World building is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. I adore coming up with all the rules for the magic, the names for the places, and the different kinds of people that you’ll discover in my world. A good 90% of my world building doesn’t even appear in a book anywhere, it’s just fascinating information I have to draw on as I’m creating new stories in that world.
With NaNoWriMo on the horizon, I’ve been looking back through some of my older work for inspiration, and I thought I’d share a bit with you about one of my oldest worlds. Like many of my worlds, there are many stories I’ve written there, but none of them have ever made it out of my computer for very long. There’s one world in particular that I’m incredibly fond of, but may never publish a story in. This was my very first complete world building experience. I called it Alimonhal.
Alimonhal evolved over time, like all my worlds, but I created the bulk of it during the summer after my sophomore year in high school. I also wrote my first novel that summer, set in Alimonhal, which will likely never to see the light of day. Oh, the Deus ex machina problems that book has. And like many teenage works, it also had a healthy dose of Mary Sue issues, as well as insertions of most of my friend group at the time. I’ve grown so much since then.
There are a few surviving stories from the world that I still tinker with on occasion, and it is the setting for one of the few short stories I’m actually proud enough of to share. It was a high fantasy setting based loosely on medieval times, except that it wasn’t on earth and the races of Alimonhalians were delineated in ways that were a bit more concrete than humans. Some of it was based on physical characteristics like height, build, or pupil shape, but it also extended to what foods were poisonous to you, what kinds and how much “magic” you might be able to control, and how acute your senses would be.
I’d developed four races originally, each with its own distinctive features and relationship to and opinions about Art, which was the name I gave to magic in my world. My cast of characters for the first book included a few multi-racial characters, who had to deal with a good amount of prejudice because of it. There were also characters from multiple races and countries, because even in my fictional world, I was looking for diversity and a chance for inclusion and empathy. Each country was largely one race with pockets of other races and multi-racial individuals or communities. Each country also dealt with those minority communities differently. I tried to make my world as complex as my real one, with faction and politics, and divisions that made sense based on the history of that world.
I developed new species to fill in for the traditional livestock and pets you would find on earth. Some more closely modeled on their inspiration than others. I tried to make the horse substitute more distinctive, but obviously didn’t make much effort to disguise a variety of cat species large and small.
By far my favorite part, was the magic system. I called it Art, and it could do almost anything if you had enough of it and enough training in controlling it. But there were limitations. Most people could only master one, or maybe two forms of Art. So one Artist might be adept at elemental manipulation of water, but be unable to work with any other element while another had telekinesis, but no other Artistic skills. Each Artist also had a finite amount of power. Someone truly powerful might be able to pull off something like teleportation of themselves and possibly another person, but only over a short distance, and they’d be tired afterward, so be unable to do so again in quick succession. Someone less powerful could send a scroll to a location they knew, but couldn’t teleport themselves.
I built in ways to get around that as well. Artists could work together to share their available power. They could direct it together, or one Artist could let another have complete control to use their skills with the power resources of both. This kind of joining was a skill as well, so not just anyone could do it without training. There were also certain types of crystals that could store Artistic energy and certain types of wine or fruit that could enhance an Artist’s natural abilities temporarily. The wine at least had suitable side effects to limit how much or how often an Artist could use it without issues.
I had all this back story for the magic, how people learned it, how the countries split off the way they did, why the races had distributed geographically, and how the current political climate had come about. I developed more as I continued to write more after that first novel, coming up with complicated aristocratic ties and long ago intermarrying between countries aristocracies. Almost none of it appears directly in any of the novels or stories I worked on.
That’s the beauty of world building. I have a vast knowledge about my world and how it functions, but the reader doesn’t need to know most of it. Only what’s important to the current story makes it onto the page. Alimonhal even had a map. I made it in MS Paint because it was the only tool available to me at the time. I even printed it out once and taped it all together. I hung onto that map (which I’d marked up with notes from another story, or my attempt to run the story as an RPG with friends) until this past year. The tape had disintegrated and the pages were permanently yellowed and curled. It was a reminder of how hard I’d worked to create that world. Putting that map in the recycling bin was a bittersweet moment.
I’ve moved onto other worlds and created other places for my imagination to run wild, but I occasionally return to these older stories and my very first world. It shows me how much I’ve grown, but also how passionate I was about my stories and characters from the very beginning. It also helps me fondly remember my friends at the time, who I can see in almost every character that gets dialog.
I hadn’t developed many tools yet for world building when I created Alimonhal, so the work is scattered across stories, word documents, journals, notebooks, and that map that still exists on a hard drive somewhere. These days I make copious use of excel for my world building information, as well as supplemental word documents. I keep story bibles so that I can be consistent in all the things I’m writing in a given world. I have friends who use Scrivener or other specially designed software for their novels and world building. What kind of tools do you use for your world building?