Creating a Fantasy World with One Document

Y’all know I love World Anvil, but if you’ve read my worldbuilding process post then you know that I also make good use of one really long document that holds all of my initial notes when I’m working on Deseran. I call it my brain dump document. Today I want to talk about a couple of different ways I’ve used brain dump documents when creating a fantasy world in the past, and why I like to have them on hand.

Structure or No Structure?

When I mention a “brain dump” document, I’m guessing you picture a document with very little organization that just goes on forever. Well… that would be a pretty accurate description of my Deseran brain dump document. But I’ve also used a brain dump document for Aleruus which looks very different. You can view it here. If you look at that example, you’ll see that it’s much more structured, but still gives me flexibility to throw whatever new information I come up with into its appropriate category—or to add a new category, if needed. Your brain dump document can be as structured or as free-form as you need it to be to work with your process.

Write Ideas as They Come

With a brain dump document, you can go about creating a fantasy world in pieces as you think of concepts. If you have pre-written categories, you can simply find the appropriate category and jot down your new idea. (With this method, you can easily see which areas are most developed and which need the most work.) If you’re not using categories, you can simply write down your notes in the next available space and leave them to organize later. (The benefit of this method is that you can go straight from one topic into a completely unrelated topic without interrupting your mental flow to find the next appropriate section.)

Explore for Yourself

With a brain dump document, you don’t have to flesh out all the details of a concept right away; you can just note down what you know right away and come back to expand on it later. There are no empty fields to fill out or specific spaces forcing you to decide whether this detail falls under x field or y field; you can write things in such a way that they all flow naturally with one another at first… even if there’s a better way to organize them to find things later on. A brain dump document lends itself to unhindered exploration of a world, sort of like a traveler’s journal that will one day be reorganized into a memoir. You might have to structure things later for others to understand (or so you can understand it better), but a brain dump is just for you; it gives you an open sandbox to play in.

Creating an empty document to scribble my thoughts in is my favorite first step to creating a fantasy world; I think it might be why I’m able to enjoy building Deseran so much more than my more structured worlds. Have you ever set up a brain dump document for your world? How has it worked for you? Do you prefer more structure in your worldbuilding process, or do you like more freedom to explore without a guide?

Want to learn how to build a worldbuilding process that’s personalized to you? Check out The Worldbuilding Toolbox!

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