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Worldbuilding for Amateurs

I’m working on a second-world fantasy novel. The worldbuilding is enormously fun, and also enormously challenging. I have the basics down, but am continuing to refine the details.

The big stuff: geography, climate, major political structures. These are the background to the whole thing (and not independent – geography affects climate, and both affect climate and politics). But there are a zillion other details that go into making a fully-realized and lush world.

Part of it is knowing the daily life of your protagonist, and part of it is knowing how your protagonist fits into the surrounding society, or doesn’t. All sorts of little things make up a culture, and these are the details that make the world real to a reader. The better-grounded and more plausible a world is, the more able the reader is to accept the different bits, the magic or whatever makes your world not just like ours.

  • What are the names of the constellations? Does the protagonist know them?
  • What kinds of musical instruments are common? When are they heard? Is there recording technology? What style of music does the protagonist like? Or participate in? Is that common?
  • What kind of bed does the protagonist sleep in – pallet, featherbed, mattress and springs, antigravity plate?
  • What does the protagonist hear while in bed trying to sleep? Traffic, silence, noisy neighbors, the local bar?
  • When does the protagonist usually eat? Two meals a day? Three? Four? Is that the usual pattern?
  • What does the protagonist usualy eat when at home? Travelling?
  • How often does the protagonist bathe? Using what supplies and equipment? Is that the usual pattern?
  • What’s the protagonist’s favorite season? Why?

I keep thinking of more and more, but you get the idea. Knowing these kinds of “little” details for the culture, the protagonist, and any other major characters will help you create a richer world, even if none of them actually end up in the story.

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