What is worldbuilding?

Worldbuilding is creating the setting of your story. Whether you’re writing a short story, a children’s book, or a high fantasy novel for adults, your story will have a setting; it will happen somewhere. This may be your character’s kitchen. It might be a modern city like New York or London. It might be a planet called Zarcon. Wherever your story takes place, building that world takes time and a lot of work.

Key components to think about when you’re building a world are:

  • Religion
  • People Groups
  • Infrastructure
  • Government
  • History
  • Education
  • Customs
  • Climate
  • Architecture
  • Technology

Do the research.

If your story happens in a real place, get to know that place. Read about it. Go see it if you can. When does your story happen? Figure out what happened in that city in that year. What events, what road construction, what weather phenomena happened? What quirks or idiosyncrasies do the locals have? What dialects are found there and in the surrounding areas?

If you’re writing historical fiction, get to know that era. Whether it’s 13th century Scotland or Caesar’s Rome, do the in-depth research on that time period so you know about the clothes people wore, the political issues they were facing, how they made bread. If you can, talk to an expert who has spent their career studying the customs of that specific time in history. Read annotated novels from or about that time if they’re available.

If your setting is a fictional place, then you need to know all of the things listed above. Either make them up or base them off of real places, making a mixture that is your own. You need to make a database of information on the world you are creating. Some of this you can do as you write. Doing a lot of it while planning can make writing a lot easier.

Whether a real or a fictional setting, build a library of extensive research.
Convince your reader that you’re an expert on that place.

Why is worldbuilding important?

Worldbuilding creates the world that your characters are from, are in, and are reacting to. It informs and is informed by your characters. It may greatly influence your plot.

When you know the world of your story well, your characters and their actions and reactions will feel authentic to your readers.

From my experience as a reader and a writer, the key to good worldbuilding is knowing the specifics but not always giving it all to the reader.

  • If you give me enough detail about the cultural norms, the history, and the everyday life in the world you’ve created, then I’ll be able to infer enough of the rest that I feel connected to your world.
  • If you give me too many details and never let me connect the dots myself, then I’ll feel lectured, bored, and disconnected.
  • If you give me too few details I’ll feel lost, confused and unsure of where the characters are coming from, what they’re doing, and why it matters.

By constructing the world of your novel well, from the point of view of your main character, your reader will feel so much more connected to your story and your characters. Think about Harry Potter, the wizarding world and Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling built a world that is at once familiar and yet fantastical. Throughout the series she delivers tidbits about the world, sometimes she dumps a lot on the reader (like when Harry first sees Diagon Alley) and at other times she constructs the world bit by bit without giving a ton of specifics (she tells us that the teachers wear robes but doesn’t describe the robes in detail). And once Harry is comfortable, so is the reader.

Build the world of your story for three groups of people:

  1. Yourself. Build it so that you intimately know and understand every aspect of the world where your story takes place.
  2. Your characters. Build it so that your characters can be a product and a part of their world just as you are a product and a part of yours–influenced by it and influencing it.
  3. Your readers. Build your world well and your readers will feel a part of it, will be engaged in it, and will care about it.

What tips do you have for worldbuilding?

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