World-Building: Creating a Universe From Scratch

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my map for Grigory’s Gadget (which will then be beautified by the wonderful artists at Deranged Doctor Design), so world-building has been on my mind.  World-building can be a rough ride. Where do you start when you place a story in a fictional place? How much detail should you include, and where, and how? Here’s some advice I have from creating my own fictional world for Grigory’s Gadget and the Gaslight Frontier Series.

  1. Chicken or the Egg? Which comes first, establishing your fictional world, or establishing your story? For me, this is an iterative process. The world informs the plot, and the plot informs the world. Are your characters traveling by ship? Great, that means there’s an ocean. How big is that ocean, how far are they traveling? What type of ships exist in your world, and what does that mean for speed and the feasible length of the trip? Plot and setting ask and answer questions back and forth like this, likely throughout the entirety of your story.
  2. Real-world inspiration: All fictional worlds take pieces from the real world, in one manner or another. Architecture, social structure, religion, climate – there are a myriad of inspirations throughout the world and throughout history. What makes your world unique is how you combine these elements, and give them your own spin. In the case of Grigory’s Gadget, I took inspiration from the Russian language and from Russian history, particularly from the first half of the 20th century.  I also took inspiration from the “Golden Age of Pirates” that occurred in the 1700s. I tied these bits of inspiration together with steampunk and a sprinkling of dieselpunk.
  3. Keeping track: Building your own world is a big endeavor. How are you supposed to keep track of all this? There are a lot of specific answers, but one general one: keep note of EVERY. LITTLE. DETAIL. Details slip through the cracks very easily, especially if it’s a detail you decide on the fly to include in a brief conversation in the middle of your novel. As far as how to keep track of those details, here are some of the things I do. The big one, of course, is the map. That map determined a lot of the plot of my book, because it determined how long my characters would be at sea between points A and B. It also determined how quickly the climate would change as they headed south. Another tool I found very helpful is the software Aeon Timeline. I used this software to keep track of the various goings-on in my world, from weather events to political events to the more minor details of my plot. It’s a nice way to see how those different elements overlap, and will definitely come in handy as I work on the sequel, which runs concurrent to Grigory’s Gadget. The other tool I use is Scrivener. This software is amazing for keeping your writing organized, and that includes all of your research and world details as well. I have a folder in Scrivener for my world, which includes reference photos, relevant Wikipedia articles, and a Glossary of terms for my world. That Glossary is to help me keep track of what I named places, objects, etc, and what they mean.

So that’s my advice on world-building! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions. Happy writing!


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