I’ve been blogging about planning stories, from ideas to first draft. At the bottom of this post, there are links to the other topics. (If you’re reading this as I post them, some of the links might not be live yet.)
Before I keep going, I want to remind you that this is just the way I write and if you plan books (or don’t) differently, that’s not wrong. There’s no single right way to write a book.
Usually when I have an idea, it comes with hints of a world attached, so I know vaguely what I want. That used to be enough for me, because I didn’t realize how shallow my worlds were. Now, I know I need a lot more planning than that in order to fully develop my world once I start putting it on the page.
I like to start big and then narrow my focus, especially if it’s a world Not Earth. So, is it a planet like Earth? If not, I need to work out big things, like moons, solar system, seasons (is the planet tilted on its axis like Earth?), land and oceans, weather, geography . . . There are so many things that need to be decided before you even get started on the people, society, culture, cities, and details.
Yeah, it’s pretty intimidating. (It’s why I want to cry when people who’ve never written secondworld fantasy say how easy it must be to make up your own rules for the world. IF ONLY.)
Personally, I like choosing an area of Earth and declaring that my setting, especially national parks or other places where wildlife is protected and preserved. They like visitors, so you can go there. There’s nothing quite like experiencing your setting first hand. But if you can’t, there’s often a lot of information online, like nature/hiking/whatever blogs from people who frequent the area, and . . . vacation photos.
Once I have a location, I begin narrowing my focus. Country borders, city and town locations (maps??).
Then we get to the people who live in the world. I make notes about class systems, laws, the culture. What kind of civilization is this? What kind of government do they have? Military? Economy? Religion? Are church and state separate, or practically the same thing? How do people in general feel about all this stuff?
What does the world look like? How does it smell/sound/taste/feel in different locations? What is unique about this world? What makes it unlike every other world in every other book? And how does that worldbuilding affect the people?
You might have noticed this section is filled with questions. Worldbuilding is hard. There’s a lot to consider and remember. You can find a longer post about worldbuilding here.
From there, I think about details, like superstitions and slang and tiny ways the world influences characters’ lives. Even if it’s not a major part of the story, I make a note about it and try to reference it somewhere, just as a detail. Little things can make the world seem more real, more lived in. They give it texture.
The narrower we get, I worry less about leaving things open, because I like some surprises. (The masquerade in INCARNATE, for example, was a surprise. I knew when Stef started talking about it, and not a moment before.) But in general, the more I know about a world before I step in with the characters, the better job I can do of adding details as I write.