10 Worldbuilding Tips for Writers
Some writers juxtapose a real-world setting with fantastical elements (like the existence of Hogwarts in England for the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling), and many create entirely imaginary worlds with their own physical laws and logic and populations of imaginary races and creatures (like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth in his Lord of the Rings series). Other fiction writers create a narrative by weaving events from real life into an alternate history. The sci-fi and fantasy genres contain a vast number of subgenres and hybrid forms, so however you decide to craft your world through your creative writing, here are some worldbuilding tips in order to help you along:
- Establish the type of world you want. Pick a genre. Is this a dystopian or fantasy novel (or both)? Does it take place on our Earth or on an alternate earth? Knowing this will help figure out the tone and mood of your world.
- Decide where to start. Whether it’s the language spoken by the inhabitants or the apocalyptic landscape, pick the aspect of the world you’re most excited about exploring and start there.
- List the rules and laws. The inhabitants who live in this world you’ve created will have their own independent existence. What is their governing system? Who is in charge? Is this a magical world? If so, who can use the magic system? How powerful is it? Setting up boundaries helps create a fictional world that functions more like a real world.
- Describe the environment. Give your science fiction or fantasy world a sense of place. What’s the weather like? How does it affect the rest of the world? Are there natural disasters? Are there extreme temperatures? What natural resources exist in this location? How do people use the land? Establishing the environment is a useful detail in the creation of your world.
- Define the culture. What do the inhabitants of this universe believe in? Is there religion? Is there a god? Do they have any sacred customs? What do they celebrate? How do these factors shape their points of view? Breathe life into the characters who populate this location by giving them a meaningful existence. Write down how people behave and what they do in their daily life.
- Define the language. As a worldbuilder, indicate how the inhabitants communicate. Is there a common tongue? Are there taboo subjects? Knowing what can and can not be said in your world can be an apt source for conflict. Differing languages and dialects can also indicate the diversity of your characters. For instance, George R. R. Martin’s world of Westeros in his Game of Thrones series has multiple languages spoken by various different tribes, and each language belongs to a culture with its own rich history.
- Identify the history. What is your world’s history? Have there been any world wars? Do the countries within your world have enemies? Are there rival nations? Is there a sole antagonist? Providing the backstory for your world can give it an added dimension and make it feel more tangible.
- Use existing works to inspire you. Revisit the works of successful fantasy authors to get inspiration. Never steal ideas, but review the work of other fantasy writers to see how they answer the same worldbuilding questions within their own novel writing.
- Describe how characters develop. Your character development is based on the sociopolitical factors you establish. Is their status based on their class or wealth? Do they have jobs they can get promoted at? Is their political system oppressive? How do they respond to grief or loss? Do they fall in love? Figuring out how your main characters grow is an important defining aspect of your characters’ world.
- Plan with caution. Building a detailed world for sci-fi or fantasy fiction can be fun, and it’s easy to get lost in the small details you want to include in your universe. However, focusing on too many aspects of your fantasy worldbuilding will not only take time away from the actual writing but possibly limit your freedom when trying to change your story later. You may feel like you have to follow the worldbuilding you’ve laid out for yourself (especially after spending so much time on it)—but your story and other details will continuously change along the way, so it’s better not to get too hung up on the minor things.
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