I may not be a mason myself, but according to family legend, my ancestors were building churches well into the early Middle Ages in France. This is no surprise to me because I am, quite handily, obsessed with cathedrals and churches, castles and ramparts… Understanding how something is built, especially to the magnitude of some of the works we still enjoy from the so-called “Dark” Ages, excites and inspires me to no end. I’ve been known to design these buildings in my spare time, in fact, well before I was even writing them into a novel or two.
When it comes to world building, though, you may find yourself–regardless of your love for the buildings themselves–with plenty of questions facing you. And if you write in the fantasy genre, and even science-fiction to a certain extent, you may be faced with your own castles, temples, and cathedrals.
So how are these sorts of things made? How can you even start to wrap your head around it?
Well, to help answer those questions, I would like to refer you to David Macaulay of The Way Things Work fame (a book that every single child on the face of the planet should own). This was a suggestion given to me by a professor in college, who recommended that, if I wanted to learn how medieval cathedrals were built, this was the place to start. Yes, technically it’s a children’s book. Yes, it has lots and lots of pictures (I say, unapologetically that I adore pictures, though). But you know what? It also makes a very difficult subject beautiful and accessible.
Cathedral is by and large my favorite, for obvious reasons. I can’t leave a subject well enough alone without understanding how it really works, what is involved, and who is behind it. Cathedral is a narrative, too, and it tells the story of the cathedral as it’s being built, as well as the that of the generations of people involved in the process. The drawings are wonderful, detailed, and satisfy the inner tinkerer and the aesthete.
And if cathedrals aren’t your forte, try Castle, Ship, and even Mill. Each is lovingly drawn and told, the result being a perfect springboard for worldbuilding or just general knowledge. It’s perfect to share with kids, too, and there are in fact, videos to accompany them if you’d like, with lovely narration.
Sure, you can always check out tomes at the library. But sometimes, with worldbuilding, there’s so much to do it’s good to start simple and grow from there if needs be. I’ve yet to find a resource as enjoyable as Macaulay’s, that’s for sure.