Building the Far North: How I Build a Fictional World

When I started this series of blog posts on worldbuilding, I gave a fairly brief introduction of how I defined it, why it was important, and how I go about the process, and then I attempted to create a worksheet based around that.

Of course, up until that point no such worksheet existed. It was a method that existed only in my mind. And the worksheet was an attempt to distill that process into a few simple questions that would hopefully work the same for anyone who happened to use it.

But how did I know it actually worked?

Naturally, the next logical step would be to use it myself. How better to explain my process than with a page by page demonstration using the worksheet I created?

More than that I was interested in seeing if a worksheet could capture the process as it existed in my mind on paper, and where I could make any improvements.

I’m in the middle of revision prep for one of my novels, The Wolves of the Far North, and I wanted to flesh out the world from the beginning. Obviously I had some loose ideas going into the draft but I have been prone to worldbuilder disease before, and I wanted to avoid falling into that gaping abyss with this novel. So I gave myself a few loose threads I knew I wanted to work with so I could write with relative ease, and I would flesh out the world during revisions. So here I am, starting at the beginning of my process and I figured it would be a good chance to demonstrate how I like to do it.

Things to note about my process:

  1. The Initial Concept: I usually have some starting point I want to use or explore – an idea I want to play with, and that becomes the starting point. It can be super vague, or incredibly specific. The more specific it is, the easier it is to go deeper, but as I flesh things out the concept can get more specific too.
  2. Keep Asking Why: Once I have my initial concept, I like to think about why my world has become this way, and what effects it has going forward. I aim for the biggest influences and effects first and continue to flesh them out by asking questions
  3. Everything Changes: Because it involves so much brainstorming I rarely keep the first idea. The first thing that comes to mind is usually not the most original, and if I’m not satisfied, I might attempt a list of reasons. As I’m building the world, I alter things, sometimes slightly and sometimes drastically to better fit together and keep the world cohesive. There are always a bunch of moving parts – pieces of the puzzle. The trick is finding which pieces work and fitting them together to create the right picture.

I like to call this the ‘blueprint‘ or ‘framework‘ for the world I’m trying to create. It helps keep me focused and keeps away that worldbuilder disease I mentioned earlier. By creating a deeper understanding of the concept you want to explore, what caused it and what it influences it, even on a broad scale, can help you worldbuild later on. It takes less effort in a way, because there is already some internal consistency.

It’s a really obscure idea to try and convey, but hopefully I’m doing it justice. I know how it works in my own head well enough – you get just enough of a glimpse into that world that you feel confident you could figure out how the rest of it might look.

The point to the worksheet was to recreate the same for others and make this ‘blueprint’ of the world you were trying to create, connecting some of themes and ideas that went into it in a more cohesive way.

You might be wondering why I’d go through all the trouble of doing something like this, instead of sticking to a more traditional method. But I have some reasons for that, too:

  1. Wards off that worldbuilder disease for one. And for a detail addict like me, there are few things more valuable
  2. It is far less intimidating when you attempt proper worldbuilding. Feels less like shooting in the dark and more like you have solid ground to stand on.
  3. It’s much easier to make connections – You can understand the how and why much clearer when you have that ‘blueprint’ to refer to. Almost like it’s creating the edges of a map, and you just need to fill it in, you know?

Did It Work?

The ultimate question. Now that I’ve gone through my own worksheet myself, I can tell if it did what I wanted to. And the answer is a little bit yes, and a little bit no. It was heading in the right direction, but I think the prompts could use a little more refining to better simulate the experience I’m trying to generate. It helps that I already know what I’m trying to do and what I’m going for, but that might not be the case for a newbie whose trying it out for the first time. I’ve got some ideas for how to develop this worksheet a little better, so you can look forward to that!

If you want to take a look at the original worksheet, and possibly give it a go on your own, you can find it here:

Though I’m going to be updating it, I felt it only fair to leave the original up there so people could see the changes, and decide for themselves which worked better for them.

But now for the juicy part – How I actually built my world. Below you can have a look at the filled out worksheets I wrote using my tablet:

The next version is definitely going to need more room. I wanted to explore the larger influences a little more, so some of them got crammed in a little before I realized I could zoom in to get more words in. Still, if someone were to print it, they’d in all likelihood need a bit more room.

What’s My Concept?

I touched on this when I first introduced my wip, but the concept has always been to explore an ancient order sworn to protect the balance of nature in a harsh and brutally cold climate. I wanted to write about a caste of warriors, elite, well-trained, steeped in codes and traditions and with a deep, spiritual connection to nature that had them trying to defend nature from man and man from nature. At the same time, I wanted that nature to be cutting, brutal and unforgiving to the unprepared. It had to be cold, and life had to be hard, and the balance made even more important so that the people living there could eke out a living.

That was the overall concept I had with this world, and the one I intended to flesh out with the rest of the worksheet.

What Were the Key Influences?

For these options I had space for three, and the reason for that was very intentional – you couldn’t list everything, you had to list the biggest, and most important influences. The effects that rippled through everything else.

What effects would an order like this have on the world I’m trying to create?

  1. Intense Adherence to Tradition and Chronicling of History – learning and adapting with knowledge of those who came before is crucial. The longer people have survived in such a harsh climate, the more knowledge there is on HOW that was possible, and how to prepare for any disasters, natural or man-made.
  2. The Natural World – as I mentioned already, there is a natural, spiritual connection between the Order and the world they inhabit, and nature is quite literally something you can interact with in the form of spirits which can be pleased and displeased, and that affects what they do – it’s the reason for the Order existing in the first place – to appease the spirits or cut them down when their wrath befalls the people of the Far North.
  3. Family Dynamic – The importance and the necessity of the order have created strict rules about membership and there can be no more than one member from each family. The reason for this is simple – you must put your duty to the order before you’re duty to your family. Protecting the Far North as a whole is more important than any one family. The general attitude towards family is secondary to one’s place in the village. To reduce competition and strain on resources, families often have only one child. A second child is considered an omen.

What sort of world would force the creation of an order to protect the balance?

  1. Spiritual Magic – As I’ve already mentioned, nature takes on a very present and magical form. It has a will of its own, and can be interacted with in a very direct way. Just as it can be used to help people, it can also be abused. Maybe even abused to the point of catastrophe, thus an order was formed that would serve to balance the forces of nature with the forces of man. Hello, harmony.
  2. Stone Masonry and Engineering – Because of the brutal nature of the weather, they would need to have incredible skills in smithing, stone masonry and architecture, and create buildings that could last thousands of years, or could be routinely maintained so that they could exist for as long as they have.
  3. Past Catastrophe – Either because of the forces of nature or the forces of man, some catastrophe befell the people of the Far North in the past – something so traumatic its effects are still felt, and necessitated the creation of the Order even more.

A keen eye will notice there has been some switching. I did both of these sections at the same time, and it’s clear I was a little confused, by my own worksheet no less!

I’ll cut it off there for now, as much of the second sheet just takes the issues mentioned on the first and digs a little deeper. If you’re interested, you can click on the image itself to look at the full size. But that’s it! That’s where my process begins! I dilute the concept I’m interested in to it’s ‘purest’ form and use that as a starting point for trying to build the world around it!

I’m looking forward to digging even deeper and showing you my process every step of the way! Hopefully the Far North has captured your interest as well!

Got Something to Say?

How do you begin your worldbuilding? What are some of your favourite worlds and what was their core concept? What do you think of the Far North? I’m eager to chat about this stuff since worldbuilding is kind of my jam! Let me know in the comments below!

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