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#WritingCommunity , Have you tried Discovery-writing while World-building?

By 11/04/2020April 13th, 2020guest post, writing
Be it planning first or starting to write now, the best part of world-building is the absence of limitations.

Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my pleasure today to welcome a well-loved author and a long-time blog friend, David Powers King, who writes about world-building in fantasy novels.

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World-building, especially in the sci-fi and fantasy realm, is an oft-discussed topic—plenty of authors have given their thoughts on the matter. I’ll throw mine into the mix and share my experiment in world-building through discovery writing.

I don’t normally write discovery (making it up as I go along). I’m very much a planner (map it all out before I really get going). In my experience, world-building often calls for heaps of  planning through responses to a string of questions early on, such as:

  • What kind of world is my story set in?
  • What kind of story am I going to tell?
  • How long will it be? Who is my audience?
  • Will this be the first book in a series (if the answer is yes, the world-building just got a whole lot bigger and intricate!)?

Then there are the basic “elements” of the story, a foundation if you will, that the author would need to consider before creating their characters:

Geography Environment People/Society Magic/Technology
Mountains/Valleys Weather Culture/History Rules/Resources
Forests/Deserts Night/Day Government/Politics Limits/Exceptions
Plains/Tundra Seasons Economy/Trade Societal Impact
Oceans/Rivers Flora/Fauna Religion/Beliefs Systems
Jungles Farming Norms/Taboos Regulations
Arctic Hunting Race/Gender/Identity Common or Not?

Once these basic aspects are established, imagine how ALL of these factors influence each other. What about the manner in which people speak in your story? How will this influence the names of places and people (the way names sound are important, as they have the potential to shape one’s psychology, known as phenome-personality)? Would you go so far as to create a totally new language? Once the world is fleshed out, it may be a good idea to grab some paper and draw a rough map, to keep track of the journey and the incidents around characters. This can be given to an artist later for a cool map to go along with the book, unless you have the chops to do it yourself.

Another fascinating factor to consider while world-building is any contrasts that may exist, differences from one land or nation to another that adds dimension to the world. Rich vs poor, thriving vs famished, advanced vs primeval? The Hunger Games does a great job of this through its 12 districts.

I could go on (because we’re only limited by our imagination), but I want to point out the keystone that brings all of these factors together. How do these elements play into the story? Characters?

Everything from how often it rains to how often the dark lord eats his favorite dish matters. Think of the details. The five senses. Think of the Butterfly Effect.

You could fall into the trap of planning so much that no writing gets done, or you may be so enamored by this world that you want the reader to know everything about it, which can drag down the story’s pacing.

While world-building, details are only important when relevant in the current scene.Diving into the picks and shovels of a mining industry may not be relevant if our character is simply enjoying a meal at a tavern.

So what is important to reveal? Well, let’s head back inside that tavern for a second! This place is part of this world, but in this moment, that’s where the character is. Now that I’m here, I would love to know:

  • What does it look like (rustic, elegant, dilapidated)?
  • What does it smell like (drinks, smoke, food, odors)?
  • What does it feel like (warm, cold, cozy, uncomfortable)?
  • What does it sound like (music, laughter, deathly silent)?
  • And if you can throw tastes in, by all means, go for it!

These are the kinds of questions that will lead to details that make the world come alive in the reader’s mind, and really, readers are looking to be transported to another place anyway. So make it happen! Characters can also reveal their world to the reader through dialogue, or by shedding light on other aspects of the world when the environment bears them into attention. It’s important for the author to have a firm grasp of their world, but the story is burdened when the reader is being told everything. Focus on the immediate area first, and build on that.

I usually leave out a lot of information as I get going. The writing feels more authentic when these systems are in place, and they’re a bonus should I decide to include them the next time around, in another story.

My new book The Dragon’s Heart: A LaVondian Fairytale was my first fantasy/discovery novel, and with it, I wanted to see what I could invent without the conventional planning that I would usually employ. First, I drew inspiration from my immediate area—where I live. If you look up Utah Valley and check out some pictures of its geography, I based the whole land of LaVondia on it. Not too far away is Yellowstone national park, and after a family trip, I took what I saw there and added it in.

Since I would be writing about magical creatures, I drew upon their stereotypes and turned them on their heads. Oftentimes it helped keep the writing fresh and exciting. I wanted puzzles as well, but only created the riddles when the occasion called for them.

One risk of discovery-writing while world-building is the editing, backtracking, and rewriting—but for one who is more concerned about getting words on the page, at least initially, this method may be the keeper (The Dragon’s Heart used to be about 130K words, but I cut it down to 95K). For me at least, true magic happens in the editing phase. It allows me to fill the holes and provide additional details I hadn’t thought about (or remove burdensome, overused parts that didn’t advance the story), even if I had planned it out. It is helpful to keep a journal for this, because these new additions may need to find their way into the story later on, or in the next revision.

Be it planning first or starting to write now, the best part of world-building is the absence of limitations. Go where your imagination takes you!

World-building David Powers KingAbout the author:

David was born in beautiful downtown Burbank, California where his love for film inspired him to write. His works include the internationally published YA Fantasy Woven and The Undead Road: My Zombie Summer. An avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, David also has a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. He now lives in the mountain West with his wife and four children.

Blog/Twitter/ Amazon/ Goodreads

If you’re an author, do you agree or disagree with David? Do you have questions for him on world-building, or other aspects of writing fantasy? What are your thoughts on the world of a novel, while reading it? What sort of novels do you read, and are the worlds important in them?

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Are you part of nay online or offline book groups? Founded any? What is the experience like? Do you think online book groups are similar to those offline?My debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is making its way into the world.

It is available in India here.

Worldwide, here.

Reviews are appreciated–please get in touch if you’d like a review copy.


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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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16 Comments

  • Parul Thakur says:

    Love how informational this post is. Thanks for sharing!

  • That was informative and detailed post. 🙂 Thank you.

    P.S. I am also making a note of your book. Adding to my list. 🙂

  • Natasha says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of work. But so wonderfully put together. Thanks D and David.

  • Soumya Prasad says:

    I love the way the ideas and concepts are summarized here. Helps narrow down an idea pretty easily.

  • A fun and interesting post from David. I’m a planner too when it comes to world-building and writing and get my world documented before starting my story. It’s rather amazing the way that an intricate knowledge of the world impacts the story. I especially like world-building that influences the plot rather than simply serves as a backdrop. 🙂 Have a lovely Sunday.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti and David – makes me tired to think about it … but this is a great summary for anyone starting out – take care and all the best cheers Hilary

    • And all best to you, Hilary! True, just setting things up can take a lot out of you, I didn’t mention in the post, but it can take me a solid month to set things up enough (research and whathaveyou) to start writing, when I go the planning route. That investment helps me get through the drafting phase. 🙂

  • Very helpful and sensible advice!

  • Wow–so much planning! I have trouble enough “world-building” in my very realistic stories and novels. Impressive!

  • Stu says:

    Thanks, Damyanti, for this guest post. I feel I’ve been avoiding world building in many of the things I write. I invest more into character building and the atmosphere/surroundings/main place(s) of activity I know should be seen as a character unto itself. Address the setting through all of the senses is, I feel for me, the best way to deepen my world building.

  • What a great how-to. It makes a lot of sense.

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