Dystopian World Building Worksheet: Part I

My revision letter and first line edits just arrived for EYE OF THE STORM, my upper-MG dystopian novel coming out with Walker/Bloomsbury in 2012.  I’ve been dying to get back to this book, but before I touch the manuscript to make a single change, I’m going to be writing many, many pages of world-building thoughts. While I did a lot of this during the planning process, I can already tell that this revision is going to be easier — and just plain better — if I take even more time to write explicitly about this world my character inhabits, its rules and challenges, and how it got to be the way it is.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, world-building is the process of coming up with all that information — the history, rules, and everyday realities of the world in which a fantasy or science fiction novel is set.  In historical fiction, we simply call this research, because the world already existed in a past time, and the writer’s job is to ferret out all the details about what it was like.  But when a story is set in an imaginary world or in the future, there’s no real-life past to explore.  It all has to be made up, but made up in a way that makes sense, in a way that the circumstances of the world are believable, given the history that created it, and in a way that’s logical, given the rules you’ve established for the world.

Even imaginary worlds need rules.  Consider Hogwarts. The incantation "Expelliarmus!" always results in an opponent being disarmed, if it’s done right. As readers, we wouldn’t be on board if a character used "Expelliarmus!" to disarm an enemy in one scene and then cried "DroppusWandus!" five pages later. Things need to be consistent.

So what do writers need to consider when creating a world?  I actually spent some time looking around online this week, hoping to find a magical worksheet that would guide me through everything I’d want to consider.  I found some excellent resources at the League of Extraordinary Writers blog, written by a group of debut dystopian writers.  I also liked this post, called "The Importance of Worldbuilding."  But despite searching all over online and even asking for resources on my beloved Twitter, I couldn’t come up with a world-builiding worksheet that felt like it would work for me.

So I made one.  It’s six pages long, and it explores just about every aspect of my future society that I could come up with.  Here’s how it starts:

Geographic Location ___________________________________________________

In the year _______________

In this dystopian society… (Write one sentence that expresses the heart of the story, the conflict as it relates to the dystopia.)

What current issue/problem is at the heart of this dystopia?  From what spark of our modern reality was this world born?

How does the setting of this story impact the main character?

I’m going to get back to writing now, but I’ll share more of this worksheet in the revision-days ahead, in case it’s helpful. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, watch for Part II in a few days.