So without further ado, here's an expert take by Christina:
First off, I want to give a big thank you to Jordyn for letting me take over the blog for today.
Anyone who’s taken even a cursory look at my blog Dragons, Zombies & Aliens knows that I have a graphic novel series coming out in November (written by me and illustrated by John Hawkins), which I am really, really excited for. It’s an epic fantasy called Sovadron set in a world based off of colonial America, and involves demons, gods, magic, war, adventure, and all that good stuff. Jordyn wanted to know how the heck I went about world-building this monster of a story that’s probably going to take at least a decade to complete.
Well, I’ll be honest. When I first started writing Sovadron, I didn’t do any world-building. That’s because the story came from my family’s Dungeons & Dragons adventures. The five main characters—Shakairra, Rain, Gundar, Elkvein, and Quarrel-Karn (later reconfigured into a guy named Kyne)—were our characters. I basically just wrote down the story we made to the best of my memory, which was of course set in the D&D world, complete with cities, creatures, and magic system.
At this time I was a teenager and didn’t have much interest in actually publishing this thing. But as time went on I realized I had a pretty good story here. The only problem was, you know, plagiarism.
I realized that I had to completely re-design the world of my characters, which would in turn affect those characters and the story itself. I started with the traditional medieval European setting that most Western epic fantasies are based on, but after a few drafts of that I realized I was bored out of my mind with such an overused setting and decided to try something new. Which is what led me to create a society based on post-colonial America.
I couldn’t recall a single epic fantasy based on that time period, and since I’d studied it in college, it was a setting that I was already somewhat familiar with. Now all I had to do was figure out how it would work with fantasy, elves, and demons.
Every author has a different method of creation, so this one may not work for everyone. But here’s how I break it down.
The first question I ask is what is this society’s main values, their core beliefs. Usually I already know the answer to this because I already have an idea of what the story is going to be, and the role of that society. In the case of Luria, the country where most of Sovadron takes place, they value freedom, hard work, and martial strength.
After that it’s the people. What’s their social structure? Is there a caste system? A patriarchy? Any form of racism or religious persecution? Don’t forget the LGBTQ+ community. Can a pansexual like Shakairra or a gay dwarf like Gundar be out and proud without consequence, or would their careers and families demand they keep it hidden?
This naturally leads into questions about their views on love and sex, as well as their religion(s), government and legal systems, and technology, which in some cases can include magic. Those are big-ass questions that could each have their own blog post, and I usually only briefly outline the general model before moving on to other parts.
By now it’s time (some would probably argue past time) that we look at the geography. Where is this society located? Is it in a desert? An island? A forest? Don’t forget climate: is it rainy? An arctic wasteland? Does it have the European four seasons or three Egyptian seasons that revolves around the flooding of rivers?
This will help you figure out what they do for food, architecture, and clothing. Are they a hunter-gatherer society? Farmers? Nomadic merchants? Do they live in igloos, tents, or stone castles? As for clothing, that’s going to be informed not just by the climate but also by the religion, core values, and social structure we mentioned above. Just look at the difference between how people dress in the Middle East versus Arizona: similar climates, very different dress code.
Now we get into the fun stuff, literally! What does this society do for fun? Their sports, games, and recreation. How about their art and music? Again, these are influenced by social structure. In the United States, we pay professional athletes a lot more than artists, and the former tend to get more respect. Then we have language. Does everyone speak the same language, or are there several? Different dialects? What about common sayings and turns of phrase?
Finally, what is this society’s relationship with others? Are they friendly with their neighbors, or constantly seeking to conquer them? Are they located on a major trade route like the Silk Road, or are they isolated from everyone—willingly or otherwise. How do international politics play on domestic society?
You might notice I keep saying society instead of world. That’s because, depending on how many different countries/tribes/groups you have in your story, you will have to do this more than once.
Sovadron has multiple countries and cultures. Luria is the main setting, a new country that used to be colonized by their neighbor to the south, Daerstyn, with which they still have a rocky relationship, as well as their shared neighbor to the west, Harena. Then there’s the Demon Wastes, the dwarven tribes, the cave elves, and more.
Sovadron will be released on November 16th. You can get more information here, and sign up for email updates here.
What are your methods of world-building? Let me know on my blog or Twitter. Thanks again, Jordyn! ☺
Sovadron info: http://www.dzamarie.com/sovadron.html
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