Worldbuilding is the act of creating the setting of a story. It can be as small as a single city, or as large as a multiverse. However, if you’re here, you probably at least know this bit. The question a lot of new people have is where to start. So here, I’ll share the way I went about creating the world of Growven, the setting of the Chimera Project.
Growven started with three facts. First, I like steampunk looking stuff; second, the idea of a masked assassin in a black cloak named Animal; and third, I wanted a world where some people had animalistic characteristics. Those were the things I wanted, so I started work on my first step: justifying. Why were there people with animalistic traits? Because of genetic experimentation. The existence of genetic experimentation created the issue of how such technology could be kept secret so as not to affect the rest of the world. The solution was my first city, Laiac, a massive, walled steampunk metropolis sealed off 450 years ago after losing a great war. The government of Laiac now sat, biding its time, building an army of super soldiers to take back all they had lost.
With a city in place, I started looking at the government. I wanted it to be oppressive of its citizens and create an environment where people would want to hire an assassin, as well as create an ideal setting for a protagonist to start wanting to make some changes. This led to the creation of a subculture in an abandoned district that was mostly run by artists. Next I looked at how it survived and decided that it used to be a mining city and that the tunnels under the city had been repurposed as subway tunnels, because I wanted trains to be a big thing, dammit. After that, I realized that a walled city would need a place to get its food from and created the rural district in the north, along with the swamp at the northern edge of the city.
Though there were many more steps I went through with Laiac, for both your sake and mine, I will skip ahead to when Laiac was finished. With my first big city finished, I realized I’d need more to build a world and so started looking at cities both real and fictional for ideas. I ended up really liking Earth Valley from the Playstation 2 JRPG, Radiata Stories and decided to make something like it. When looking at what I could do to make it my own, I decided to make it bigger and put it in a canyon on the coast. Then I looked at coastal and island towns for some inspiration and found images of Santorini. I thought it was beautiful and decided to have my new northern town look like that.
I’ll come back to this town in a minute, but first I’d like to talk about naming. Naming things in worldbuilding can be hard. If you have built a language for your world, you may want to name things using it, but if you, like me, don’t have a language, all I can really do to help, is give you the rules I use. First, limit your place names to two or three syllables. Almost nowhere has a name with more than three syllables (Yes, I see the irony of saying this while living in Philadelphia). The exception to that rule is when you name somewhere after its geography. Second, start smashing sounds together and see what sounds nice; what fits the character of your city. For Laiac, I wanted a name that sounded, pretty, in contrast to the dense, urban city. For my coastal Earth Valley/Santorini, I looked at coastal towns and states in real life and after messing around with the spelling and and the ending of the word, I ended up naming my new city Dellum.
With a name and general idea of the city in place, I had to figure out how this place supported itself. I ended up making its economy based on fishing and tourism. Overseas trade was on the table for awhile before I decided against it in favor of a much more interesting idea that I can’t talk about here without spoiling parts of The Chimera Project.
I continued this process for the rest of the main continent. Thinking of something I wanted to be in the story that didn’t contradict the existing canon and then figuring out the conditions required to allow its existence. In fact, the way I went about building the world of my story not only let me build a place that would serve the story well, it also created conflict that I could use in stories in the future. Now, if you are trying to build a world, there are a couple of resources I can point you to. The first is a site called Inkarnate.com. It’ll let you make maps of your world and can help you place things and decide the shape of things. Next is the worldbuilding subreddit over at reddit.com/r/worldbuilding. In general, those guys are helpful and, at the very least, get your imagination going.
I choose to leave this topic here for now. Not because this was where I stopped, but because this is getting kind of long. I may end up returning to the topic of worldbuilding in the future, but not for a little bit. Oh, and in case you were wondering, most of the concepts I talked about in here went through several different changes before I started writing and bear almost no resemblance to what the world of my story looks like right now. That’s not to say this advice is bad, it is to say though, that you’ll want to iterate and find ways of piecing your world together like a big jigsaw puzzle.