One of my absolute favorite parts of novel writing occurs before the first sentence has been written: the world-building and brainstorming phase.
My love of world-building began, like so many of my passions, with Dungeons & Dragons. I loved making characters, creating their backstories, drawing their pictures, outlining their family trees. When I tried my hand as dungeon master, I made up new cultures and races, new classes, new rules, new magic systems. Every magic item had a history, a personality, a goal. There was no “Sword +2 damage” in my world, there was a sword that hated actors, because it secretly longed to be one, and would only respond when certain lines were spoken with the right intonation.
I wasn’t a very good DM, but I loved creating worlds, and that remains one of my favorite parts of novel planning.
Right now, I’m in the “golden haze” of brainstorming. This is the part where I fall asleep thinking about my world, I dream about it, and I wake up thinking about it. I keep my notebook with me at all times, but especially by my bedside. I will wake up at 2am and scratch notes in the darkness, or sneak out of bed at 6am to describe a villain, a line of dialogue, a plot twist.
Just before bedtime, sleep, and early morning are my favorite times to brainstorm. I let the rest of the world disappear, and immerse myself into the new world I’m creating. During the day, my brain works in the background, sometimes interrupting work or conversations with a non sequitur.
“Do we have any bagels?”
“What if the magic sword is actually a stuffed rhinoceros?”
I can get frustrated at times, because this process is slow, and I go in circles. I started a new moleskine for this book in January, and I’m halfway through it. Page after page of character ideas, lists, names, plots, notes from websites and books, stream-of-conscious nonsense. I’ve agreed to attend a workshop with this book in a few months, and the deadline is making me nervous, is adding a frantic edge to my already frenetic brainstorming. World-building isn’t linear for me, it’s a great unending spiral, sometimes an ouroborus. In a society that lauds quantifiable progress, this one-step-forward-three-steps-back approach can be heartbreaking.
But oh, how I love this haze of creation! How I love being possessed, driven, consumed by it. Even if I never write this book (and I really hope I do), I will be grateful for this feeling, this incredible self-imposed sense of wonder and awe.
How do you world-build?
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