The Universe: A World Centric Build

In the previous world building articles, we explored both Character Centered world building, and Conflict Centered world building. Today I want to explore the process of world building I like to call World Centric.

Today we will learn what differentiates this style from the previously introduced styles, why it is important to understand this style, and what advantages and disadvantages it carries in comparison to the other two styles. While World Centric building has overlap with both of the previously explored approaches, it is important for anyone who wants to world build this way to understand the other methods too.

This is because at its core, World Centric builds are a combination of character driven and conflict driven development. Only if we understand both of those techniques can we properly leverage them.

World Centric building is not something designed to provide a single narrative. Rather, a World Centric build is something that would be best suited for a shared setting, or large expansive work of fiction instead.

When one engages in this style of world building, one must understand that it is extremely easy to get sidetracked, and while that could be damaging and detrimental in any world building, World Centric builds also require some of this chaotic focus, something I will detail later in the article.

For now, let’s get started.

Finding a seed

The best way to start a World Centric build is with a concept or a statement of intent about the world. How one defines that concept or statement could take a number of shapes. One might choose to have a checklist, a set of requirements they want the world to fulfill. While one tends to want a large scale conflict in Conflict Centered building, a general premise works better for World Centric building. I call this special statement, a ‘seed statement.’

It has to sound interesting to you, the creator. Do not bother with building from this seed until it sounds interesting. Focus around some idea or goal that your new world has and try to make it feel like it is your own. The less you stick to the established tropes or rules imposed by other creators, the more free you are to understand your creation as its own undertaking.

Focus around some idea or goal that your new world has and try to make it feel like it is your own. The less you stick to the established tropes or rules imposed by other creators, the more free you are to understand your creation as its own undertaking.

A simple statement of intent for example could be something like:

“I want to create a fantasy world with an interesting and orderly magical system that allows for various types and styles of magic to coexist.”

The above statement is one that I derived from looking back at a world build I have engaged in myself for a fantasy setting. Why? Because I wanted to have a magic system that was worth exploring, something that could be interesting to myself and or someone who experienced it.

I wanted this sort of magical system to exist because I enjoy various types of magic in fantasy, be they elemental magics that manipulate energies in the world, to the more esoteric types of magics such as levitating a book or a spoon. Perhaps there are magics such as necromancy or summoning of demons or dimensional entities that should be possible.

Because of those goals, a strong mission statement for the world I am creating, would be focused on its magical systems and the methods by which those magics work and interact with each other.

Lets look at a statement that I feel is similar, but would not work for a World Centric build. Hopefully this will provoke some thought:

“I want to create a fantasy setting with some of the classic fantasy races like elves and orcs.”

As I mentioned, this statement works as the seed statement. The reason this statement does not work is because it lacks a sort of interesting premise. It has nothing about it that makes it unique or different. What about this world makes it so much more worth exploring than any of the other already existing fantasy settings ‘with some classic fantasy races like elves and orcs’

I have to get more creative with the statement. In a flash of what some might call inspiration, I slightly changed the above to the following instead:

“I want to create a fantasy setting in which the traditionally good guys like elves, are harbingers of an evil demon god, and shift the standard good evil fantasy trope into reverse.”

This statement is less generic sounding, and it is more interesting to contemplate. While it may not be entirely unique (there are plenty of examples of evil elves in fiction for example) the goal of a seed statement is not just uniqueness, but to be interesting. The uniqueness comes from the way that the creator builds around the seed statement and establishes a world build of their own.

A Historian’s inspiration

In World Centric building we want to borrow the detached, high level perspective we employed in Conflict Centered building. We want to keep our seed in mind and start to develop the world in such a way as to allow us the freedom to keep moving and going. While we are surely going to have potential character ideas or conflicts arise as we build, we want to keep ourselves aloof enough to look at the world we are building as if we are perhaps, some detached historian.

I like to think World Centric building benefits quite a bit from this idea, that the creator views themselves as a sort of anthropologist, or historian, a scholar of this world and its denizens, all rolled into one. It is important to note that eventually a conflict Centered Build comes to need some characters around which events coalesce.

The same is true in World Centric building. While developing a cast of characters off the bat is a mis-step for World Centric techniques, one must also be prepared to create figureheads to populate the history one is creating.

So there we are, we are historians with a seed statement about our fictional world. Where we start and how, is up to us, the creator. There is no single right way to start a World Centric build, and as such I will try to list some ideas that I have used in the past that have had some results I am happy with.

Keep in mind, these are all real ideas that have netted various world builds, some of which I feel were more compelling than others. Some of them are also places I would say other world builds may have started. Here are some ideas and why I think they can be useful jumping off points:

  • A dream inspired me:

    Start your world build based on some of the realities that a dream you remember after waking has introduced you to. I have had several story worlds start off because a particularly interesting dream managed to seep into my memory. You can combine this with an existing seed statement, or, perhaps, refine your seed statement to better fit the dream. I think dreams are a good example of something we might never think of as possible or normal, and as a result can provide a bounty of unusual settings or ideas with which we can start our build.
  • The beginning of known time:

    Start with a sort of biblical perspective. I find that for a story using ancient mythology, this sort of approach can work great. Envision yourself as a narrator for something like an ancient historical text.

    Present the world as you see fit. Your job is to summarize the important events, but you have not got room to go into detail about everything. There are many examples of this, but the King James Bible’s old testament is the best example I can think of for this sort of perspective. (I am not commenting on the truthfulness of its contents by using it as an example).

    This book begins with the narrator describing the beginning of time on earth. The granularity of details is limited, save for when the first influential individuals and their actions are introduced, but even then, the information is kept to a minimum and only the impactful events are related to the reader. Indeed, in the bible, whole centuries of time are skipped or glossed over in favour of the more world shaping events. This sort of perspective can be amazing for World Centric building.
  • A conflict:

    Yes, this might be odd to see here, but sometimes starting a World Centric build at an important and defining conflict point can be the best place to begin. The perspective however of the creator needs to be suitably different from when they are engaging in Conflict Centered building though.

    One must remember that when doing World Centric builds, they are describing or observing the conflict through a more detached historical lens, rather than exploring all of its detail.

    Using conflict to explore World Centric builds allows for a flashpoint but the creator should expand in both directions, forward and back, from any sort of conflict they started with. Care should be taken to avoid focusing too much on the one particular instance of conflict.
  • A world defining figure:

    Like Character Centered builds, World Centric builds can also start around an extremely important character. A powerful god or deity, for example, could be a figurehead and inspiration for a world build.

    As Conflict Centered builds and World Centric builds featuring conflict differ, so too, do Character Centered builds and World Centric builds featuring influential figures. One may choose to start their world build because a particularly influential conqueror or perhaps a scientist or mage, had done something that forever altered the world in which they lived.

    Remember, that if creating from this sort of starting point, one wants to avoid going into too much detail or depth about what the individual did, keeping it mostly historical.

While these are not the only ways you might start a World Centric build, they are ones I have found tend to work reasonably well for the purpose and as a result I feel like I want to list them. Perhaps you have some other idea in mind. As long as you can use it as a starting point, you are ready to begin.

Inspiring the seed

Now that you have your seed, you need to apply your inspiration to it and make them work together. For example, in the fantasy world building example I provided, with the complex magic system, I might be tempted to start with a ” beginning of time” approach. I can marry these two ideas and together, they become a stronger more fruitful well from which I can keep drawing creatively through the build. I’ll give an example statement. I decided to put some flavorful text together for you to see what I mean about taking an inspiration:

In the beginning , there was order. Therefore the gods came to be, and with them, the orders of gods and the magics of gods. And below them the lesser orders and the lesser gods, that the mysteries of all order were defined. Wherefore, the gods looked upon the chaos that was and evoked their orders, and with it, their magics, and thus the chaos obeyed and was shaped, and so came to be the world of….

This sort of excerpt gets at the heart of what I intend to demonstrate; The seed and the inspiration, or the start, of the build, should work together somehow. With the above statement I intended to provide a starting point for a history for the entire world I was creating, and through the combination of my seed and my inspiration I have effectively planted my seed in the fertile ground, where it can now start growing.

This growth process can now continue and should still be kept at a high level. Think of it like this. A sapling, a fresh new barely planted tree still casts a shadow, but to get a real context of its influence, one needs to take a step back. When they do, they will see that its shadow is in fact, quite small compared to the world around it and that focusing on the tiny little shadow does not make for a very interesting picture yet. This can change when the tree grows.

There will eventually be a time and a place where the tree (build) is large enough that even a small portion of its shadow will contain more detail than the entire shadow it cast as a fresh idea. Do not dive into detailing a World Centric build too quickly or you will risk losing this important perspective.

Wild vs Controlled Growth

Once your world building experience has begun, you have two styles of growth. Wild and Controlled Growth. When using Controlled Growth, one decides to follow a sort of cause and effect chain. This means that when one defines some important historical event, things that happened because of it should be explored. In addition, things that occurred before it and caused it, (if any) should also be explored. This Controlled Growth relates parts of the world together and is a great way to create a coherent history. Every World Centric build needs a good amount of Controlled Growth to feel coherent.

Where Controlled Growth often falls short however, is in really adding those unique details to a world build. Sometimes we have just got to add some unique cultural idea, or a species that caught our mind’s attention. Perhaps we just wanted to define what some ancient temple or monument looked like. Perhaps we just felt the need to define how some long dead empire operated. While we are trying to create a history, we are also trying to make it interesting and creatively inspiring.

When our ideas fall outside the cause and effect chain, this is Wild Growth and it is akin to the branches on a tree splitting out where they want. They are our mental explorations of the world we are delving into and building, and they can sprawl reach and look in all directions.

When we are using Wild Growth, we can add a surprising amount of beauty or detail to our build. We can make sure that the Coherent Growth has a more varied environment to occur in and even that cause and effect chain can be modified or deflected because of the Wild Growth we are pursuing. Equally important however is that it is also possible that we grow so wild, that we create a tangled mess.

As anyone who has ever manicured trees can tell you, they sometimes get out of hand. Sometimes those extra branches don’t go where we want them to be. The same is true in world building. If we ignore the cause and effect chain too much we will lack the appropriate places for our Wild Growth to occur.

We may, by not exploring our Controlled Growth enough, miss out on creating a particularly interesting cultural practice for one of the peoples we create. We might lose the chance to create a whole species, or involve an otherwise unique concept in our story simply because we lacked those controlled branches to grow from.

In addition, we may grow so wild that we simply have no space for sensible controlled growth to penetrate the tangled mess we have woven. Our world building tree, in effect, can become lopsided because too much of our energy is being expended in only one aspect of the world. This is where most creators attempting this sort of build will get (pardon the word choice) tangled.

When Wild Growth goes too far

Getting tied up in one particular aspect of the world build can be the end of an otherwise successful build and it will certainly be noticed in any story or narrative that derives from the world in question. Those who experience the content will see a definite shift in detail and focus when suddenly, the topic of discussion becomes more intensely intricate or detailed.

Readers will notice when the descriptions for the landscapes and features become generic and boring, and when they become detailed and enthralling. They will notice when an in depth, well crafted magical system clashes with a haphazard and unbelievable set of governments or the laws they enforce. They will notice detailed culture designs giving way to impossible strategic choices and blunders, all because we focused so much on one aspect of the world build, that we did not bother to properly ground the others and give them sturdy branches.

