I have to admit it, I’m a pantser. My plotting when I begin a novel or novella tends to be minimal. I have a beginning, and maybe an ending, but the vast middle may be very sketchy or almost non-existent. That tends to make life interesting when I am world-building.
I set my first published fantasy novel, which eventually became a trilogy, entirely within the bounds of a mythical valley, with only casual references to what might lie beyond. That is contrary to most rules of world-building where you must plot out the entire continent at the minimum, and preferably the entire world, complete with nations, cities, religions, and the whole scene. While I got away with my minimalist creating for these three novels, if I ever decided to continue the story I will have to figure out what lies beyond.
A similar thing happened to me in my second novel. This was a tale that followed a group fleeing a fallen city, and so all I bothered to create was the narrow strip of terrain they passed through. I didn’t even bother to name the city. (I called it The City. My editor beat me up and changed it to the city.) That worked fine, until I found myself working on books two and three. Now I’m sketching out the surroundings. Rule number one in these cases is to be reasonably consistent with normal rules of geography. North is colder, south is warmer, mountains are higher, etc. I really must create more detail.
In my fantasy detective novellas I cheat and use the existing geography of good old planet Earth and simply muck about it to suit my purpose. At least I know where the major physical features are even though I’m messing up everything else, changing names and inventing unusual inhabitants.
I am trying to reform. I find I can get away pretty good on the original story in a series, but when I get to book two and beyond I have to slow down and start writing down ideas and suggested chapters. At least somewhere in the back of my cluttered mind I always have some idea of what is going on in my imaginary neighborhoods.
My advice to beginners, for what very little it is worth, is to take the time to give some thought to the setting you will use. I generally muck about in fantasy worlds where I have a bit of lee-way. (I do try to avoid cheating and claiming it was all created by magic.) So far I have managed to stay clear of pure science fiction where I would have to stick to logic and the proper astronomical data for my settings. Beware of creating worlds that don’t follow the accepted rules or you may find yourself pilloried by purists.
The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volume 1 to 7)
Alex in Wanderland,