‘Instant World-Building’: Try It

‘Instant world-building’ isn’t quite as thrifty as it sounds – it doesn’t involve rolling dice or scrambling names for towns – because it’s based on the simple idea of stream of consciousness.

As writers, we easily get bogged down in researching time periods or naming ships or deciding if Town A hates Town B and if it’s really Town C’s fault, but often we can be saved by something many of us loathe during the writing time: socializing. Instead of spending hours deciding if Town C is named This and Town B is named ThisThat, use rapid fire questioning to make the executive decision, with confidence as you’re with a potential reader. Bringing in another person and attempting to explain your work is a terrifying notion but, unfortunately, extremely helpful, and instant world-building buds from this.

When you talk with another person and explain to them about your work, it forces you to put your work in a perspective understandable to someone who doesn’t live in it with you. They don’t know all that backstory and detail and random information rolling around in your head. But, sometimes, neither do you, once you get passed government and religion and climate and bigger things like that.

‘Instant World-building’ uses your creativity without your inner questioning editor, because it depends on you creating details quickly and confidently. When your person asks, “What type of trees are predominant in this forest?”, you answer without hesitation, “Eucalyptus,” without hemming and hawing over if it’s biologically possible in that forest along the coast anyway because that’s something your inner editor can handle later.

The point is to answer as many random questions as possible, and take notes, to create your world ‘instantly.’ Your creative mind, your imagination, is doing the work for you. And then all that is left is auditing a bit later on – making sure you don’t have goldfish dominating a salt water lake or 19th century thinking in a 17th century town or palm trees by your northward town experiencing a blizzard, unless you have good back-end explanations for the break from our reality’s science (or history, etc).

Instant world-building makes the process fun and less pressured. You can sit for long sessions pulling out random details you’d never even think of, just because someone else’s mind is thinking of it. Invite a friend over, order a pizza, have some wine, maybe record the conversation so you don’t have to worry your memory, and get that world expanded!

A quick compilation of questions to get the session going:
Which are the fishing towns? The cold towns? The tropical?
What are the common illnesses?
Which fish are eaten most?
What’s the fancy cuisine like?
What are some more expensive purchases?
Which place exports this and imports that?
What are the main crops? Which crops grow where? Do some towns have crop monopolies?
Which animals are often hunted? Which are protected?
Is marriage secular, legal, religious? Who can marry whom? Is there an age barrier?
What are the community events like? How is community represented?
Do most people go to school? For how long? Is school meant more for certain people rather than others?
How ‘woke’ are the people? Are most people ignorant of current events, or is there a working news system?
What is poverty? Are there homeless? How is poverty and homelessness handled?
What is the majority species/race? Who are the minorities?