Whether you’re writing Science Fiction or Fantasy, it’s incredibly likely that you’re not writing your story on Earth as we know it. In fact, you might be going lengths to create a habitable world on a new planet for your story. Or perhaps you’re less concerned with the technical aspects and just want to create a simple but believable new world. Whatever you’re aiming for, it can be fun to consider all the possibilities. Many of these details you’re going to iron out won’t eve make it into your narrative, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important for you, the author, to know. That background knowledge will shine through and help you create a deep and vibrant world that feels real and alive to your characters and to your readers.
Are you attempting to create an Earth-analogue? If so, you can assume many things we tend to take for granted will remain unchanged: atmosphere composition/appearance, plant color, water presence, etc. But if you’re not, and you’re willing to experiment, then please…
- What is the planet’s placement in its solar system?
- What type of star does it orbit? Red dwarf? White dwarf?
- Is it in a binary system?
- How does the star affect the world, its plants, its people?
- Does the planet’s axis tilt? How much?
- Does the planet have a moon? Many moons?
- How different are the seasons, tides, weather patterns, etc. because of your choices thus far? Is it something totally crazy?
- What types of rocks and metals are common on your planet? Are there any elements we humble humans have yet to discover?
- What various types of plant life has this environment grown? Will it be familiar to your reader or vastly different?
- Are you creating a single biome planet, or are you creating variety?
- Is your world the home planet of its people, or did they colonize? A home planet would need relatively believable circumstances so that a race of intelligent people could have evolved there…but if you’re writing a world that’s been colonized or terraformed, then you likely have a little bit of leeway in following the regular laws of habitability.
- If they colonized this planet, why did they choose to do so?
- How have your people grown adjusted to a new world over time?
- What is the tectonic-plate situation of your planet? How do they move and how have they shaped landmass over time?
- Are there landscapes and formations that would be unfamiliar to your readers?
- What are the bodies of water like? How drinkable is natural water?
- What kinds of natural resources are abundant on the planet? What types are rare?
- What kinds of animals inhabit the world?
- How plentiful is the fauna? How aggressive or tame is it?
- Do the animals contribute to or inhibit your people’s way of life?
- How has the alien plant life altered the evolution of animals?
- Which animals are commonly hunted and consumed or utilized?
- What types of animals will the people of your world refuse to hunt?
Create a map of the planet, even if it’s broad and only outlines major things. Give yourself a solid picture of what your world looks like and use it. You don’t have to include every detail in your story (in fact, please don’t!) but knowing the big picture is good for you.
And always remember: you don’t have to do all of this brainstorming before writing your story. Sometimes, you just want to get to the heart of the story and that’s fine! Do it! If you feel like you need to write a narrative, then don’t hold yourself back. But come back to this. Come back and iron out all of the details so that you can make sure the backdrop of your story is consistent and organic (not in a carbon-based way, but in a non-contrived way).
Novel planning doesn’t have to happen in its entirety before the novel. But it does need to happen before the final draft of the novel. A lack of depth to your world will show through if you neglect to create it.
If you aren’t interested in building a world from the ground up, then don’t! We have a perfectly good world right here under our feet and there are still millions of stories to be told in it (or in its parallel versions). But also, maybe, this post isn’t for you. 😉