Countdown to A Sign in Blood - Day Two
I often start off a world by drawing a map. It gives me a starting place, and I like having something solid on which to base the worldbuilding. I may have an idea of the story I want to tell, but evolves with the world and I find that having a set physical location gives me the first boundaries necessary to create a world. Once the map is finished, I have a solid foundation for building the rest.
With A Sign in Blood, I liked that all my characters came from very different places, with very different climates and environments. Different modes of survival. I wanted to use that in characterizing them. Chadri, for instance, often compares things to the home she longs to return to. She thinks in sea and storm and water imagery, connecting everything to sea-cliffs and mountains, to the winds and the rains and the floods. Her people, the Bensas, associate themselves with the stone beneath their feet, and Chadri has been trying to fit in among them for so long that she has trouble seeing outside of their perspective. Narrow city streets become ravines, and niggling questions get compared to grit in an oyster.
Nathias, on the other hand, uses terms, imagery and comparison from all three nations, because she's lived in all three--the only one of the character who has, at the start of the book. Her world view is larger, but still defined by her own perceptions of those three cultures. She is Nirafel, and she grew up in Barakou's temple, and she is not fond of temples or religion in general. When she does relate to it, she feels closest to the Bensas way of thought because deity is not--in their view--confined to a temple. They don't build structures at all, and for Nathias spirituality that is bound to a temple is too rigid and confining.
I find that once I have the geography down, the world builds itself to some degree. I start asking myself questions about the geography. What resources would these people have? How do they transport goods? How do they keep in contact with one another? How do they organize themselves? The geography often places an important role in these types of decisions. If they have to cross a lot of water, boats are a likely option, if they have to trudge through the snow, skis and sleds may be their idea of traveling in style.
Geography gives you a sense of what resources a place will have, and what they'll have to do to keep them. Culture grows up around it, and while every group of people will deal differently with the challenges and advantages their geography represents, knowing what those challenges and advantages are is the first step.