Where worldbuilding is concerned, I think too often people make the mistake of starting at the literal beginning. I know I have. You find those lengthy worldbuilding questionnaires and the first item on the list is the creation myth, and so naturally it’s the first place to start. There are always circumstances where starting here makes sense, but not all worldbuilding should begin at the same point. Starting at the beginning is not always the most interesting part of the process, and probably not why you started worldbuilding in the first place.
It’s taken me years to understand why and how to make worldbuilding easier for me. Starting at ‘the beginning‘ was too broad. So I went smaller and thought of the towns and the villages and individual lives but then they lacked cohesion. They didn’t fit together as nicely as I wanted them to. The top-down and bottom-up methods I found lacking. Filling out all the prompts and questionnaires was fun but unsatisfying. It felt more like I was pulling answers out of the ether, whether at random or purely for fun. I understood why people used them, but they weren’t working for me. Not yet. They were the next step of the process, but what was the first?
But enough about that. I’m sure some of you aren’t here to listen to me ramble about my worldbuilding thoughts and methodology. You want the good stuff! The freebies! You will wait no longer, my friend:
Go ahead and click that link to get the worksheet. No email required, and no sketchy landing page. Just a gift from me to you. If the pink is too offensive for your eyes, then go on and scroll to the bottom to find other versions, including a black & white one.
I’ll assume the rest of you are continuing to read because you are a huge worldbuilding geek like me, or you want me to explain the content on the worksheet a little more. Either way, read on!
My approach to worldbuilding, because I’m a writer, is a decidedly narrative-fueled one. And I’ll admit that it isn’t for everyone. For many, the straightforward methods work just fine, and if you find this one a little strange or daunting, then by all means, give the traditional methods a go.
But this is for those who aren’t satisfied with generating a list of random ideas and trying to fit them together to form a world. If you have the pieces for a bunch of different puzzles, you’re going to end up with a pretty ugly picture.
After many years of struggling, I knew I needed a new method that suited me. After all, what I love about SFF and worldbuilding is that sense of immersion and curiosity. So, what makes me want to know more and see more? What makes it so immersive and compelling?
I begin with the most essential question:
What theme or concept do I want to explore with this world?
Think of it like the DNA of your world – something that influences your worldbuilding without necessarily being obvious. That idea that made you want to create it in the first place.
For example, you might decide that you want to create a world where trees are the source of all magic. And this is a great starting point.
But then we take it a step further.
What about this makes me intrigued and invested? How do people view the trees? Do they worship them? Do they fear them? Do they exploit that resource? How does that influence their view of nature? Of magic? Of power?
What makes a world compelling and authentic are the connections. Choices have to have weight.
I take that original concept and go even further with two essential building blocks: causality and conflict.
I want to see how and why things became the way they are. If this world has trees that suffuse the world with magic, what caused that, and what resulted from it?
What sort of conflict arises from these sorts of effects? What happens to the people who are living in that world? Again, maybe it’s because I’m a writer and I’m trained to think of things on a personal level, but I think the most interesting thing about building a new world is the people who live in it, and the effects it has on their lives.
THIS is where I think your worldbuilding should take root. Rule of cool is fun, but shallow. It’ll draw me in but I stay because of why it matters.
And I think that using these two concepts you can create a really solid framework for the rest of your worldbuilding.
I’ve talked enough about this idea without giving you anything truly actionable. Fear not, worldbuilder. I have below an assortment of questions to get you started:
- What is the core concept you want to explore?
- What sort of world are you building? (historical, futuristic, secondary world, etc)
- What effect would your core concept have on the elements of your world? (society, history, geography, etc)
- What might have influenced or caused the core concept?
- How widely spread are the effects? Local? National? Global?
- How does this affect the people in your world?
- What sources of conflict might arise based on what you outlined?
- How would this conflict impact the lives of the people in your world? And how does your core concept influence that?
By understanding how and why things fit together I found it easier to construct a believable and compelling world. With this framework in mind I can tackle those master lists and questionnaires with more clarity about the world I am trying to build.
I’ve put together a worksheet using what I’ve discussed to help get you started or to simply try out my method and see if it works for you.
I want your feedback!
I realize this is a bit of an unusual process and is maybe too specific to me and my needs to be useful to anyone else, but I wanted to share it in case there were any who felt as I did. Worldbuilding is intimidating, and I wanted to create a more engaging, and hopefully less daunting way of approaching it.
That being said, I would love feedback to improve and expand what I’ve got here. If you have any questions on how to use the worksheet or if you want more of an explanation on anything I discussed above, definitely contact me or hit me up with a question down below!
If you do use it and find that it works for you then definitely let me know that too! Happy Worldbuilding!