At the beginning of March, I had a major chunk of time on my hands because I was busy sitting in quarantine after travelling to a new country where I’ll be residing for a little while. For seven days, I was sat in a hotel room with a television, my laptop, my phone, and my suitcases. It could drive some mad, particularly those of a more social nature. I’m an introvert; as long as I have internet access and a notepad and pen, I can get by pretty easily. In fact, seven days locked in a room with nothing but my own company is something I would actually consider a blessing. There’s no distractions, there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do except for finding activities to move time along, and for a writer, is there anything better?
It’s been a little while since I’ve mentioned Project #2. Last I told you, I was working on the next draft. In actuality, I finished that draft only a short while after starting it, but I didn’t want to immediately say anything because not much had changed. I was able to edit certain sections and update it into more of what I’m currently capable of because it had been a little while since I’d gone back through some chapters and they needed refining. Give it some more time, and I’m sure those sections I edited will need even more refinement.
But I didn’t write a post because I was planning to go straight in for another draft. I’ve mentioned a few times how I like to draft; when I’m going through a manuscript, I’ll make minor changes in grammar, sentence structure, all elements that are very micro. If I notice something in the macro that needs a change, whether that’s chapter structure or something in the world needing editing or that I need to do some major research, I make a note of it, finish the draft, and then make those changes in the next draft with those elements as my focus.
As I was going through my most recent draft, I realised the changes I had made were small, so there wasn’t much to tell you of. However, there were macro elements I knew needed changing. I want this novel to be succinct. I love moments of quiet where we get some stellar character-building, but I also want the plot to move forward at the same time. As I was going through the draft, I realised there were moments of plot that could be made more concise by cutting out certain sections and joining the loose ends together in different ways. In all honesty, they weren’t major changes, but they would require some reorganising, which takes time, and this was why I thought, hey, let’s not make a post right away but wait until I’ve made those bigger changes. These posts have to have something of note in them, after all.
Another aspect I knew needed working on was the world. I have mentioned in previous posts about Project #2 that, because it is a high-fantasy novel, there is a lot that needs to go into it to make it realistic and grounded. Every time I go through a draft, I realise something else needs fleshing out, whether that is the magic, the cultures, the countries that make up this world, usually I will find something I think could be strengthened.
When I was working on strengthening this world, I found something very interesting, and I’ll link to it here. It’s actually meant for D&D and building worlds and countries for campaigns so that, as a Dungeon Master or Game Master, you can have your players immersed in a convincing world that you know through and through. I don’t think I need to state how similar creating a D&D campaign is to creating a world from scratch, they’re both evidently places of creativity where you build stories and characters. In fact, I’ve seen it argued that writing a fantasy novel is akin to a solo D&D campaign where you play as both Dungeon Master and Player, which I actually think is incredibly accurate.
In this link, you’ll find over 700 questions regarding how your countries and people deal with crime, how they dress, how they trade, what are the customs for eating at dinner, how people use transport as well as so many other questions that bring your worlds to life.
Over 700 questions is a lot, I’ll be the first to tell you that and certainly not the last. When I first saw this list, I was overwhelmed, and I think it’s fair to say a lot of people would be as well. That amount of detail required will be an enormous test of your creativity, particularly if you’re answering them like me, which means going through these questions multiple times for each country in this world I have created. It is a mammoth task, but when you want to create something, it’s up to you how much energy you want to put into it, and I want to put everything I have into this world.
Granted, not every single question will be relevant to you, but if you want to build a realistic setting, I can guarantee you’ll find hundreds of questions in this list that will help you ground whatever world you are creating. The creator of the list has mentioned that they haven’t updated their site in some years, but I don’t think that matters because they have blessed us with something incredible.
It is an enormous undertaking, and when I compiled the list and starting working on it, going through every single country in this world I have built to answer these questions, I never thought I would see the end of it. In fact, let me be honest, I haven’t finished. At the moment in time that I’m posting this, I’ve only actually completed it three times when I have almost two dozen countries to get through. Given my time is quite occupied with other things now, answering these questions is more something I chip away at every now and again when I have ten minutes. Ten minutes, in some circumstances, might only allow you to answer one question, by the way, just to warn you. But each question answered is another piece of this enormous puzzle I have decided to build myself, with the help of this beautiful list of questions, of course.
Now, any of you who have read previous posts might think this is a little contradictory because I have also stated that I’m a writer who likes to make decisions on the fly. I have a vague plan of how things are going to go and when I’m going through it, I like to make decisions that can sometimes change the plan itself. I write best like that.
