Whinging and worldbuilding

The pressure to come up with a brilliant post after a long time of not posting: I have it. So, I’ll just get this out, sans brilliance, but posted at least!

I haven’t been writing too much recently. In the past month, I’ve written just a couple of poems and such – oh, and my morning pages, which I’ve been diligently doing every morning since 13 March. I’m glad I’ve continued doing morning pages, but it’s not proper creative writing (despite the occasional flash of a good sentence or description).

I think I need a new Project. Something I could work on, but that I could fit into my all-too-crammed schedule. On top of my day job, I’m doing a translation gig and slowly working towards PhD applications. Pile some volunteer work and daily life on the whole thing, and… yeah. Not too much time for writing. I should just do more 15-min writing spurts and such, though. But when your brain energy is sucked up by everything else, it’s difficult to get a creative flow going in the evening. I feel bad when I’m not writing, incomplete; so why is it so hard to just do writing exercises if nothing else?

I actually have a Project ghosting about in my mind, and ideas spilling out onto paper every now and then. But it’s just a nascent world as yet, not a story I could tell. It’s still in slow, slow percolation mode.

Which is why I should get reading more inspiring stuff about worldbuilding. So, for starters, here’s some stuff by Kate Elliott (author of the awesome Spiritwalker series), who is amazing at worldbuilding.

So, there are approaches to worldbuilding that start with making a physical map, a geographical account of the world you’re creating. Kate Elliott has a slightly different approach, visualising the more intangible elements of the world before drawing a physical map. In this first, “internalized map”, she sketches out some of the cosmology and subjective worldviews of the various peoples in her world. How I understand it is that she creates the emotional world before the physical one. What do her characters think like? Why is it that they think like they do? She writes:

Every character in the story has an internal map through which they measure, comprehend, and navigate the world they live in. Their maps won’t be the same as every other character’s, and they won’t be the same as mine.

Kate E has also written another great post on the subject of worldbuilding and mapmaking here. Maps are not objective:

The point to come back to as a world builder is to always remember that you, the one who is drawing the map, are making a series of decisions about what matters enough to go in the map, and about what and how it is represented.

Look at medieval maps, for instance. This is a map of the world. So is this, the Holy Land at its centre. Maps can illuminate what their cultures consider important – this is also something to consider when making a map for a fantasy world.

Of course, map-making (of any sort) isn’t the only way to go about worldbuilding. Kate Elliott (yes, today’s an Elliott-link day) has a great post about who’s visible in your story. You have to question your world: always ask questions. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, with my nascent Project.

And naturally, there are even more ways of starting your worldbuilding. As a linguist with an interest in social history, some of the first worldbuilding questions I ask are about language and its social meanings, and the presence (or not) of multilingualism. And consider Tolkien, with his ultimate worldbuilding-from-linguistics approach. But I think that’s a subject for another post!