Welcome back to AuthorHouse Author’s Digest! Today we’ll continue our discussion on world building—“outside in” world building, to be exact.
A few weeks ago, we discussed the “inside out” method of world building. But first, let’s take a step back and get everyone up to speed. What is world building? World building is creating your story’s setting on a global scale–its cultures, governments, histories, geographies, languages and seasons.
Inside out world building is when you begin by creating your character’s immediate surroundings and work outward, only adding new elements when they become necessary. The next town, the city on the other side of the mountain, the kingdom across the sea… you don’t design any of these elements until they become a setting in your story.
Outside in world builders take the exact opposite approach. They create an entire continent or world first, with all its characteristics (climate, seasons, geography, etc.) Then they add countries, races, ruling dynasties, rivalries, and all the other major forces at work in their setting. Each step adds more detail: smaller cities and towns get added to the map, along with road networks, trade routes, and significant people.
Keep in mind that your story will determine which of these elements you need to develop. If yours is a novel of palace intrigue, knowing everyone’s position, social status, and family could be vital. If your focus is battle, you’ll probably want to invest more time creating your world’s geography and war machines. No need to name all the flowers if your characters are never going to walk in the garden, you might say.
Outside in world building definitely has some advantages. The detail you’ve created helps make your world feel more real and alive; places have a history, while characters have backgrounds and traditions. While your action may take place in a small village, readers still know there’s an entire world “out there,” waiting to be explored.
Plus, in creating your setting, you’ll undoubtedly stumble across ideas for future stories. And if you decide that it’s time for your characters to “go west,” there’s no need to stop writing to design the west… it’s already done.
On the downside, outside in world building takes a LOT of work. You might labor over your world for weeks, months, or even years before you start writing your story (hopefully it’s a labor of love, though.) Also, it’s possible to find that the world you’ve created limits the directions you can take your story, unless you’re willing to make major (and time-consuming) changes to the setting itself. For example, if you decide that your story would be better served if a neighboring country is an enemy instead of an ally, you might have to do a significant rewrite of your world’s history too.
That’s all for today, but stay tuned for future world building articles. In the meantime, we look forward to reading about the worlds you’ve created!
Thank you for visiting Author’s Digest!