We as creators all have our own personal interests, but when a world build is being done, it should not be an obvious carbon copy of the creator’s personal interests. While the focus and the goals of the build should reflect that seed statement and draw from the inspiration whenever possible, creators must take responsibility for their creations enough to provide them with the coherence and stability required to prop up the areas they are most interested in. Even a topic one might not wish to explore in great depth needs some level of thought and contemplation when doing World Centric building.

While not every aspect of a World Centric build needs to be equally fleshed out, creators need to take care when doing World Centric building to ensure a comparable amount of respect goes to the different faces of the build.

While not every aspect of a World Centric build needs to be equally fleshed out, creators need to take care when doing World Centric building to ensure a comparable amount of respect goes to the different facets of the build.

Even if magic or politics are the focus of your build, the rest should not feel like it was taped on after the fact,effectively being drawn in a completely different style. While a creator does not have an answer to everything all at once, it should feel like the answers they do create, have equal weight to those that they may have already created.

The truth is that any world build, when going long enough, will start to resemble a World Centric build. The longer one explores a world, and dares to venture outside a particular conflict or set of characters, the closer one comes to World Centric building from wherever it was they came. As a result, World Centric building can be viewed as a sort of living end state for most world builds.

I feel that the most major of my worlds and in particular, the world for my Star of Ashor Novel have long since moved past some of the character or conflict centered ideas that started them. There is no definite line as to where one technique starts and where one ends and we just end up with world building as a nebulous catch all at that point.

My hope is that through reading about some of the ways we can start world building, that you have been able to understand how you can start in creating worlds around your favorite original characters, or interesting conflicts you have envisioned. Hopefully with the knowledge from prior articles and this article too, you have become better armed to tackle world building itself.

Moving forward

With the conclusion of the world building basics series, we will be exploring more topics in the future, but do not fret. World building workshops, and important topics will be detailed in upcoming series. Look forward to the next world building series on what I call Master Concepts in World Building. When we explore master concepts we will move beyond general world building to the art of creating more specialized categories of ideas within our worlds.

Among other things, we will explore the idea of creating spiritual systems for fictional worlds to ground themselves with, or the art of trying to craft in-depth nation states and therefore, capture more believable political intrigue in our worlds. We will explore how to create unique and varied cultures that give credibility to our stories and how existing works of fiction and even human history, can provide help in this regard. I intend these future articles to contain a mix of both theory and example to help other creators find their grounding within these potentially challenging aspects of world building.

For more world building goodness however, you will have to wait, since our next series, Character Building and design, will be a departure from the creation of entire worlds and instead, focus on the creation of the varied and interesting people that a creator should be populating their world with. Whether you have a partly developed original character you want to include in your creations someday, or you have only the vaguest hint of a prototype in mind, we will explore the process of taking your character from concept to creation.

Take care reader and happy world building! I look forward to seeing you again soon.

The War: A Conflict Focused World Build

The prior entry in the world building series focused on a Character centered world build, involving the character Phlyn and his creation. We walked through the process of using a character as the nexus from which we began to build our world.

Today, we are going to try the second world building technique outlined in the introductory world building article; Conflict Centered World Building.

As I mentioned in the introduction, a Conflict centered world build focuses not on a specific character, but on a desired conflict.

Because of this, Conflict centered building is a good choice for those who have a desired plot in mind, but perhaps do not have any strong character designs chosen as of yet.

While I feel this world building approach works great for any medium, I feel that writers for a game world or other interactive medium in particular, can benefit greatly from employing this approach, since they often let a player decide some important aspect about the protagonists.

If you can’t remember the breakdown on the different types of builds or why I think they work best for a particular type of situation, go ahead and visit the introductory article here.

Let’s get to work.

The War

To make a conflict centered build work, the conflict generally needs to be pretty large in scale. A small scale conflict like an interpersonal argument is one I would consider small enough that it does not quite shape the world in the way a large one would, but that is not a hard rule.

For example, what if two world creating gods got in an argument?

Regardless, I think a setting that can be applicable to many stories and mediums would be a war conflict. A war is something which satisfies some of our desires for making a good world build; It is large in scale. It affects a large population in the world. It is a fertile ground for conflict.

It is important to note that through creativity and thinking, one can expand the results of a simple interpersonal argument or what seems to be a minor dispute. Indeed the catalyst for many history changing events on earth have been arguments or bouts of interpersonal jealousy. However, when starting, start big.

When going forward with world building, a conflict centered build should start with the largest, most broadly impactful conflict.

When going forward with world building, a conflict centered build should start with the largest, most broadly impactful conflict. This means that a war, some kind of political turmoil, perhaps some sort of cultural conflict, are better places to start building, even if you have a simpler motivation in mind for having started the conflict.

With that said, I think a war is a simple concept to start with, and it involves lots of options for things we like to see heroes do, things like, be heroic, or lose and have to grow. It also gives a chance to clearly define some antagonists.

While not every story should rely on open warfare to world build, it is one of the larger conflicts that can shape the world in which we, or in this case, characters of our creation may live.

Since I have established a war as my conflict for the article, I would like to give a bit of context to the war I envision for this one. Our last article was more of a steampunk style world.

For the sake of variety and reaching varied creative talent and plot goals though, I am going to say that the conflict we explore today will be a mid 1900s style conflict with a technology level of the involved factions similar to Earth in the early-mid 1940s.

The Motivation

Now that we have established our conflict type, we can really start to build.

