Building your world all starts with inspiration. It’s that elusive yeti, the underground bunker stocked with food that every wasteland wanderer searches for. Inspiration can be manufactured in the creative mind, in my experience. It’s about knowing what it is that helps spawn ideas in your head. For me, inspiration comes most commonly from music, strangely enough. The music and the lyrics creates a scenario in my head. The feel of the music creates a theme. My brain goes off and running with the seed of an idea.
Use the idea to create details. Use the details to create new ideas. I think often this process happens organically (at least for me) once I’ve got the proverbial ball rolling:
The death of the dog will lead to the man desperately trying to find his family. To do that he has to find a map of the U.S. and gasoline to get there. Now, do you want to leave the reader in the dark as to how this all happened? Is this crisis local, nationwide, worldwide? Has government broke down, or is society rebuilding without technology? Have new borders been drawn, old conflicts between peoples and races and religions created regional conflict where this man goes? Has a rudimentary feudalism been created, or is society fighting to maintain democracy and capitalism?
It started with something used to inspire (a song, in this case) and ended with the potential to deconstruct and reconstruct a country, or even a world. The question, ‘what conflict will this man trying to cling to his family find in the absence of our technological world?’ has given us the platform to create a world around him. This example may be very simple, and I’ve taken the exact lyrics to build off of for illustrative purposes, but it can often be something far more subtle.
Alternatively, one can start with a worldview, a global problem or apocalyptic conflict and build the story of one person or a group of people from there. But I’m here to say, don’t be afraid to start small. You can build an entire world off of one detail or one scenario. Maybe its the beginning of your story. Maybe its the end, or some moment in between. Let your characters help you build the world they’re fighting to survive in.