Imagine that you’ve just sat down to dinner and someone sets an enormous plate of all your favorite foods in front of you. Mmm. For me, it would be baked ziti, my dad’s famous purple potatoes, and bread. Lots and lots of bread.
Supporting everything — from the meaty bits to the peas and corn to the loaded baked potato — is your trusty, sturdy plate. Your plate might be beneath everything, it might be obscured by the pasta or muddied by the gravy, but it’s everywhere, upholding everything, keeping it all together, all the time. Your plate is vital to your dining experience, even though it’s not the part that you actually eat.
In fiction writing, the surrounding world is vital to your reading experience, even though it’s not the center of the actual plot.
The plate is the world, the ziti and potatoes are your plot and characters, and this is my attempt at a worldbuilding metaphor.
Terrible analogies aside (I apologize profusely), I’ve compiled a few of my favorite go-to sites for inspiring rich worlds in my writing. Dig in!
1. For names:
A list of this nature would not be complete if I didn’t introduce you all to FANTASY NAME GENERATORS.
Holy mother of Middle Earth, this site never ceases to amaze me. From every fantasy, sci-fi, realistic, and ridiculous character name you can think of to the names of bridges, film studios, space stations, weapons and the like, FANTASY NAME GENERATORS has everything you need to get started on this vast worldbuilding frontier.
If you’re suffering severe writer’s block, they even have description generators of castles, societies, cultures, holidays, and diseases.
2. For beginnings:
Behold the majestic CHAOTIC SHINY, for here all great nations are born!
Ok, but seriously, this site has made me think about worldbuilding in ways that I never thought possible. Here you can build constellations, establish laws, develop civilizations, and map out demographics.
My advice would be to play around with some of the generators until something piques your interest (I found the crowd generator very helpful for writing descriptions of citizens in a village), and then see where it takes you!
3. For languages:
Building a language from scratch is no easy feat, and depending on the depth of which you want to go in your writing, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming! Maybe a character will sprinkle their speech with foreign words, or maybe the language is only used in passing. To keep the meaning and syntax consistent, try out SCRIBOLY by typing in your desired phonemes and translating your text.
No world is dominated by just one language, so if you have more than one culture/civilization, play around with the word patterns and see what unique sounds you can generate.
4. For maps:
Beware! Here be maps at POLYGON MAP GENERATION.
If you can’t seem to get a solid image of what the geography of your world looks like, flip through some random map designs until you find one that works for you. Knowing the layout of your world is important for keeping cities, trade routes, and ports consistent as your character traverses the land.
5. For religions:
Every respectable universe needs to have an abundance of religions to tear it apart. Or maybe it’s one to unite it? You decide at BELIEF SYSTEM GENERATOR.
This site is especially interesting because it breaks down the origins of your world according to beliefs, minor/major deities, nuances in afterlife, morals, rituals, and clergy. Again, I’m not saying that you should copy every detail that you randomly generate — it’s just a great place to start.
What’s more, you can even compare multiple religions side by side to see how they might interact in your potential world.
6. For mythology:
A lot of what shapes culture comes from the wild tangles of imagination and the supernatural. Draw from a plethora of real world myths to inspire your own folklore and legends at ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY.
It was at this site that I first read about Zoroastrianism, and from there was inspired to create a series of fables for my novel. Most of what we create is based off history, so why not take a look at some of Mother Earth’s greatest stories? May it be Japanese mythology or Mesopotamian superstitions, I’m sure that something in the archives of ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY will inspire you.
7. For tropes:
Some writers try to avoid tropes like the plague. I say, take advantage of them! Find something done before and make it your own at TV TROPES.
Explore different world settings (Medieval European Fantasy or Space Opera?), cultural ticks (Martyrdom Culture or Immortality Seeker?), and religious whims (Robot Religion or Easy Evangelism?). Of course, I’m not advocating for anyone to adopt these tropes (they’re called tropes for a reason — because they’re overdone), but I think that sometimes the most ground-breaking, striking worlds are ones that take tropes and twist them.
8. For questions to answer:
SFWA has composed an extensive and impressive list of questions to keep in mind when worldbuilding. Please, read through the questions. You’d be surprised at some of the seemingly mundane things that really make a world pop.
9. For asking questions:
Can’t come up with the right answer to one of those questions? Go ahead and ask it at STACK EXCHANGE WORLDBUILDING. This is a great site for getting technical. I myself am woefully uninformed on physics, and if not for these forums, my world would probably lack gravity.
10. For music:
What’s a rich world without a rich soundtrack? Head on over to 8TRACKS or another internet radio of your choice and check out the fantasy, writing, and soundtrack tags. Sometimes, the right mood music can get you in the right frame of mind for making up cultures.
Be sure to check out my personal music suggestions on Music Mondays!
Ah, there’s nothing like a hearty plate of well-done worldbuilding.
Good luck, and happy writing! 🙂
© 2016 Stellular Scribe