First and foremost with a conflict centered build is deciding who the players in that conflict are. Then, once that is done, one needs to assign motivations to the involved factions.

Both of these steps are critical to a conflict centered world build as they produce the kinds of questions and answers we need to make this conflict feel like it is rooted in the world in which it is taking place. Remember the introduction article; questions are key to making a world build work.

For factions, I think they will be national coalitions because that makes for a good “world war” style conflict.

For names, I will call one the Northern Alliance, and the other will be called the Trans Tyratic Pact, perhaps named after an oceanic region around or in which the nations that make up the pact are located.

As an aside:

Remember as with any world building, improvising and making up some things on the spot are required. You can always refine your build later.

In this case, if you did not like the initial names, nothing is stopping you from making up new ones afterward.

Now that we have decided on the two major factions involved, we can assign some motivations to both. Since I feel like these national coalitions will have multiple member states, we could dive into the individual members and their motivations, but lets hold that thought for now and stay at a high level.

Let’s use some improvisation and creativity here. Think about some reason for which nations or coalitions go to war, think about what they would want to gain, what they have to lose. When I did that, I came up with this:

The Northern Alliance is moving to claim an island chain on the edge of the Tyratic Sea because there is a valuable new fuel source, more powerful than existing combustive fuels like coal or gas.

It was discovered only on the island chain and exists nowhere else. It provides abundant energy, is portable and is reasonably safe to transport. In short, it is a miracle fuel. I will call the fuel Miraculum, aptly named after its properties.

The Trans Tyratic Pact was formed quickly after the discovery of the resource, a coalition aiming to protect it from being taken by other powers. Conflict ignited when the Northern Alliance Navy mounted its first offensive against the Pact’s fleet in the Tyratic sea. In order to claim the largest known deposit.

Expanding the conflict

We have our major factions in the conflict and the reasons they began fighting. Now we have some fertile ground from which we can launch the next phase of our build.

Like our Character centered build, we now have to start asking some questions and implying world details with what we already have chosen. Firstly, let’s decide on what the major tools of this conflict are, since it is a war.

We already went through technology very lightly by deciding a sort of “equivalent era” to earth history so lets understand what that means. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that world war two added a number of things to armed conflict.

Tank combat doctrines, the proliferation of semi automatic and automatic infantry weapons, aircraft utilization in more serious roles, (truly useful) submarines & (effective) torpedoes, aircraft carriers and fast warships and of course, even nuclear arms, are all things that came out of world war two on earth. That is not everything of course, but it helps us understand the players a bit better.

Unlike earth in world war two however, we have a special fuel source that works better than gasoline. As a result, I am going to enhance our build by saying that vehicles powered by the special fuel have better range and speed, essentially needing less logistical support.

It also allows some more ridiculous designs to take hold since fuel isn’t such a problem anymore. Therefore, large tanks, warships which are a little unrealistic in size or even submarines which can stay underwater for quite a lot longer than submarines of the same era on earth, are all in play. Depending on how fantastical or exotic one wants to be, massive airships might be possible, or perhaps even mechanical combat suits.

Of course, these special tools are all contingent on the all important resource.

‘Plot Hunting’

Now that we have fleshed out the style and setting of our conflict, When we are doing a world build, we want to home in on potential places to start a storyline of some kind.

Let’s explore the process of doing so here in context of a conflict centered build and see how, by hunting for plot opportunities, we can enhance our build, even if we do not take a story in that particular place or time.

The best stories really center around people, there is no getting around that. As a result, we are going to want to find ways to zoom in from the macro level, to the individual, amidst our conflict.

In a war, there are so many dramatic things that may happen. Some are particular battles or politics. Some are back home, with the family of someone who is currently away fighting. Maybe an attack by one side or the other brings collateral damage onto a local population.

As you can see, by thinking about what the conflict causes to occur in the world, we start tracing a path toward how it affects the people who live in it. This is the true core of a conflict centered build; How does this conflict affect the people in this world and how do they react?

How does this conflict affect the people in this world and how do they react?

Remember though, at this stage, we don’t want to dive right into selecting characters and a plot, we want to explore and expand first. The point of conflict centered building is not to dive down immediately to a hero or a villain, but instead, shape a conflict in which those roles naturally appear. I call this process ‘Plot Hunting’

As we saw earlier, we have a number of hunting opportunities. One of course is the outset of the war, how it started. That initial battle is a key point where some stories begin, so lets expand on that a bit and see where it takes us.

The Spark

Let’s use one of our plot hunts, expound on it to get questions and answers. The war started when the Northern Alliance attacked with its navy. What did they attack? How did it go? Time for more improvising.

The island chain which holds the Miraculum is unaffiliated with either faction, or was, at least at first. The attack from the Northern Alliance was focused on the Tyratic Fleet that had taken up harbor on the capitol of this independent island nation.

Unfortunately, due to the way the Tyratic Army had deployed itself around the port, the Alliance warships opened fire on the surrounding area, destroying part of the town. This left some of the locals dead and some wounded or homeless.

It also galvanized some of the locals in support of the Tyratic cause. Ultimately though, the Tyratic Fleet there was penned in and while the Northern Alliance could not take the harbor and immediate area, they were able to reduce the enemy forces enough to land their own armies on the island.

With support from land based artillery and airfields, Alliance forces were able to push beyond the Tyratic held harbor and began driving up the islands anyway.

A particularly deft Alliance commander laid a trap for the remaining Tyratic Fleet in the harbor, luring them to try and escape, but, with the help of his army assets and naval might, destroyed them as they fled.

This little story snippet tells us something about the world. Firstly, that there are some non aligned civilians in this world, in fact, that the entire conflict might be fought in a country neither side has any actual claim to. Remember, this was not an intended outcome, it just arose naturally from the improvisation.

