I had a premise for a story pop into my mind last year that really excited me. I began writing scenes to get a feel for the two main characters and quickly grew to love them both. However, I also remembered how problematic my first novel's lack of worldbuilding had been, so I'm taking a more deliberate approach to building a functional world BEFORE I continue plotting the story and defining the characters. I can't get into specifics in many cases (because I intend to someday publish this series), but I thought some of you might enjoy seeing a "censored" version of my first attempt at worldbuilding a completely original setting. If nothing else, I hope that blogging this process will help focus and organize my thoughts.
So, come along friends. Let's worldbuild.
Beginning Steps: The basic premise of the story requires the existence of at least one fantastical creature. This informed my initial choices: I wanted a fantasy setting and I also wanted magic to exist in this world. However, my initial idea for the main character's story arc felt best realized through a low-magic world, specifically one where magic is uncommon and potentially mistrusted. Also, my initial scene-writing arbitrarily placed the setting in a coastal city where maritime trade is the key source of the city's wealth and political structure.
Geography: Liking my initial coastal-city setting, I began to develop the surrounding geography in a way that would explain the economy and politics of my coastal city. I then realized that another setting idea I had previously brainstormed for a non-related story would fit perfectly into the nearby, surrounding area of my coastal city. Combining those two setting choices created a complimentary theme for the story's starting point and also sparked some ideas for the cultures that would inhabit the region. More than anything else, I was excited about the contrasts between the two cultures that exist in these two distinct environments (and the potential for conflict between the cultures). I had written a scene that introduced an important society to the main characters and so I decided to place that society somewhat between the two cultures I'd begun to develop. I also decided that I wanted a fourth society nearby to create additional conflict and to flesh out the potential economies of the region.
Economics/Politics: I had a basic idea for a merchant-based political system for my coastal city. I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel with this type of ruling class and so I didn't spend much time at this point brainstorming details. I mainly wanted there to be a physical reflection of the division between those in power and those who are ruled. I looked at the geography of the other societies and let that inform the economy (and thus politics) of those cultures as well. I ended up with what feels to me like four very different cultures, but I didn't bother delving deeply into those cultures any further at this point; I felt like I needed to better undestand my world's history before I fully detail its modern cultures.
Theology: I spent a great deal of time brainstorming this aspect of the world (I would guess 60% of my time thus far). I had just finished reading Brandon Sanderson's first Mistborn novel and was struck by the idea of a unique theology and deity. I had (what feels to me to be) a unique and interesting idea for the theology of the world and the world's history. I had to revamp and let go of some of my previous ideas for the plot based on some of the theology. Then I struck what I felt like was a good balance between some conflicting aspects of the history, and I felt especially pleased with some of the conflicts that would come out of the theology. My theology brainstorming also influenced the types of creatures that inhabit the world (both anciently and modernly). The decisions I made regarding creatures in turn influenced the geography of the world as I adapted it to create the appropriate locations and spaces for these creatures. My efforts delving into theology felt like they were very fruitful. I also spent some time thinking about modern civilizations and the belief systems that would exist after the passing of time. This train of thought led me to the next area of worldbuilding.
Magic/technology: By this point I had a decent sense of how the world would feel and some of the conflicts that would exist in the world, but I had made precious few decisions on the level of technology and what influence magic has on the world. I decided that before I looked into technology I needed to understand that magic of the world (as the technology would develop as a result and in reaction to the magic system). I brainstormed some ideas and liked a few but ran into some logistical problems with the magic. I finally settled on one idea that seemed clever to me (I do wonder whether it has already been done and will need to do some research to figure that out), but I hit some mental roadblocks in trying to figure out how to actually make it work. I like the idea but I don't love it so I will stay flexible and just keep brainstorming until I find something that I do love.
Closing Thoughts: I have created numerous story premises in the past, but I never realized until recently that they all involve tweaks on our reality (either Earth-based sci-fi, futuristic sci-fi that is based on humanity's exploration into space, alternate history of Earth, or a "tweaked" Earth--like X-Men where it is set on Earth but mutations have created special powers for some). For this story, I wanted an entirely new world. I have been exposed to other authors' methodologies and processes, but I have never attempted this myself. So I am excited to try my hand at it. Thus far it has been fun.