Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Have you ever played The Sims, and spent longer creating your characters, and building their house than you did actually playing the game? That’s how world building in speculative fiction should be.
Okay, maybe not exactly how your world building should be, but the idea is generally the same. You spend a good amount of time building up your characters, the culture, the world around them, and then you get into the actual meat of writing.
But how exactly do you go about doing that?
What all do you have to know before you can start writing?
Think about what goes into the world you live in.
Depending on the story you are writing, geography can play a huge part of the plot. Is your city on the edge of the kingdom that’s about to go to war, or are the right in the center of the fighting? How far away are they from help? Should your protagonist worry about the threat of a blizzard that could keep him from returning the princess to her father safe and sound, thus ending the war before the casualties really start to pile up?!
Geography may seem boring at first, but once you get into it, it can really help shape your story. It could even take it places (no pun intended) that you never would have thought of originally.
Now to get into the really interesting stuff. Culture. Who are the people you’re writing about? Out of all the different elements of world building, this is probably going to be your biggest one, and the one that’s going to make everything feel more real to your reader.
When creating a culture you have to think about religion, entertainment, how people interact, and who’s really in charge. If all you are writing is, “they walked into the pub and music was playing in the background,” or, “she greeted him per the customs of the realm,” not only is it going to seem like you didn’t put enough effort into your story, but it’s going to be boring for your reader. You’re not giving them anything visually.
“As they opened the door to the pub, a bard could be heard picking out a jaunty little tune on a lute as he sang about an unnamed adventurer from the past.”
A reader can hear that, they can see that in their minds, and reading your story is going to be more enjoyable because of it.
The past shapes the present. Just because something happened before your story starts, doesn’t mean that it’s not going to affect it. Think about how much the United States has changed after 9/11, or how British rule changed India. Those kinds of things leave a lasting effect on the people, decades, or even centuries after they happen. Think about how past events have shaped your characters lives, how it drives their actions, and what it means for their futures.
That’s not to say that you have to publish a complete history of your world alongside your story. Small pieces here and there that explain why X is Y are enough to give your reader a big enough picture that they know what is going on. Again this make your story fuller, and more enjoyable to the reader.
This one is more for fantasy than other speculative fiction genres, but if you include magic in your story, it’s something that really needs to be thought through.
Magic is one of those things where if you don’t do it right, it’s so easy for a reader to poke holes in the logic.
When writing about magic some things to think about are; what are the limits, who can harness the power, where does the power even come from?
Remember, magic with no rules, or even very loose rules doesn’t make for a very fun story. If Kvothe the Great can just swoop in at the last second and fix everything with a snap of his fingers, what was the point of the story in the first place?
There is a lot to consider when building your world. There are so many tiny details that you may have never even thought of before, and it can be a daunting task. If your struggling, there is hope.
There are tons of websites and blogs, just like this one, out there dedicated to writing, and they will have resources for the kinds of things you should include in your world.
We also live in the age of Facebook, when groups full of people who love writing are just a click away, and are usually more than willing to help out a fellow author in distress.
Pinterest is also your friend. Not only are there tons of templates, and worksheets that basically lay everything out for you (you just fill in the blanks), but once again, there are tons of links to websites, blogs, etc., that will help you if you get stuck.
Pinterest is also a great place to go for inspiration, with the added benefit of being able to pin anything that catches your eye to a board to save for later.
Again, world building can be daunting, but the more you know about your world going into your writing, the better off you’ll be. When you tie everything together before you start the actual writing, everything will feel cohesive, and the story will flow naturally.
About the author: Courtney Deese is currently working towards her BA in Creative Writing. Between work and school, she can sometimes find time to read or play her bass. You can find Courtney on Instagram @thepunkbookworm.