Secondly, it conjures in my eyes the sorts of mentalities that both sides might have. While one might say the Tyratic are the good guys, they occupied this city first.

Some might blame them for the Alliance attack at all, since if they had not been there, the bombing or bombardments may never have occurred.

Asking the hard questions

Now that we have more to work with, we expand again, with questions.

One of my first questions is how were the lives of the people in the city attacked by the Alliance, occupied by the Tyratic forces, affected by the fighting?

Food and shelter are in much shorter supply, as is medical care. Given that the Tyratic forces left and it would take time for Alliance forces to capture the city, there was likely a period of lawlessness and conflict within the local population as well.

A second question follows: What was life like before then? How did it change?

To me this helps immensely in fleshing out the world. I wanted to answer this question because this city feels like a flash point for the entire conflict. Here is what I decided in answering the question:

The people here likely had a relatively strong economy before, given their proximity to the special newly discovered fuel. I would imagine it was a time of growth and prosperity for them.

Things like cars and larger homes were probably getting more common. For some reason, a tropical Hawaiian style island comes to mind for that setting as well, and makes me feel like the island chain in which the conflict takes place is probably a pretty big archipelago.

Now lets take a step back and examine what we have.

As you can see, we have yet to select a protagonist but by plot hunting, we can discern some details about the world anyway. This is almost the polar opposite of how our Character Centered approach worked.

When asking and answering questions in your conflict centered build, or Plot Hunting, it is important to remember why you are doing it. The goal is to give you insight into how a particular “sub story” affects the people in conflict, which in turn shapes the conflict, and thus, the world itself.

Setting a timeline

With a conflict centered build it is important to understand a timeline of events. More so than starting based on a character, the conflict centered build really relies on events shaping each other. One of the important timelining steps should be the decision of “How far along is the conflict when we swoop into it?”

Unlike a character centered build, a conflict centered build is one in which I feel that the characters and story, once chosen, should have an effect on the eventual outcome of the conflict.

It is possible to set a story in the aftermath of a war for example, but I think that falls more into the line of “world centric” building rather than conflict centered building. When you want to go with a conflict centered build, your conflict should also be the focal point of a story too.

In a conflict centered world build, your plot should allow for you to shape the outcome of the conflict around which it centers.

If the conflict is a historic event or something of that nature, I would say you are actually doing a “world centric” build instead. I will talk more about world centric builds in the next article of the series, but for now, understand that in a conflict centered world build, your plot should allow for you to shape the outcome of the conflict around which it centers.

Because I want a potential plot in this world to shape the final outcome, I am going to say that “I swoop in” and start the story when the conflict is at its peak, eventually allowing my characters to finalize the eventual outcome, or “seal the deal” as it were.

Filling out the detail

Much like character centered builds, we want to keep asking questions, but keep asking them about events and ‘plot hunts’ that you do.

Focus your questions and answers on how each series of events shapes the world and its people. You want your questions to ensure that you have a strong grasp of the conflict’s place in the world. You want your questions to highlight the effects of the conflict on people, places and culture.

Only once you start feeling reasonably confident in that knowledge, can you start exploring the events you have thought about and searching for characters and plot.

In a conflict centered build, the characters you pick up from world events are natural parts of the story already.

In a conflict centered build, the characters you pick up from world events are natural parts of the story already. They make sense from the get go because they have already been “involved” in something, or at least, will be involved in it. This makes selecting characters less prone to being at odds with the world they are living in. (Something I discussed in more depth in the article about Character Centered Builds)

Of course, once you select a character, you still need to follow through and make that character interesting. A conflict centered build does not grant your character some automatic pass on actual development, but it certainly helps to provide a foundation.

By using conflict centered building, you can create a world that naturally encourages exploration and importantly, allows the protagonist to shape the world and the conflict.

This makes conflict centered builds a wonderful choice for interactive mediums where a prototype character might be waiting for a player or reader to insert themselves. It also works great with a traditional author driven narrative and caste as well.

Conflict Centered builds are a great way to provide a believable, relate-able setting, with an in built plot and ready to act character casts, as a result, they should be on every world builder’s radar when considering a new creation.

Stay Tuned

I mentioned character building at the end of this article. Since world building techniques like Conflict Centered World Building and World Centric building (upcoming soon!) do not have pre-made characters on which to work, it is important to understand how to choose, flesh out and enhance character ideas within these frameworks in particular.

If you are curious about character building and development, Have no fear, I will soon be doing a Character Development Series as well.

For the next article in the world building series however, we will explore “World Centric” building and I will show you how I feel it works, and how the techniques we have already learned in both this, and the character based building article are important to understand if one wants to set out on such a grandiose adventure.

The Champion: A character focused world build

In the last world building article I covered my three main types of world builds, Character Centered, Conflict Centered and World Centric. Each was similar in some ways but differed in what its nexus or seed was. Much as a plant grows from a seed in the wild, a world build also has a seed.

Today’s seed is a character or a cast of characters. To illustrate how to do a Character Centered build, I will quickly present a cast. This cast may not be fully realized, but the more understanding of this cast we have the better. It is important to note though, that being too rigid with a cast when building around them can have unintended negative consequences. If you are not familiar with “its what my guy would do” syndrome, simply put, it is when someone has a character who they refuse to compromise on at all. They refuse to change the character’s behavior or actions in any way even if the situation changes and makes the prior idea they may have had about what the character might to, seem out of place. You cannot do a character focused build while suffering from “its what my guy would do” syndrome.

If you have not read the first article in this series, I highly recommend checking it out here. Not only is it a good read, but it covers a lot of things we will reference later in the series.

