World-building Tools

Fantasy and Science Fiction [and all manner of sub-genre therein] rely on world-building to immerse the reader. This creative endeavor can also be great fun for the writer. This past week, in a panel for fantasy and sci-fi writers at Chicago’s C2E2, the question arose about what tools the various writers used in their world-building. Many sketched maps, others used extensive flow charts.

For my urban fantasy, I use many tools. At the center, I use a five-year calendar that encompasses the time-span for my series. I also have an extensive outline that includes an alphabetized list of every character that even gets a nominal mention along with any information released about that character. That list now has 12 major characters, 112 lesser characters, and 9 animals. I also just added 30+ names to be used next to make sure that I am balancing out the alphabet and keeping names randomized. Since my story involves humans living in America, the names do not get sci-fi level creative, but I do try to incorporate an ethnically diverse array. By noting family connections, I also try to include family-style naming. Some families name their kids starting with a single letter, others name kids after the parents. In my world, the McClory kids include twins Kevin and Kellan, and younger sibs Kaley and Kyle. While George and Cat Shipley have daughters Kate and Georgia. The latter breaks ranks and names her daughters alliteratively: Jillian and Lily.

The outline also includes: a historical chronology, a birthday and anniversary chronology, list of places and events that take place there, a glossary of coined words for the series, an encyclopedia of superpowers and their associated colors as some characters can see others’ powers as colored auras, and an index of chapters and events. The outline now covers 21 pages and 4K words. And. Growing.

I also use maps of real places. I have not sketched out any homes, buildings or places yet.

If you are a writer, tell me what tools you use. [Or even as a reader. I created a similar outline when I was reading the Harry Potter series to figure out what Rowling must have been doing in her world-building. That outline grew to 30+ pages and noted over 400 characters. And then I lost it. Haha.]

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