This is your canvas. Here are your paints. The brush is optional.
First rule of world building:
You cannot improve upon God’s design!
It’s impossible. Understanding that keeps fantasy in check, (that’s a literary term used to emphasize the inability of your opponent in chess to make offensive moves when they’re king is in check). Even when building a world for any other genre of writing it is important to keep a short leash on fantasy, otherwise it can run rampant. It might even be a good idea to cage fantasy concepts if you wish to keep your story pure and untainted by the stain of fantasy.
The purpose of this rule is to safe guard against the stupidity of overworking your mind in the futility of trying to recreate basic elements like water, air, grass, earth, and the structure of life. There is no room for improvement in God’s creation, hence “very good”. God said it Himself. You can’t do it, don’t try. Accept the canvas as is and paint upon it. Don’t try to make your own canvas.
Step 1- choice of color
Don’t choose red. Why? Red is a dominant color. In literature, red represents romance; in film, red represents violence; in art, red represents anger. Red is never passive, certainly not neutral, and should only be used in very moderate, tempered doses. Red is beautiful, don’t take me wrong. Every color is beautiful in its own way, and that’s not a smoke screen; red is just too bold for its own good and the good of your world.
When painting a world, start with mild colors, ones that don’t aggressively jump out at the reader. Start with dull colors even, pale blues, tan, faded yellow, dense green: desert. Or start with vibrant colors, but emotionally neutral ones: light green, crystal blue, cherry oak, brown: forest.
Your colors set your mood. Why do you think science gave a us mood rings with colors that change based upon emotions? Emotions incarnate themselves in the form of specific colors. We can represent our feelings with hues and tones. The first step to world building is a mental step. Your color choice will set your story type, it will dictate the ground upon which your cultures and characters are built.
Setting the mood isn’t something you can choose not to do, but many people don’t find intentionality in doing it. A good world starts with the metaphysical elements we impart into life. The main thing is to know your colors and to know your audience. What does a color make you think of? Why does it make you think of that? Is it a universal feeling? Go out and discover. Here’s a basic chart to live by though:
Red = anger/violence
Yellow = happiness
Green = vibrancy/life
Blue = calm/peace
Brown = natural/humility
Others are left to your own interpretation and many have two contrasting emotions depending on shade and color blends. But, for general use, this is a good guide.
Step 2- choice of shape: the art of line and curve
This is something all painters know well, the best ones have mastered this art and their paintings are lifelike and realistic. How do you shape your world?
Is it blown out of proportion to enlarge your point and magnify the message of exposé or allegory?
Or is it miniaturized to symbolize the insignificance of the world and its problems?
Are your shapes obtuse, to bend the characters of history and reflect their flaws with masked parallels and subtitle innuendos?
Are your lines meant to be colored inside of, or boundaries to work outside of?
To shape your world is to focus the strokes of line and curve upon the emphasis of message. Harsh, bold strokes paint a straightforward picture, but slight, delicate strokes make finer point. The proper usage of both paints a masterpiece.
The shapes are symbolic of your style, whereas the colors were symbolic of your tone. The tone of writing and your cadence should adapt to fit the mood, however, the style should be universal to your writing and unique to each new world. The style is how you write what you wrote. When you approach an issue do you do it with intentionality to speak your mind, or do you exposit the flaws of a matter and let the reader decide for themselves? A true writer won’t do both, it goes against their character and style.
Who are you as a writer?
Why do you write?
What do you have to say?
To whom do you want to say it?
How will you say it?
Ask yourself those questions before you build a world. That world is your playground for stories, it is your writing escape and should be heavily influenced by purpose and reason. Writers often lack both, the world itself should be a message and the stories simple tell it in their own ways.
Writing is art, but all art has a common bond of being driven by creativity and thus it shares method from painting to writing and everywhere else. This post was just one example of how. I hope it helped you see things differently: clearer.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist