Recently at the Once and Future Fantasies conference at the University of Glasgow, I taught a worldbuilding workshop. It was one of the most fabulous workshops I've taught--the results of our work together far exceeded my expectations. I promised the participants I'd post the questions for them since I didn't bring slides. And for anyone else interested, here you go!
One of my favorite exercises when worldbuilding is to take a map--any map--and use it as a springboard to help me worldbuild. My favorite maps are those old inserts from National Geographic Magazine. In the case of the workshop, I borrowed a few maps and many of them weren't simply topographical; for instance, one was a map of troop movements in the American Civil War, another was of bird migrations, another was of climate change, and so on.
In any case, start with whatever map beckons you.
Decide how you will use the map.
Take what you see and twist it, either a little or a lot.
Ask yourself questions like this:
-Who lives here?
-How are they using their environment?
-What technologies are available to them here?
-Which resources are abundant? Which are scarce?
-What is a normal day like for the inhabitants?
-Who made this map? Is the map true?
-Might this map be drawn differently by someone else?
-What stories do the inhabitants tell about themselves in their land?
It's a simple exercise with potentially mind-altering results. The participants in this workshop came up with some absolutely amazing worlds, beings, and story ideas. I'm truly hopeful they'll use these to make all kinds of wonderful things.