers, and was interesting to readers :)

-Jon

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10 thoughts on “Pre-writing Process – World Building”

  1. This was quite a fascinating read. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost interest because of inconsistencies. Speaking of, one thing forget it’s what their characters look like. You can’t change a characters eyes in-between novels. That really messes with the readers.

    1. Agreed, consistency is important!!! Unless of course they wear colored-contacts, but then if you do that you’re still being consistent by saying “her eyes were still blue, but the colored contacts turned them red” or some such…

  2. Uuuu, now you got me excited to read your story… I have a visual mind and when I read something I tend to immediately think of it as a movie… That happens also with songs, I can imagine music video and scenery and choreography – even the dance routine to a song I am listening… I love that my brain does that but I still haven’t figured out how to express that. Also, language – big problem. English is language of the internet, of the music I listen to… I don’t develop in Croatian and I get stuck in English because however I like to think of myself as a good English speaker, I don’t know many, many, many word and expressions. I am not a writer but I thought I share. :)
    Plus, I think I stumbled upon your blog maybe yesterday and saw just a photo of dragon and thought “Yay, dragon” Just fyi haha

    1. Hi Ivyon,

      I tend to have a visual mind too, which is something some of my friends like to give me a hard time about. They describe something weird, like a purple polka-dotted dinosaur, and laugh at the look that comes across my face as I imagine it.

      You seem to do really well with the English language, if I didn’t know you were Croatian, I wouldn’t have ever guessed! You express yourself very well!

      Dragons are my favorite!!! I only have a slight obsession with them… ;) Seriously, I have little dragon statues and figures all over my apartment, including a really cool painting of one hanging over the mantle :D

      1. Haha :D Yeah, dragons takes every movie/series/animated movie on another level (Avatar/GoT/How to train your dragon)
        I am not into figures, but a framed sketched and painted picture of a dragon would be very nice :)

    2. Huh, I didn’t realize I can only reply so many levels into a conversation before it stops letting me hit reply, so I’m replying to your older message, lol.

      I love How to Train Your Dragon!!! The second one was really good too, at least as good as the first one! But my all-time favorite dragon movie is Dragonheart :)

      1. Yes, it does that :D But you can reply unlimited amounts of time through notifications ;)

        I haven’t seen Dragonheart, but I will check it out… I haven’t still seen the second part of HTTYD also, but can’t wait :D

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