I recently attended a fantastic world building workshop by Lisa Mangum. She talked about working from the outside in--or oppositely if your book is character driven. She split the world into five layers: The world of the world, the world of the country, the world of the community, and for the MC’s—or another character who’s history or community you explore--personal home: the world of family and friends, and the world of self.
The world of the world is mainly the general stuff, the magic system, time system, life forms etc… Mangum talked about the seasons in the world as well and how the communities prepare for them and like or dislike them—she made a great example about how we’d feel about winter if it lasted ten years instead of a couple months while the other seasons only provide a year of preparation time.
The world of the country explores the government(s) of the country or countries explored in the novel and their relation with other nations. Though only a little may end up in the book we should also explore the history of the country to help bring it to life.
Mangum explained that the world of the communities should show whether they’re agricultural or industrial, their size, their interaction level with nearby communities—if any, whether they’re famous for something, and the character relationship to the community. Does the character love the community? Does he want to escape from it? Is he counted as one of their own or an outsider? Why?
The world of family and friends is merely the relationships the character has within his community. Here we should explore how the family unit is set up and how our characters communicate and what the organized way of growth is—Mangum gave the examples of school and dragon bonding.
The world if self shows the places the character knows the most and how he spends his time in the community. Here we explore how the character fits into his worlds and how and where he is used to living—before we drag him out of it.