by Twilight Dragon
(Adelaide, South Australia)
Question: My friend and I are currently world-building for our collaborative piece, but we are having difficulties with the man-made geography. We have the agricultural and mining hubs and the capital city down, and a decent forest, but now we still have half a country to fill and little idea of what to do with it.
What aspects are we missing?Answer:
Don't feel you need to fill a country completely before you write your story.
While knowing a lot about your a story world can open up story possibilities and add a feel of authenticity, it is far more important to focus on the characters and what is meaningful to them -- their growth, and the obstacles and opportunities they will actually experience during the course of the story. Unless your characters are actually going to visit every part of the story world (which I don't recommend because it sounds pointlessly dull) then you don't need to fully design it.
Presumably, your main character doesn't need to know every aspect of the world's geography. Some parts he/she will be quite familiar with. Other bits he may have a rough understanding of. And there may be areas of which he knows nothing. During the course of the story, the reader and the main character together may come to discover a little more, but not everything. You may find that you need to alter your story world to suit the story that emerges in the writing. Also, a little remaining mystery is fine. It might even leave the door open for a sequel.
You may need to know some things as writers which the main character doesn't, so you understand why things happen the way they do. But not even J.R.R. Tolkein, the patron saint of world-builders, knew everything about Middle Earth. The east was a big blank because it was not important to the stories.
If you feel you need to flesh things out, to make the world seem more solid, you may want to consider culture as well as geography (acknowledging that the two are often related), especially the culture your main character is immersed in.
Anthropologists, for example, have identified a number of "human universals" - aspects that are part of every culture, though they differ from culture to culture. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Universals)
Again, don't feel you need to address every aspect. Focus on the ones that will matter in your story, the ones that will affect the main character's journey.