World Building: Designing Inside Out

In our last AuthorHouse writing tips article, we defined what “world building” is and why you should use it in your novel—especially if you write fantasy or science fiction.


But creating an entire world is a rather daunting task. Where do you begin? Do you draw a map? Create a history? Make a list of rulers? A combination of these?


First of all, don’t panic! Your world’s details might eventually fill an encyclopedia, but for now, you just have to decide on one of two methods: designing inside out, or outside in.


Today we’ll discuss inside-out world building, along with its advantages and disadvantages.


mapWhen you design your world inside-out, you begin with your character’s immediate surroundings and work outward. You’re only concerned with the village, town or city that your character is in now… the rest can wait.


Does this area survive via trade or farming? Maybe a bit of both? Who are its leaders and rival political factions? Are there four seasons? What issues are facing the town these days? Who are some of the other important residents? You can even sketch out a brief history.


The important thing to remember is that you’re only creating what you need, when you need it. If local politics plays no part in your story, you can leave it out. If your story only takes place during one winter, why worry about the other seasons?


To use a well-known example, if J. R. R. Tolkien had designed Middle Earth in this fashion, he would have began with just the Shire—its people, appearance, maybe a bit of its history, etc. As Frodo and Sam moved eastward, he would’ve designed the places they encountered as they encountered them.


MedievalThe advantage of this method is that it’s not overwhelming. You’re only dealing with the current location—no more, no less. As more background is needed, you can create it. Plus, there’s less chance of painting yourself into a corner by creating elements that don’t fit into your story later (unless you’ve carefully outlined the entire book.)


The disadvantage is that your characters’ dialogues and narratives are limited to the areas they have visited. This can make conversations a bit narrow in focus; no one ever talks about anyplace outside the town, because you (the author) haven’t designed those elements yet.


Next time, we’ll talk about the outside-in method of world building. Until then, check out the speculative fiction offerings in the AuthorHouse Bookstore.


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