This post is part of a series. The first post World Building Part 1: Market Research is here. When typing up the first entry, I realized I had to break up the post into parts because the process has been quite lengthy.
My critique partners pointed out that my setting wasn’t clear and I realized it wasn’t clear to me either. I took their feedback to heart and looked for examples of how other authors handled non-European fantasy settings. (The novels I read as part of my research are mentioned in Part 1.) After reading a few novels, I started researching cultures and ancient history of Asian countries. I’ve learned so much which was exciting and provided me with lots of inspiration, but the problem was that I had lots of inspiration!
My goal for my research was to find the social hierarchy, religious/spiritual beliefs, customs, and ethinic origins for Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines. At this point I didn’t know which one I’d select or if I’d use parts from each to incorporate into my story.
To organize all the readings I found, I used the Binder feature in Scrivener to collect all my links. I really love this feature. Instead of bookmarking and creating a mess in my browser’s bookmarks, I saved them into folders in a Scrivener project for my book. I love that I can review the links in Scrivener while writing and I can also take notes in the Corkboard feature which is the index card format for looking at entries. If I had done this process the old way, it would’ve ended with stacks and stacks of print outs and index cards. Instead, it’s all kept in one place and it stays organized.
The picture below is my board of world building details. I used a tri-fold presentation board (28 in x 40 in). I also used color coded Post-its and washi tapes to separate the classes.
On the left fold flap, are details about my research. The yellow Post-its were the notes about the social heirarchy in Japan and the Philippines. The grey Post-its are historical facts during ancient history in Korea, China, and Japan. On the right fold flap, there are more grey Post-its about folktales/ folklore and beliefs from the Phlippines.
In the center of the presentation board are the hierarchy groups in ancient Filipino society, tiered from royalty/noble class to the lowest class/slaves. The yellow Post-its are the characters in each class. The green Post-its list who or what the people’s spiritual beliefs would be. The small blue Post-its are notes and examples of the people in each class. The small orange Post-its are how my main character relates to another character in each class. (This will be a point of character development that will come up in my story later.)
Making sense of my research for world building.
I’m a visual person and laying it out on this presentation board helped me to blend the details from my research into my story and also see how my main character fit into it all. Before I started, my setting was unclear. Now, I know my setting will be inspired by ancient Filipino culture and spritual beliefs. Some aspects of ancient Japanese and Korean culture will also be added too.
My husband snapped this picture for posterity.
Once I had my notes up for my world building details, I realized that I also needed a map. One of my critique partners commented that there wasn’t any context to the action occuring in the first scene. It was an action sequence in a barn, but my partner didn’t get any sense of where the barn was or where the characters were.
I’m not good at drawing. Passable, if I really had to try. Then I found How to Draw a World Map. I loved this so much because I don’t have any experience in drawing maps, but this tutorial was easy to follow and had good explanations of basic geography and how nature is used as protection from other hostile groups.
I printed the tutorial for ease of use.
My attempt at a world map for my story.
It’s a really rough sketch, but I’m pretty pleased with how it came out and when I go back and rewrite the beginning, my story will have more description about the setting. It’ll also be easier to describe my main character’s movements through the story because I’ll be able to visualize where she’s going.
Once I finished sketching my map, I decided to add cities. In the tutorial, the OP pointed out that cities were founded near a body of water and mountains provided a natural form of fortification against enemies. With this advice in mind, I was careful about where to place my cities. The story begins at the farm where my main character has hid for most of her life. I made sure I placed the farm in an area near a body of water and not too close to mountains or the coast.
On Post-it flags, I used the labels capital, major, minor, and port city. I also worte what type of trade each city was known for. Another layer added to my world!
I used Post-it flags to mark where cities might go on my map.
The next step for me was to get more visual inspiration for my world. I had a good idea for its social hierarchy, beliefs system/customs, and geography. I went back to my critique partners’ comment about context. I had a vague idea of what the land looked like. The map help provided a physical representation of its context, but I wanted details. I had the forest, but I needed the trees!
I did image searches on Google and Pinterest. Both worked really well, but had different results. Google cast a really wide net of results. In most cases, it was nice to see the various images. But there was so much! There wasn’t as many results on Pinterest, but the quality was much better. I would not say one was better than the other, but it certainly is a matter of quality vs. quantity.
I used Pinterest for a lot of different things, but this was the first time I used it for my writing. In general, it’s such a fantastic tool for gathering ideas and visual inspiration, but for writing it’s a tremendous help in visualizing your setting and characters. It’s also neat to see how other writers use it for their stories as well. I created several boards listed as My Story each with a theme: culture, setting, characters, and weapons and fighting. I could also load these images into Scrivener too. I haven’t yet, but I think I might end up printing hard copies of key images instead to put up in my home office to help me remember details about my characters and setting. I might do a story collage like I used to have my students do. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. If I do it, I’ll share it. The biggest hinderance is that I don’t have a lot of room and I have lots of small children running under foot who don’t always look with just their eyes.
Researching visual inspiration for my characters and setting took a little over a week. It was a lot of fun looking at images for my story. It felt like the characters and setting were finally coming alive. I also can’t wait to write about them. When I felt that I had a good representation of my story’s setting and characters, I printed my Pinterest board for the setting. The page came out as thumbnails of all the images I collected. They were the perfect size for my next step.
I cut out some of the thumbnails of places that I felt were the major places of my setting and stuck them on my map. I used washi tape so that I could move the pictures if I needed to and also eventually label what the place was.
Pinterest board for Setting printed out and ready to cut out.
Cutting and washi taping the settings on my map. I used the washi tape as a label for the names of places.
Another layer of my world added! It’s so exciting to see my story coming together. I also decided to print out bigger images of the key places that I need for the beginning of my story, so I could look at them. My map actually has a second sheet taped to the right side, so it extends out. I’ll put the enlarged images there. I also found some really neat layout images of rice farms that will work as inspiration for my main character’s home. In the picture below, I haven’t cut out the enlarged images yet.
The Pinterest board images were thumbnails–perfect size for my map. I also printed out larger sizes to put next to the map to see more detail.
Such an exciting development. I’m really pleased with my results and I also feel like I’m on the right path.
My next step after this will be to go back to my first outline and revise it to include details about the setting. Having all this research and visual inspiration will make going back and revising easier. I’m also going to have to revise my world’s history. Since my inspiration is primarily taken from ancient Filipino history, I will have to decide how parts of that history will work into my world’s history. I also will need to look at specific details. I still have to come up with a name for my world and the race(s) of the people!