Our Champion

So, on with the character focused building.

I want to create a new world. I have a character I have prepared ahead of the publishing of this article that I will reference here.

Remember, a character focused build needs a reasonably well understood concept. I had to make a character for this article to work. If you do not have a character idea yet, you can keep reading along with us anyway as the prototypes will guide you through the process this time.

My character for this world build is one I may re-use for later articles, as is the world. In-fact I may do a more in depth fleshing out of this character for use in other article series for example. For now I will give my description of our new hero.

Meet Phlyn and Poff

Everyone seems to like an underdog, and I am no exception, so I proudly present to you Phlyn.

Phlyn is an elf with a leg deformity that makes it so he has to walk with a crutch or cane. He makes up for his disability by being very smart. His bad genes did not stop with a bum leg, he has severe far-sightedness and has to wear some heavy glasses to compensate. He uses his intellect to tinker and make machines, but people around him dont really understand his genius and sometimes they think he is nuts. He is sometimes shy but has a good heart when he exposes it. Phlyn is an analytical person who enjoys spending time reading and tinkering more than with other people. He wears cloth shirts and slacks, usually with a vest on in the sort of 1800s businessman style.

Phlyn’s best friend is a small robotic companion he created years ago when he put a strange stone that he found at a street market into one of his mechanical contraptions. For some reason, that stone caused what was planned to be a mechanized replacement for carrier pigeons into an object with which Phlyn was able to communicate somehow. No one else can hear the thing, and it does not speak words but rather in impressions and emotions. Phlyn named the machine “Poff” after the sound it makes when it starts up. Poff seems to be more mischievous than Phlyn but appears loyal to him. Sometimes Phlyn wonders if Poff is really alive or cursed.

The simple character design above is one that I came up with reasonably fast. Someday we will take a look at some character design techniques and how I do that too.

The outset

Now that you have met Phlyn and Poff I want to introduce you to the process of really starting a character centered build.Remember, this build style builds the world by focusing directly on a cast.

You have read a bit about both of my main cast so far, but to you, there may be some vital information left out of the description. Think of things that the description left unanswered by re-reading it. For me the first question that came up was the following

What sort of genre is this taking place in?

My answer to that comes as a result of my character design. I imagined Phlyn wearing a vest of some kind, with thick Steampunk style glasses. Poff was more of a golden orb hanging from a counter rotating set of helicopter blades and a giant “eye” style lens on one end with a grabber claw on the bottom. Phlyn is not unkempt but has shabby hair because he does not find hair a very interesting topic.

I am essentially just starting out with the visual image I have of Phlyn and his companion.

Because of this my first question is already answered. I know because of character design that the world I am creating is going to be exploring this sort of steam tech and has magic in it. Poff was brought to life by a magic stone after all.

Thanks to my character design, I know that one of my worlds foundations is this sort of steam punk, magitek world. Using my character, I described my world.

This is the style of thinking that Character Centered builds thrive on; using aspects of your character design to provide answers to your questions wherever possible.

Getting a basic setting

For my next couple of design choices, I will use clues all of which are sourced from the character. At first you want all of your questions to have answers directly from the design of your cast, this makes sure they fit and ensures you do not get too off topic while starting.

Because of design, I know Phlyn is:

  • Living with a deformity that limits his mobility
  • Tries to learn a lot and will need access to some specialized kinds of workers in order to tinker. (After all, Phlyn is not a farmer, he is not a smith or a miner.)
  • He is no outdoorsman and he is not a survivalist, he has a bum leg after all.

Therefore I am going to say that Phlyn lives in a city, a reasonably large one where we could expect to find trade, import and export of goods, but perhaps most important for someone like Phlyn, specialization. Since Phlyn cannot do all of the things to live on his own, he relies on others, and there are plenty of others in a large city. It also gives him a place where he has a chance to showcase or sell his wares or talents for tinkering without having to go too far from home to do it.

Because of Phlyn’s design, we know that at least part of our world is built around the idea of having a reasonably large city. Because I am going with a Magitek / steampunk design on my characters, I think I want to couple it with a Victorian Europe style of architecture and scenery in the city. My mental image of the character and resulting environs makes this fit well I think.

Since I know Phlyn to be a bit obsessive, I am going to say he spends a lot of his time tinkering, even free time. He probably works only to get money enough to live, or maybe lives off of his inventions but does not hold down a normal job, that’s just is not his style. As a result of his young age and his obsessive personality, he is not someone I envision having a large residence. He probably rents a room from a larger building in the city, filled with books and tinkering supplies.

Notice how as we build around Phlyn we are following him as a character. We design a world into which he is fitting. By doing character focused builds, we steadily expand that circle and there comes a point when we have built this sort of small foundation. To summarize thus far about our world:

Our world so far is the one in which Phlyn and Poff live. There is a large Victorian era city there and steam punk / magitek is a part of daily life in this world, it’s what Phlyn does at least. The city is going to generate trade and the surrounding countryside probably interacts with a city like that, supplying it with food and crops. There are probably miners and smiths in the city, Phlyn needs their help after all sometimes to make the metal parts of his machines.

Questioning Reality

We have this basic premise, but here is where we begin a process that is more or less similar through all types of builds. The difference though is of course that we are asking questions about our cast, about how they interact, work, live and breath in this world. Questions lead to answers which, can imply details of our world or set up more questions that we need to answer.

When I was considering Phlyn as a character, I sort-of had to think:

Is he the only person who messes with machines like this in the world?

My answer is:

No, he is not the only one

By asking the question, we now know that the world has at least a few people who tinker. Whenever we have this sort of group, we can imagine there are some more and less talented people involved in the job or hobby. Some probably do it for money, some may do it for the love of messing around. Some might do it at the point of a sword. All we know for now, is that there are a number of them. Lets keep the questions flowing, following and focusing on Phlyn some more.

How did Phlyn learn to do this?

Notice how some questions you ask yourself about your build may have instant answers while some require thought. For me this was an instant answer. Some of these are as much answers about the character itself, as they are about the world. This is important to remember. Here is the answer that came to mind for Phlyn’s case

Phlyn learned to tinker because he could not go out and get into mischief when he was a kid thanks to his bum leg. While he was in school with some of the other kids, he read books instead of playing at times. He liked the pictures in the books he read but eventually started learning about what they were. The school had only a few of these books so he became very well acquainted with them.

This answers some key questions for us, one, we now know more about Phlyn, but also, we can gather some details from this answer.

Firstly, we know that there is schooling in the world, our answer implies it. We also know Phlyn went to school with some of the other people that would inhabit this world. We also know that when Phlyn was a kid, there were some books about these subjects already written, but that there were only a few available in the school. We can utilize this detail.

Next, lets capitalize on school. We can say that Phlyn’s city has a few schools to which most of the normal people go when they are children.

Now lets exploit the detail about few books. I am going to decide that there were few books for learning from on the subject because its a relatively new science in the world. This sort of tinkering is “taking the world by storm” right now, and was really new when Phlyn was younger, that’s why the books he read from were so few and far between.

Now, if we updated our summary of the world it has expanded. Lets improvise a bit as we describe the world once more. I am going to add a “Tinker’s Guild” to the build because I sort-of like the idea personally. Maybe it would look more like this:

Our world so far is the one in which Phlyn and Poff live. There is a large Victorian era city there and steam punk / magitek is a part of daily life in this world, it’s what Phlyn does at least. The city is going to generate trade and the surrounding countryside probably interacts with a city like that, supplying it with food and crops. There are probably miners and smiths in the city, Phlyn needs their help after all sometimes to make the metal parts of his machines.

The city has a number of tinkerers in it and therefore, a variety of inventions. Some of them do it for fame and fortune, some for money and some for fun. As a result Phlyn’s city has a huge variety of the type of machines and inventions being used. There is enough interest in this kind of technology that someone like Phlyn can learn about it, but it is still not something everyone studies.

Because of how new the science is and how people are all trying to learn about it, there is at least one organization of “tinkers” that helps act as a sort of social circle for those who engage in the practice. Due to the disparity in talent of the tinkerers, some of the best are well off, employed by he city guard or rich people in the city to design security or guard systems.

There are some schools in the city for average people like Phlyn to get some basic learning done as children, but most of them don’t come out as “smart” as he did

Recursive question and Answer

Now that we have seen this process again, we recurse and do it over and over, our circle of questions grows as our circle of answers describes more.Every time we ask a question, we touch on a new answer. When we create that answer, we provide hooks for many new questions. This is how I view all world building at its core, a process of an expanding “circle of questions”

For example, based on the updated description, I caught myself asking the following among other questions:

  • What is the city’s name?

  • What is the tinker’s organization called?

  • Does Phlyn know any of the other inventors?

  • Is this city a hub of knowledge for this science?

  • What sort of government exists here?

  • What sort of inventions have other people or Phlyn come up with and why?

Remember, these are all questions that affect our main cast. These questions affect Phlyn’s character and daily life. While it might be tempting to think about dragons or something else, unless it ties to our cast, we should avoid asking about it. Focus on things that affect the characters and you will find that, if you are practiced enough you can ask that dragon question after all, and have it still tied to your cast. It does take practice and patience however.

I am not going to go through answering each of the abovequestions in this article, but suffice it to say that you can see the details are starting to expand, growing beyond just Phlyn himself, but always centered on what affects his life and his actions. While the circle of questions around Phlyn has expanded, they are all centered on the way it impacts him.

Don’t forget, I did not even start asking all about Poff yet, there are whole sections of a world that could be built due to Poff existing at all, but we won’t go through them all here. The important part is to be creative.

Round holes and round pegs

We already discussed how sometimes, building our world, also builds our character.

As I started thinking even more about Phlyn and his world, there were times when I had to decide if I wanted to have the world be a certain way, or whether I needed to adjust him to fit the world or plot I began to craft.

As the world took shape around my cast, I always had to re-evaluate where they stood within it. At times I felt the need to expand Phlyn’s character, perhaps to make room for a potential storytelling opportunity.

Perhaps to move a plot forward in a way that made sense, I had to give Phlyn a character flaw, like making him more selfish than I anticipated at first. I could use this as a growth opportunity if I wanted him to not be so selfish but can still use this failing at first, it satisfied both my needs. This is one reason it is important to approach your characters with an open mind, especially when using them to build a world.

It is always possible that your world will shape your character in unforeseen ways. This is natural and you should understand and embrace it. When your world and character conflict, try to find a way to be true to your character vision, while also bringing your character into the world.

As your world gets more fleshed out, it gets easier to see where these conflicts are and the ideas for resolving them pop up more readily. The important thing to remember though is that if your character feels out of place in the world, it will be noticed by those who experience your story.

You can suffer from it or exploit it, but most of the time, especially when inexperienced in storytelling, your better bet is to soften those conflicts enough that they do not destroy the suspension of disbelief.

Overall, Character centered building comes back to your cast. Always involve them in each step of the process, ask if they relate to a question you have about the world. By doing so you will start on your way to strong, Character Centered world builds in no time, with your favorite original characters.

Moving Forward

In the first world building basics article, we talked about the three methods

We have managed to take a slice at Character Centered world building today, but there are more techniques for world building that we can explore.

