There are many different methods in worldbuilding and each creator will need to find the one that works best for both them and the particular project they are working on. Below are a few of the easiest and most robust ways to quickly create worlds, be they artistic, game-oriented, or narrative-driven.
AMPLIFICATION & ELABORATION
Amplification is the process of identifying some worldly element and making it grandiose. First, identify any single element a world could contain. This could be some geological feature, a type of weather, a type of transportation, a profession, an animal, some kind of organization or institution, or any kind of defining thing you can think of. If you wish to try this, think of something now or use one of the lists provided at right to help.
Now take that identified element and amplify it to the extreme. It now becomes your world (or at least a major part of it). If you chose caves as a geological feature, imagine a world that is only a series of endless, interconnected caverns. Now elaborate on this. Ask yourself questions about how the world functions and answer them. How do people live in a place that is only caverns? Are the caverns natural, man-made, or created by something else? Do the people that live in this place mount expeditions to find useful resources or treasures? What do they use to light their way? What happens when the light goes out?
You may already recognize amplification and elaboration in some of your favorite stories. Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas has a series of worlds that are just amplified holiday worlds which have been elaborated on. If you are familiar with the works of Steven Milhauser you will immediately recognize amplification in a number of his works, including Martin Dressler: the Tale of an American Dreamer, where a hotel becomes a world unto itself.
Amplification & Elaboration may be the most common theme in all worldbuilding and it is difficult to think of any created world that does not contain some element that has not been amplified.
REDUCTION & ELABORATION
Reduction is the act of diminishing some element, making it either scarce or nonexistent. You will often see this occurring in post-apocalyptic worlds where the population has been reduced to a fraction of what it once was. This is often paired with a reduction in the livable land space, such as survivors sheltering in some small but fortified haven. This is also a common occurrence in alternate reality worlds, which often ask the question of what would happen if some event or technology never existed.
Reduction and amplification may occur separately or may be linked. For example, in the 1995 movie Waterworld, the Earth’s landmasses have been reduced, causing the worlds’ ocean element to be amplified.
Elaborating on your amplified or reduced element is a critical step, and Other Atlas will provide a number of tools to help you provide depth and nuance to any creation you are working on. Components will provide additional detail for your world, while Models will help place yourself within a fictional space.
While fantastic methods to quickly begin the creation of new and interesting worlds, the amplification/reduction and elaboration methods do have one potential drawback: they can easily lead to A Planet of Hats, which most worldbuilders will wish to avoid. Potential ways to avoid this are further elaboration, layering of additional elements, and the use of fracturing and nestling.
Layering is the act of adding one amplified or reduced element on top of another in order to create a fuller, richer world. While the amplification or reduction of a single element may lead to one-dimensional worlds, altering the scale of multiple elements can provide additional depth as well as narrative drive.
Frank Herbert’s Dune, for instance, contains multiple elements that have been amplified: an entire desert planet complete with giant worms and massive sandstorms, a single crucial commodity driving the economy, and an ever-present religion with tendrils in every facet of life. Together these amplified elements create a world that is magnificently more full and interesting than any aspect alone.
While the amplification of multiple elements can create narrative conflict, care must be taken to ensure that the elements compliment and do not detract from one another.
FRACTURING & NESTLING
Both fracturing and nestling are methods to create variation in a world. Fracturing in worldbuilding is the act of taking some created element and finding nuance within it by splitting it into two separate elements of the same type. For example, if you have created a religion or a language for the inhabitants of your world, instead creating two separate religions or two unique languages would be examples of fracturing. You are taking a unified, one-dimensional element in your world, in this case either religion or language, and you are breaking it into multiples. Fracturing creates new examples of the same element.
You could also take that unique religion or language and instead carve out a minority sect or a regional dialect. This would be an example of nestling. You have not broken your unified element into separate things, you still only have one religion or one language, but you have created a small space for something different. While fracturing creates multiple new examples of an element, nestling creates something new that fits within a previously created element.
Fracturing and nestling both provide depth to worlds. They also provide realism, as variation is commonplace within our own world. Earth is not dominated by a single religion or language, or culture, or creature.
Any element that exists in your world can be subject to fracturing or nestling. If you have a company that makes a screwdriver, why not have a competitor? If you have a kingdom, why not have a trade partner? And if you have magic, why not have multiple kinds?