An Introduction to World Building

AuthorHouse welcomes you back to Author’s Digest. If you’ve been nosing around fiction writing, there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled across the term world building—especially if you aspire to write science fiction or fantasy, genres where world building is a crucial skill.


So what is world building? Well, the term pretty much defines itself. But just to be sure everyone starts on the same page, world building is the art of creating your story’s setting on a global (or at least country-wide) scale. We’re not talking about describing a room’s furniture here; world builders are concerned with creating entire cultures, governments, histories, geographies… even languages and seasons.


GlobeThis could include family trees of significant characters, lists of ruling dynasties… even charts of the constellations your characters see when they look to the heavens.


Unless your story takes place on our Earth or the Moon, you’ll likely be doing at least some amount of world building. But why should you?


1. It forces you to think through your setting. Do all the elements you’ve created work together? Is your setting consistent? Did a northern turn take your characters to a snowy mountain range in your first book, but a grassy plain in the third? Did you confuse the third king of a dynasty with the fifth? World building helps you avoid these kinds of mistakes.


2. It helps make your setting feel believable. Readers love worlds that feel real–places with their own histories, smells, and flavors. Those are the types of stories and settings you can be immersed in… not merely superficial ones you can use to kill a few hours on a plane.


3. It provides ideas for future stores. For decades, Star Wars fans were dying to know more about the Clone Wars, even after just a few mentions in the first trilogy. Those wars, rivalries, and intrigues that flesh out your story today can be entire stories of their own tomorrow. This is one area where reader feedback becomes vital–what aspects of your setting are your readers interested in?


4. It helps prepare you for unexpected character decisions. Granted, this one applies mainly to game writers or designers, but it’s worth noting. You’ve written pages and pages of history, plot hooks, and culture notes for that “fabled kingdom in the east”… and then your characters turn west instead. What do you do? If you’ve done enough world building preparation, this will be less of a problem.


sextant5. It’s a lot of fun. Creating maps, cities, minor characters, histories, etc.—all the things that make your setting a living, breathing world—is just plain fun. You can forget about plot for a while, forget about character arcs, and just be creative.


We’ll start delving into the specifics of world building next week. Until then, check out the worlds our writers have built in the AuthorHouse Bookstore. And, most importantly, start imagining your own worlds!


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