I am currently writing a graphic novel, god knows whether anything is going to happen with it, and this week I realised I had to get some world building done. My story is an odyssey, of sorts, and one of the most important parts of an odyssey is the adventure. Grabbing the reader by the wrist and dragging them into a fantastic world filled with creatures and concepts they have never even considered before. Bringing them into your world. The problem with my story is that I had everything worked out except the world, I had mostly waved it off as something I would design as I wrote. Not the greatest idea (although I do know several creators that it does work for). So that left me with the question…how do you build a world?
Pretty much everywhere that I looked for advice said to start with a map. Maps are perfect doorways into other worlds, whether it’s 16th century Japan or the Land of Ooo. There are two ways to approach mapping; you can design your own map or you can take an already existing map and scribble all over it. If you are creating your own map the key is a feeling of consistency and realism to your world, i.e if your mapping out a desert then look at the sort of formations that often occur within a desert. If you are mapping out a fantasy world then you need to consider how you can make the terrain different to anything your reader has seen before (so basically do not copy Middle Earth).
Picture Source: http://www.middle-earth-maps.me.uk/graphics/5600×4200-750.jpg [Accessed 12/07/2015]
As for using a pre-existing map, this works best for a story where the world has been warped or is being seen from a new perspective. I used this technique in my case because the graphic novel is set in a kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland. It could also be used for a boys own adventure story like the goonies or any Asimov-esqu realistic cyber-punk narrative. I recommend taking the time to study the map, look at it like a survivalist, where would you set up camp? where are the water supplies? where is danger most likely to come from? mark all these points on the map as they will be crucial to helping the world come alive. If you already have a narrative idea, start to plot out the routes your characters are going to take and points where key events will occur. The map is yours so go into as much detail as you feel is necessary, no one is going to come along and tell you are wrong.
A map could look as simple as this:
Picture Source: http://i415.photobucket.com/albums/pp238/freshtechtips/annonated-map.jpg [Accessed 12/07/2015]
Or as complex as this:
Both of these example were used for other purposes but they could turn into a world building map with ease.
There is another important point to consider when world building. The point to stop at. It’s easy to get carried away building your world and filling it with a million different types of flora and fauna but there will come a point at which world building will turn into procrastination. It’s also very possible to world build to the point that you lose all interest in your story as you feel like you have created everything. It’s important to leave blank spots for you and your characters to discover (even if you have some ideas about what may be lurking there). Marvel Secret Wars Battleworld inserted some ‘classified’ areas in attempt to create creative breathing space.
The easiest way to handle this is to give yourself a list of things to work out that are key to your story and to create a map that only has such things, then make a copy of the geographic outline and write down any ideas you have that give the world flavour. If you want a death bunny cult operating out of the eastern port of Anas Bugar but it has no bearing on your narrative then put it on the second map (you never know when one of your characters might decide to head to Anas Bugar). This gives you a lot to draw upon but also one map of concrete details and another map with optional ones. Creative breathing room achieved. Also if you think Anas Bugar sounds like anything dirty that is your mind not my writing.
Hopefully that’s helped some of you world builders our there, please check back on Wednesday when I will be looking at the great Marvel/DC conflict and how it may not actually even exist!