But in terms of building a world from scratch, it’s different. There are certainly elements to the story that I have created when I’m in it, but the world itself needs to be grounded enough for me to make some of those decisions. For some stories, you might not need this level of world-building, but I know, for this one, I do. And having this world built will also make it easier to make decisions that change the story because I will know how those changes work in regards to the parameters of this world I’ve built. If the world is strong and I know it, then I can make changes to the characters and story in a way I couldn’t if the world wasn’t strong.
I want this world to be as grounded as I can possibly make it. I don’t want to speak too soon, I don’t want to toot my own horn well before it is due, but I honestly believe this project could be something very special. I’m in love with all of my stories and I’m eager to share everything I work on with readers, but from the sheer amount of effort and years I have put into this specific project already as well as the years I can see myself putting into it in the future because I know this is not something I’m going to see physically in my hands for some time yet, I think I’m building something super exciting, creating a world I think could be great. Because of that, these pieces I’m putting together now will take time, hours and hours that will lead into accumulatively days if not weeks if not even months. I haven’t gone back into the next draft for this project because I’m building this world up and I do not doubt, the next time I go through it, there might be even more that needs strengthening. But I know, with every piece that I strengthen, I’m making this world and this story better, and because I want it to be special, I really enjoy putting this time in.
For some people, world-building is so rewarding, and I’m one of those people. For others, I know it’s a slog, they’d rather just start writing, who cares about the world, it’s the story that matters? Every writer is obviously different, and one of the hardest parts about researching and world-building is the fact that you might spend hours on things that you’ll never mention. If I’m answering 700 questions about the economy and the legal system and dinner etiquette of all these different countries, it’s unlikely all those pieces of the world are going to show up on the page. That is, unfortunately for some, the nature of writing, particularly when you’re writing about a world you’ve built from scratch. You aren’t likely going to hear how Jim from the planet Janier eats his dinner on Wednesdays when the Light Festival is in town unless Jim is our protagonist and it is a Wednesday and the Light Festival is in town. Equally, you probably aren’t going to hear about the intricate details of undergarments of the Elven Folk of the Dark Woods if your protagonist is a wizard who never goes to the Dark Woods. Furthermore, you probably won’t hear about the somewhat dull politics of a prison system for those who fail to grasp the complicated and intricate monetary system of a town called Drewnin if your protagonist is only passing through for one night and spends it an inn getting details to further their quest. You can spend hours and hours on little details that will never show up for a reader to see, and I can understand why that can be disheartening.
But I think if you, as the writer, know those details, even if you never come close to mentioning them, it makes your world stronger because you know it. If you know about meals on a Wednesday at the Light Festival, and you know how undergarments work in the Dark Woods, and you know about the complex monetary system that gets most imprisoned in Drewnin, that means you know the world and it’s finer details, and you’re stronger for it. I believe wholeheartedly that a reader will be able to tell if you are confident about your world even if you don’t mention every little thing you’ve had to craft. It will totally come through in your writing, and that’s why putting in these hours of answering questions some might see as redundant can be so worthwhile.
This, obviously, will be a little less meaningful for authors writing about the real world. For Project #1 and Project #3, there isn’t any world-building necessary because they’re both set on Earth in a somewhat contemporary period. But even if that is the case for you, I still think there’s something worthwhile about this whole concept of world-building. You won’t need to answer over 700 questions about your world, but you can spend some of that time that would be spent answering all those questions researching and grounding yourself in your characters. The same goes for research too; I’m doing a lot of research into art history for Project #3 and I already know that most of the things I’m discovering won’t be mentioned in the book because they aren’t relevant or they just won’t come up. That’s the way it goes. However, I know that in knowing these little details, I am more confident in what I am writing, and that will come through in the novel itself, in the characters too. Confidence is important in writing, and giving yourself a strong, solid foundation in research and story-building will make your story and characters and world so much more believable.
So, no, I’m not quite finished going through these questions, and my world, although coming together, is not complete yet either, and I don’t think it will be for a little while. I know what I’m doing in my next draft, but until I’ve grounded this world, I’m not going to get into it. I don’t know when I’ll post again about Project #2, I do think the updates will be more spread apart because of the sheer volume of work that has to go into it, but I love world-building and I’m so excited to see this world grow, and I cannot wait for the day I get to share it.
And let me tell you, absolutely nothing will push you creatively more than trying to answer 700 questions over and over and over again.