World Building: Setting and Culture

world bldg setting cultureIn the past year, the vast majority of my work has been nonfiction.  I’ve been thinking about fiction a lot lately.  I have two novels in the works (note: long deserted) and really want to get back to them.  They are both fantasy which is going to require a lot of world building.

What do I mean by world building?  I’m talking about all of the details that go into creating your fantasy world.

In part, this is a matter of setting and there’s a lot to consider.  What planet or land is the setting for your story?  What does it look like?  Smell like?  Feel like?  When we create a fantasy setting, a lot of the time we get hung up on the differences to our own world.  And that’s understandable.  It’s what makes your setting beyond ordinary.  Because of this we obsess about things like multiple suns, desert planets and dragon filled skies.

But don’t forget to consider what is the same.  The same?  The details that are familiar to your readers help build a bridge between their every day lives and the world of your story.   It makes it understandable.

World building goes beyond the physical world to also include the culture of the story.  The culture includes everything that makes up  a people’s way of living.  It includes language, technology, social organization (monarchy, republic, etc), economy, politics, religion and how they react to the environment and conflict.

When it comes to matters of culture, we again tend to focus on the “different.”  We make up a language and system of naming children.  The society is matriarchal with women having multiple husbands.  The people are vegetarian and commune with the trees.

As groovy as those kinds of details are, we again need to remember to include the familiar because it (say it with me) forms a bridge for the reader.

Having to noodle over all of this is why writing science fiction or fantasy is such a huge undertaking.  Tomorrow, a bit more about creating a bridge.