World Building Tools

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I remember reading Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide and marveling at the worlds, and how things, characters, and ideas moved and interplayed within one another. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter transported me to a whole world of Hogwarts. Tolkien always has that effect on me when I dive back into LOTR.

I had that same feeling when Star Wars came out in 1977, or when we watch the ALIEN franchise (1979-1992), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), or Planet of the Apes (1968).

WHAT IF?

What if?’ This is the base-level query on which your story’s entire premise should be founded, and upon which you will build the individual elements of your world.

For example:

  • What if a particular, important historical event had never happened?
  • What if our planet and its inhabitants had evolved differently?
  • What if a fundamental aspect of life as we know it was to change suddenly?
  • What if we invented new technology that could accomplish wonderful/terrible things?
  • What if we could visit or communicate with other life forms (or vice versa)?

GALAXIES, SOLAR SYSTEMS and MAPS

StarGen: allows you to create totally fictional solar systems, by supplying the star’s mass, or to create systems for a number of known stars.

One of my favorites has to be ORBIS – The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World . This reconstructs the time cost and financial expense associated with a wide range of different types of travel in antiquity. The model is based on a simplified version of the giant network of cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes that framed movement across the Roman Empire. It broadly reflects conditions around 200 CE but also covers a few sites and roads created in late antiquity.

For inspiration on ideas and how worlds are built check out the Cartographers’ Guild forum, a place where every aspect of cartography can be admired, examined, learned, and discussed.

Maps of Medieval trade route networks

A collection of world history maps from atlas of World History Maps broken into five eras:  prehistoricprimevalancientmedieval, and modern history

FILL YOUR WORLD

I assume you’re not going to spend all this time designing something for it to be a whole lot of nothingness.

For a worksheet that spans 52 weeks on topics (one a week for a year), check out Kitty’s Worldbuilding Leviathan.

For 15-minute podcasts on worldbuilding check out Season 14 of Writing Excuses.

What sort of world will you build in your fiction? Image credit: Mikhail Pavstyuk via StockSnap Creative Commons.


WORLD BUILDING WRITER’S BLOCK?

Need a random generator to get out of your writing block? Seventh Sanctum is your best friend. For instance, stuck on Magic?

Check out Mind Node for visual brainstorming

YouTube video on “Escaping Writers Block”

500 writing prompts to help beat writer’s block (by genre)

Still Stuck? Check out the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) list of Fantasy Worldbuilding questions.

A cityscape from an alternate reality. Image credit: Ashish Dani.

OTHER COOL WORLD BUILDING LINKS TO LOOK AT

Census for Hong Kong and surrounding cities ca. 1911 to 1970s

Common Occupations in the Middle Ages with Descriptions

Ongoing series of articles about medieval settings and diversity (Race, Racism)

Illness and Injury aboard Naval Ships in the early 19th Century

Food timeline: Food History Research Service

Color symbolism in ancient Egyptian art

HathiTrust: collections of cultural records from major research institutions and libraries

A list of Medieval Tavern Names and their meanings

Featured image courtesy of Wallpapers

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