Tag Archives: worldbuilding

8 Almost Quick ‘N Easy Worldbuilding Tips (Part 2)

In Part1, I covered some basic tips that really help move your worldbuilding along. Now, I want to talk about landscape and map making. [Note: If you missed Part1, you can find it here]

When we think worldbuilding, we immediately think of, well, the world itself. What does it look like? Who lives in it? What is the climate like? The landscape? Culture? Geography? All these things have to be considered and addressed to some extent, and it can get overwhelming. So here’s three ideas that can make things easier.

6. Hack Your Map Making

If you’re in the process of drawing a map for your worldbuilding project (or are thinking about doing so), there’s some pretty simple things that can go a long way in making you map making easier and more enjoyable. I learned most of these the hard way, so you don’t have to:

  1. Work from thumbnails
    • The Drawing Disciplines and Design courses I’m taking this year have taught me lots of new things about how to approach a project. One of the big things I’ve learned? Thumbnails actually help. If you don’t quite know what you want something to look like, try sketching out several small versions of it and playing around with the composition. It’s better than being halfway into a project and going: “dammit, I wish I’d painted these mountains just a little to the left.”
  2. Do yourself a favour and get a posterboard
    • I’ve learned that life gets infinitely easier when you do things right the first time around. Back when I was young and naive (this was two years ago) I wanted to design a large city, and I had the brilliant idea of taping together different papers to create a larger surface. While this was certainly creative, it was not helpful at all, and now I’m stuck using tracing paper to transfer my design.
    • My point? If you’re going to do it, do it right the first time. It will save you time and make your work so much better.
  3. “But I’m artistically challenged!”
    • If you want to do some worldbuilding, don’t let the fear of the blank page get to you. It’s something that hits us all at one point or another, and it’s something we just need to get over. Worldbuilding isn’t about being artistic or non-artistic, and there are plenty of ways to get around poor drawing skills. After all, there’s a lot more to creating a universe than painting a complex picture or making a perfect sketch.
  4. Work in pencil first
    • This one’s self-explanatory. Make rough drafts and be forgiving about it. You can always make a pretty version later on.
  5. Learn some new computer skills
    • One of the amazing journeys my worldbuilding adventure has taken me on is the journey of computer programs and digital design. Though I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, it’s fun to play around, and it’s even more fun to see fancy-looking results. If you want to try out some computer-assisted drawing, I recommend you check out programs like GIMP or photoshop, and check for some map making tutorials online.
    • The Cartographer’s Guild is a wonderful place to start for help with this. I highly recommend their Easy Hand-Drawn Map and Artistic Regional RPG Map tutorials. You can also check out their Quickstart Guide to Fantasy Map Making for even more helpful tidbits.
7. Follow The Landscape

Although map making is all about creativity, it is also about realism. To a certain extent, every map has to “look” right – its features have to behave according to the laws of physics/geology/nature, even if those laws are different for your world.

There’s so many things to consider here, that forming a believable landscape is really, really hard. Sure, we can start with things like “water flows downhill,” “most mountain ranges form along fault-lines,” and “climates will be more temperate along coastlines,” but honestly, those things will only get us so far.

However, the situation isn’t hopeless. My advice is that unless you want to spend hours researching complex information, you should try to use the landscape around you as a guide. For example, much of my work is inspired by British Columbia’s mountainous coastline. I use it as a basic guide for landscape and weather patterns in much of my work, and this lets me be reasonably accurate. I tweak things and add things, of course, but the basic structure is lent to me by the places I can observe. And now that I’m in Ontario for a bit, I plan to incorporate some more complex hill and lake landscapes into my work.

This method can work well even if you need/want landscapes that aren’t found near you. Simply research a specific real-life area that looks roughly like the place you want to create – it’s usually still easier than inventing/researching it all from scratch.

8. Keep It Neat

If you’re anything like me (or any number of artists/creative people I know) you have a tendency to spread out. Ideas come thick and fast in sporadic patterns and unpredictable waves, and so you scribble them down, write a note here, a reminder there, and then misplace every single one of those. I know. It’s hard.

However, I feel like keeping it neat is pretty self explanatory and logical. If you add some semblance of organization to your stuff, you won’t lose anything important, and you’ll have a much easier time looking up information you’ve already saved somewhere. If you think organization is just a waste of time, I urge you to at least try it. Even a little neatness can go a long way.

Every person has their own way of organizing, and that’s cool. Whether you keep neat piles of paper around, write everything down on your computer or iPad, keep everything scribbled on sticky notes, or use a neat desk or filing cabinet, the important part is simply using a system that works for you. After all, you’re doing this for yourself, not for outside appearances.

In Conclusion

I hope this has been helpful, and I wish you all the best in your map making endeavors. If you want some free criticism constructive commentary on your work, feel free to shoot me a link in the comments below. And if you have some opinions for me, feel free to voice those too.

M.
Oct 8/15

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8 Almost Quick ‘N Easy Worldbuilding Tips (Part1)

When I started writing this, I intended to make it nice and simple… but I quickly realized that I had ideas piling up, and I couldn’t explain them all in singe sentences. So instead of being “quick ‘n easy”, these pointers will be “almost quick ‘n easy”. Part 1 will lay down some groundwork, while Part 2 (which will hopefully be published on Friday) will focus on map-making and landscape. Without further ado, here’s some quick-start ideas for your worldbuilding.

1. Do Your Research

Okay, so let’s not start out easy. Let’s start out hard.

Research is something that a lot of people shy away from. It’s daunting, it’s work-intensive, and it’s downright annoying sometimes – especially when you have to wade through streams of undiluted information which you then have to filter and mold to fit your own world. You don’t like it. I get it.

But research is incredibly important when it comes to worldbuilding, and here’s five reasons why you should bother with it:

  • Authenticity: Want to know if if that eureka moment you had was purely self-inspired or if it accidentally copies someone else’s work? Do your research.
  • Don’t-Know-How-To: Stuck on some technical detail that’s completely outside your realm of knowledge/experience? Look it up. Knowledge is just a google search away.
  • Idea Gathering: Want to find out what others are doing and how it could help further your own work? Go forth and research.
  • Exposure: Want to connect with others who dabble in the worldbuilding arts? Want to connect with like-minded writers? Read their stuff, comment on it, and get to know them. In short: social research.
  • Marketing: Ever plan on putting your work out there as books/articles/stories/art/poetry/graphic designs? Find out what your market is and how to best get your work published and/or noticed.

The good news is that I myself quite enjoy research and endeavor to do some of it for you. You can check out The Reading List for some especially helpful sites and/or keep your eyes peeled for future worldbuilding posts.

2. Don’t Get Lost In The Details

It’s so incredibly easy to get stuck in a mind-numbing bog of minute details. It’s a temptation almost – a temptation to have it all figured out, to know every little bit, to be perfectly perfect.
Well, guess what: you’re not perfectly perfect. Neither am I. Deal with it.

While having things figured out is great, getting lost in the little things is not. If you find yourself descending into a downwards spiral of nit-picky-ness, try to step back and look at the big picture again. Go for a walk to clear your head, take some time off from your project, or call a friend to discuss some of the things you’ve been agonizing about. However you do it, it’s important to take a step back sometimes. Let your work be imperfect, but perfectly human. And if you’re still stuck, refer to tip #3….

3. Make Stuff Up

I love this one. If you ever don’t know where you’re going (and are unable to find relevant research and/or are stuck in the detail bog from tip #2), just make stuff up. Within reason, of course.

The beautiful thing about worldbuilding is that it’s all up to you. When it comes down to it and something doesn’t make sense, simply invent a solution. Whether you need an improbable landscape formation, a new race, a reason for war, an explanation for an event, or a logical detail – it’s okay to invent your own.
Even if you have to (occasionally) delve into the realm of cliches, the final decision is always up to you. Not everyone may like it, of course, so you do have to pay attention to what you want your audience to think. Be creative. Be free. Be fun. And have fun too, if possible.

4. Follow The Rules

You may not have noticed yet, but like everything else, worldbuilding has rules.

What are these rules? Well there’s the basics, of course –  rules like “don’t plagiarize” and “don’t use cliches“. Then there are other almost-rules, which range from broad to specific.

  • Use basic logic to determine sequence of events/landscape/history
  • Don’t have an over-powered magic system (more on this one in a future post)
  • Don’t oversimplify
  • Add your own flavour
  • Eliminate inconsistencies

In general, these “rules” are thoughts passed down from people who know what they’re doing, and this means that you should follow them. if you find yourself breaking the rules all the time (or rule number one even once), then you probably need to sit back and reconsider some things. Do you have a good reason for breaking the rules? Or are you simply sacrificing quality for speed, quantity, or less effort?

5. Do Whatever You Want

In a culture that celebrates the anti-hero rebel and loves to push the slogan “rules were meant to be broken,” we’ve come to expect that we can do whatever we want and get away with it too.

Okay, yes. But also no.

Breaking rules is good, but you have to break them for a reason, and I would argue that you have to understand them before you can reason enough to break them. The rules I mentioned in #4, and others like them, are good rules made with purpose, and as such should be broken sparingly.

While I can think of exceptions to every rule (except the one about plagiarizing), I would humbly ask you to think long and hard before venturing too far from the beaten path. And by “the beaten path”, I don’t mean our world of cliches – indeed, the rules I mentioned are all about not being cliche, and about being unique in an organized fashion.

So. That being said, if you see an opportunity, take it. Break those rules and showcase your own uniqueness and creativity by being different. I applaud your endeavors.

Further Reading/Sources

The 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding
Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic
TV Tropes – Inverse Law of Complexity to Power (I also used other TV Tropes pages)
The Cardinal Rules of Worldbuilding

Disclaimer: As I’ve mentioned in my previous worldbuilding post, I don’t claim to be an expert on this or any other subject. That being said, however, the information found here is gleaned primarily from my own experiences – three years’ worth of trial and error – as well as the sources referenced above (for more helpful links, visit The Reading List. If you want to have a look at my work, you can find some of it here). I write in the hopes that you’ll be free to not makes the mistakes I made, but to make wonderful mistakes of your own, which you will hopefully go share with others. Keep creatin’.

M.
Oct 2-5/15