I was originally going to put up a picture of a paper doll. You know the kind with the metal brads through the shoulders and hips. As I was gathering my ideas about building the character's world I realized that I was only thinking about humanoid characters, characters based on the physical world we as humans live in. I was seeing only superficial world building.
Superficial worldbuilding is not a bad thing. Here's my original idea for this post. Take that paper doll image and fill it in. What do its ears look like, its eyes? How many limbs? What kind of skin? Does it have any? As you can see, building a character like this is already interesting. Now, add things the character carries or wears. Where do they come from? How did the character come by them? See? We have another level of building a world from the character out, taking us to a different aspect of the world: its economy.
That's not my original idea, by the way. It came from a now-defunct podcast called "Shakespeare and Dragons" (you can still find the podcasts online here. Not all of the files work so if you can't download one version, try the next!). Focusing on the world this way is another means of managing the complexity of the worlds characters live in.
So, what is the idea I ended up with? It's this: What kind of world created your character? Take our friend Sarah. What kind of world created a woman who buys sex like coffee? We assumed it was a world a little like ours, similar cultural system (since there are places where sex is nearly as easily come by. Amsterdam, anyone?). However, this is SARAH, a female. How is her world different from ours? We assumed that her purchase was taller than she was, had a particular set of sexual organs that fit hers in a particular way. We also assumed that her purchase of sex was casual. What if she is making a necessary purchase, that the function of the process was reproduction and the use of non-bonded partners created a drone workforce? Oh, and she is not the womb! What kind of story will you write, now?
You got werewolves? What kind of world made them? Even if it is our more familiar world, what about it is so different that werewolves emerged? Or vampires? Think alternatives. We have alternative histories in Steampunk so, how about alternative evolution? Alternative cultural development?
After extending my image of Sarah, I started thinking of her society as being based on the life of bees or ants. It's not an original world, I'm sure, but it gives me another idea. What if instead of werewolves we were wolves? What would the world look like if it was based on wolf society? Wolf culture? What if Sarah's world were based on the wolf?