Build a World in 1.5 Hours – MSP Workshop Notes

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Led by Abra Staffin-Wiebe

There are a lot of different approaches. The amount of building and the time it occurs at depends on the type of story an author is writing.

  • Stories in the current world don’t need much worldbuilding
  • Alternate history stories require a lot research

Two common approaches

  • Build the world after writing the story
    • Sometimes there are questions that you don’t know you need the answer to until after you have written
    • Usually requires revisions to the story
  • Pre-construct the world before writing
    • Deep pre-construction delays writing
    • It may also box you into a corner if the story goes in a direction contrary to the rules of the world
    • High danger of infodump
  • Building as you are walking down the road is usually faster
    • You don’t have to wait to write
    • A con is that you can can miss opportunities
    • Often has a fair amount of post world building and revision

The rest of the session consisted of a targeted exercise calling out high level points to consider, then drilling down a specific path based on choices made by the group.

The general plot for this exercise followed this path: comfort to rags to riches. This type of quest won’t cover much ground. Quests usually cover a lot of distance

  • Inhabitants
    • Human
    • Human+/Humanoid
      • Cyborgs
      • Androids
      • Distant descendants
      • Chimera
      • Drug enhanced
    • Inhuman
      • Aliens
      • Dragons
      • Octopi
  • World type
    • Earth
    • Earth+
    • Like but not
    • Very different
  • Weather
    • What is their common dramatic weather? tornados, hurricanes
      • Useful for plots that extend over a long period of time.
    • Do seasons exist?
      • Using seasonal transitions as story transitions can advance the plot and tell you something about the world without infodump.
  • Genre
    • SF
    • Fantasy
    • Horror

Magic and Technology are distinguishing elements of speculative fiction. Both have similar to answer.

  • What is the type?
    • Magic type
    • Technology level
      • Preindustrial
      • Industrial Revolution
      • Modern
      • Future
  • What are the limits?
    • What are the practical limits?
      • What is and what isn’t possible?
    • What are the legal limits?
    • What are the limits that technology cant provide?
      • How long do people live?
      • What sicknesses can they heal?
  • What are the costs?
    • Resource costs
    • Personal costs
    • Moral costs
  • What is the source
    • Where does it come from?
    • How is it produced?
    • Who controls it?
  • How is it distributed?
    • Equal distribution doesn’t make for interesting stories
    • Golden Compass
    • Bladerunner
    • Mad Max Fury Road

Questions about the main character

  • What is society’s influence on our main character
    • influencers
    • legal arbiters
  • Consider methods of rise and fall
    •  Marriage
    • Wealth
    • Reputation
      • Loss of reputation as a means of fall means people in charge control the resources
    • Politics
    • Documentation/Identity Theft
    • Inheritance
    • Land crabs
    • Legal
    • Military
    • Recognition
    • Ceremonial
    • Religious power
    • Natural disasters
    • Radioactive spiders
  • Family structure
    • Poly
    • Nuclear
    • Multi-generational
    • Matrilineal
    • Patriarchal
    • Creche
    • Single parent
    • Communal
    • Clones
      • Mono-cloning everything is a clone of one
    • Radioactive spiders

One or two sociological differences from our lives interest readers

  • Ethical
    • Stealing
    • Lies
  • Taboos
  • Treatment of dead
  • Treatment of children
  • Treatment of elders
  • Gender/sex
  • Family hierarchy and marriage
    • Marriage
    • No Marriage
    • Pair bonding
  • War
    • How do they wage war?
    • How do they make peace?
  • Property ownership

As you write, there are opportunities to add world building

  • When someone meets first time
    • Greeting rituals
  • Family interactions
    • What does the family expect?
    • What would disappointment?
    • Where are the rivalries in the family?
    • Readers want to see family support as well as family conflict
      • Makes characters more relatable
      • Makes the fall harder
  • Meal times, manners
    • Food
    • Customs
      • Who eats first?
  • Fights
    • Rules of honor
    • No rules
    • What happens when someone breaks the world?
  • Clothing
    • Multiple types of materials indicate wide trade
    • Colors, reasons for colors
    • Cost
      • What is expensive?
      • What is cheap?
    • Why do people wear clothes?
      • Protection
      • Modesty
      • Status
  • Ceremonies
    • If short plot, no need
    • If long plot, fun to add, shows passage of time
    • Provides a way to bring people together who might not otherwise interact
  • Religion
    • Cultural beliefs held with fervor
    • Don’t have to involve a god

A re-plot point will occur after the worldbuilding decisions relevant to your story are made.

Resources mentioned

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