Tying Elements Together


Creating world building elements that stand isolated from others can make the setting seem poorly designed and lacking depth. There’s no quick solution for tying everything together. It pays to have a good memory of what’s been invented so far and tweak what we’re inventing currently based on this.

Periodically reviewing our world building files is an excellent practice. Put a reminder on a calendar, if you keep one to organize your projects or life. What we’ll do is just read through our files. That’s it! It might have been months or years since gestation (or repeated refinement) led to the contents of a file. We may have invented many items since and forgotten to intertwine them. Even without that, we may have new ideas or realizations to add. We’ve also had time away from the invention and our fresher eyes can improve what we’ve done. Expect and accept that this exercise might lead to additional world building.

Another approaching is what I think of as “looping.” Choose a land feature, such as a forest, and describe the terrain; details and examples on what to write are discussed in Creating Places (The Art of World Building #2). but we want to discuss how dense the underbrush is, the mood of it, how many roads run through it and their condition, and what plants and animals of interest might be here, in what quantity, and in which areas. If we’ve invented some lifeforms, we’re now merging them with this particular woodland. We can state that a given road is less traveled due to proximity to the territory of one such creature. Rare items might be here; state where they’re found and how arduous the journey is. Maybe a nefarious organization has a base within.

Now start the loop. If there are multiple settlements nearby, open the file for one. The inhabitants have a relationship with this place. Describe it. Do they fear it, use it for recreation, or hunt within? How far from the walls is it? They’re the one tending a road or letting it be overgrown. Do they see this terrain as protecting them from attack or as a vulnerability? Is there something nasty inside that they fear? What armed forces exist here that are present specifically to deal with such a threat? Are there raids into the woods or from things in the woods? Do knights attend those who venture into this forest? To decide this requires some imagination, and having worked out the military groups available. Are there useful plants there and major products that result? When we’re done updating the settlement file, we need to revisit the one for this forest, updating our description of it to include its relationship with this settlement. We’re looping from one file into another and back. If there’s another settlement near this forest, we repeat the same exercise. Do it with all nearby communities.

Then choose another. Or a mountain range, a lake, a desert, or other features until there’s little on a map that’s not interwoven. Use the options we discussed in Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2) to ensure no two are alike. While doing this, we may think of additions to non-places and should update those files, too.

For example, if we’ve imagined new details on our evil organization, perhaps we add a note about their base in these woods and what it’s like, and how the nearby settlements impact life there. We might even say that, because a given animal is here, it’s been adopted as their symbol, or they specialize in taming or killing it, even cooking it a particular way. The latter can result in a rare treat that people like but are afraid to eat in public due to its association with the group. Now we have to open our files on food and drinks of the world and update that, possibly creating occasions when something is consumed and when it’s avoided, or how it’s made, its reputation, and whatever else. We might decide that there’s another version of it without the bad reputation, as invented by another species, and now we end up in that file jotting down a note about it but leaving the details in our food file.

The same approach is used to integrate species with each other and the world. Work on one and define it according to imagination and the guidance from Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), using the provided template for ideas. There’s a section on relationships with others. Fill out connections between, for example, your elves and dwarves while in the elven file, and then open the dwarf file and do the same there. To minimize rewrites, I will copy and paste the same text in both files, even though I generally avoid duplication in my notes. Review what’s been written about both while doing this because it can trigger ideas.

When we invent an organization or military group, for example, we should define its relations with each species and location (settlements, regions, land features, and sovereign powers) where it is found. We once again want to loop back into the species and location files and update our understanding of them.

The pattern here is periodic review and update. That’s the way we integrate elements in the setting. Don’t expect it to all be done at once. That’s not realistic. I’ve been updating my Llurien setting for over thirty years now, always improving and refining it. Sometimes it’s been a decade since I last read a file. I’m sometimes surprised by what’s in one, as I remember many grand scale inventions but often forget details of things I’m not currently using. My duration on this is extreme, but yours needn’t be. We can world build many things a few minutes at a time as long as we stay organized.