The next article in the world building basics series will cover the practice of Conflict Centered world building. In it, we will create a conflict and then, use that conflict as a base to branch out. When we do so, we will be able to see how the types of builds we have thus far explore, differ in their approach but have similiar goals. Stay tuned for the next article, and dont forget to check out the Codex for more applied world building goodness!

World Building: The Art of Creating Fictional worlds

Today I wanted to start a new series of articles about a topic that I really like to think and talk about. It is a topic that, in my opinion, strongly influences how immersive a work of fiction can be. It changes how people feel about any work, whether it is a game, a novel, a comic, short form content or other fiction. That topic is world building.

A well built world can draw in a reader or player in a way that gives longevity and impact to an otherwise standard plot or setting. A world that is carefully crafted by its creators can become not only an interesting place for a story to be told, but a foundation upon which entire series of works can be built and is one that can hook fans in a way that lesser narratives cannot.

World building is about a mix of setting and plot, and a good world build influences both. World building helps ground our settings and our stories by providing a context for them. It enhances the motivations of the characters we read about while also allowing them the room to show weakness and to grow. When a well built world is taken into the creative process, it helps the stories and characters within it to be more cohesive, believable and interesting.

Any work can benefit from a good world build, whether it utilizes each detail or not. Even the things left unsaid through narration shape the way the writer approaches the nuance of setting and interaction, providing grounding and invaluable detail.

World building provides a strong basis especially in situations where a writer is working with a team, such as a comic artist or in video game development. The better fleshed out the world is, the better equipped artists and other team members will be to realize a shared creative vision. At the same time, this cohesive vision will enhance the experience of those on the receiving end as well.

Today I will introduce three basic strategies of world building as I see them. Each of them has a different goal and aims to serve a different need. While each of them starts quite differently, there will eventually be quite a bit of overlap. Indeed, if one world builds long enough, it may be hard to distinguish which method was originally chosen to begin the build.

World Building Techniques

Character Centered

“I want to flesh out the world in which my character and their friends live…”

The Character Centered world build is one that I aim to offer to people who have a strong character or cast of characters already in mind. Perhaps you have a protagonist that you just need a setting for or maybe you have a villain who needs a world befitting their masterful intellect. No matter what character cast you have in mind already, the Character Centered approach allows you to craft a world with your cast in mind from the start.

This bottom up approach aims to help you find a place for your cast in a world while at the same time helping ensure your characters retain the sort of consistency that can help make them excellent. Those with existing characters who are well fleshed out benefit most from this approach while those who don’t might be better suited with a different one.

The world for Star of Ashor, my own novel, has its genesis in this technique. It was not something I did on purpose at the time, and it had no name of course. It all started with the original sole protagonist, Tony Karo. Characters I added to the lineup helped me flesh out the world more, each one requiring something new and different to become part of the story and eventually, it became what it is now.

Conflict Centered

“I want to have a world in which an epic struggle between good and evil is raging…”

The Conflict Centered approach, rather than focusing on a cast of existing characters, focuses more so on major conflicts. The goal of the Conflict Centered build is to inject a world with sets of major conflicts around which the desired type of plot can be written or created.

A Conflict Centered build is one in which the writer does not insert characters, but essentially picks characters out of the conflict setting that is being created. While the Character Centered approach is building the world to the needs of a cast, the Conflict Centered approach does not make many concessions to character. Instead, it encourages writers to organically choose characters within the setting.

I see conflict centered builds quite a lot in interactive mediums like video games, where the writers want to tell a story surrounding a particular conflict and the choice of protagonist is somewhat secondary to that. That is not to say that I think all interactive mediums use this method, but conflict centered builds, with less emphasis on specific characters, often tend to allow for a more open ended choice of protagonists or villians. This is something one would want to consider heavily in a medium where the one experiencing it is expecting more choice than is generally offered by traditional storytelling formats.

World Centric

“Thousands of years of epic history from various races make up my fantasy world…”

World Centric building is the most high level approach of them all. It starts at a huge, macro level and gets more granular with time. This sort of approach is the kind in which you will often find yourself looking at various world shaping events, much like you might in conflict centered building. However, unlike conflict centered building, you tend to use such events as a way to “build the history” rather than for the purpose of telling a specific story at that time.

World Centric building is the kind of technique that I feel tends to create those long running epics that span several books. Writers like the late J.R.R. Tolkein are some of the greatest pioneers of this sort of art form with the in-depth world histories that surrounded classic high fantasy worlds like Middle Earth.

A world build with this sort of development would be a shame to use once and throw away. To build such rich histories, the conflicts and stories that shaped it naturally lend themselves to storytelling. With languages, cultures, races and heroes throughout their long histories, World Centric builds are a class of their own. They seem daunting at first but the good news is that one does not always have to start with a world centric build. Because of the way they are, these sorts of builds can blossom naturally from either conflict or character centered builds.

I personally feel like any good build has aspects of world centric building in it, even if it is limited in scope.

Questions are the key

World building requires creativity and passion, but can feel impossible at times when one wonders, “What’s next?”

Answering this question is simple and for any world build, questions can be key to moving forward. Always asking questions about your world is the best way to keep it growing and the best way to advance it. Question everything about your world, question whether it fits, question whether it affects characters, question why it happens or what caused it.

No Silver Bullet

It is also important to remember that just because one spent some time world building, it does not garuntee anything about the story reliant on that world. Effective employment of world building is a skill in and of itself as well, rooted in the concept of consistency.

In the next few articles, we will go over each of the above techniques in more detail. We will talk about how to ask questions to generate the consistency we are looking for, and then apply it to the technique we are using. Stay tuned for the next article in the series, focused on the Character Centered world build approach: The Champion