Important World-Building Tips You May Not Know

Worldbuilding is oft-times an overlooked part of writing a good story.  Authors spend a good amount of time developing characters, naming characters, and dressing characters in their preferred clothing style.  A new writer will often fail to consider their entire fictional world.

If you are a fantasy reader, you have noticed that each series has its own world.  Some authors have detailed their world down to the last rock, while others base their world loosely on Earth with some fantasy elements thrown in to make it different.

World-building is a time-consuming element of the whole writing process.  To make the world believable and relatable for the reader, an author must spend some time thinking about the environment in which their characters live, work, and interact.

Immersion

Why is it so important to know the details of your character’s world?  The simple answer is immersion.  If your reader cannot immerse themselves in your fictional world and relate to the settings in some way, your writing project will fail.  Whether you are writing short stories, novels, or screenplays, the answer is the same.

Think about your favorite book or book series in fantasy.  If the writer has done their world-building job well, you can imagine the smells of the food or the texture of the leaves brushing against your skin.  If you want to keep your readers happy, then you need to build a world that they enter with all their senses.

An exposition of your world is not the way to introduce it to your readers.  You must learn to introduce it with a spattering here and there as the characters interact with other characters, places, and items.

Learn to weave it intricately into your writing so that the information is there but it isn’t a long wall of text that will simply turn off your reader before you get started.  This hook will keep readers turning pages until they devour your entire writing.

Logical Introduction

Whether or not you can create immersion in your story will make or break a fantasy novel.  New authors often fail at this until they learn to introduce the details logically.

Let’s discuss the logical part of this.  Your character lives every day in the world you created.  They are not going to be impressed by the orange tree growing outside their door that they see every single day.  However, a stranger approaches the door from a distant land who has never seen an orange tree and is awed by the fruit just steps away from the door.

You character doesn’t notice because it is always there, but the stranger takes notice because he has never seen it before.

When your character walks around, you would not describe the tree in detail because it doesn’t fit logically that he would notice.  However, when the stranger approaches, you can go into much more detail about it because it is now a new concept that can be explained to someone logically who has never seen one.

This scenario makes sense to the reader so that they don’t stop in their reading, wondering why you explained a plain old orange tree.  They now have entered the mind and wonder of a stranger who has never seen an orange tree.

Iceberg Theory

World-building should be like an iceberg.  The Iceberg Theory was first coined by Ernest Hemingway in 1923 in reference to his story writing.

Icebergs only have a small amount of ice that is visible on the surface of the water.  The biggest mass of the iceberg is unseen under the water.             

Fictional World-building should be like an iceberg where only a small part is visible on the surface but the mass information is hidden away and brought out only when it is needed.

The writer will be aware of all the unseen material beneath the surface, but the reader will only be aware of what shows above the surface.

The reader only needs to be aware of what is important right now and how it fits with what the character is doing in the moment.

Keep It Real

While it would seem like world-building is more about the writer than the reader, it is the exact opposite.

For the writer to keep realism, which is important for immersion, the world needs to feel real.  Just as your real world is populated by different races, different flora and fauna, different ideas, different cultures, and different geography, so too must you populate the fictional world you are creating.

You are aware in the back of your mind that all these things exist, but you don’t give much thought to them unless you suddenly find yourself confronted by an interaction with one of them.

You spend much more time thinking about them when you see them for the first time. For example, skyscrapers fill the skyline of every city. Someone who lives in that city sees the buildings and interacts with them every day, but they really don’t give them much thought.

However, introduce a tourist into the city, and now you have a different reaction.  The tourist is craning their necks trying to see all the beautiful architecture and stands in awe, staring at the statues in front of buildings that the city dweller takes for granted.

Take Time To Flesh It Out

Some writers want to make up the world as they go along, so they spend little to no time on world-building.  If this writing process works for them, then it isn’t wrong to do it this way.  But the writer who takes the time to get the world created will have an easier time keeping the reader immersed in the story.

If you are creating a fictional world, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with all the details.  You may forget a detail and change it in one chapter but forget to go back and review what you wrote about it previously.  Your reader will remember, and it will throw them out of their immersion.  They may even go back and review it themselves.

If this scenario happens too often, the reader will stop reading altogether because they cannot keep up with the logic of the story.  If, however, your story maintains the details throughout, the reader will stay immersed and keep reading until the end.

One of the things you should not do in world-building is taking so much time getting all the details worked out and never getting down to the actual writing of the story.  After all, no one will even see your story until you write it and publish it.

Never-Ending Creation

The best way to approach world-building is that it is a never-ending creation based on what your character needs to get the story accomplished.  You should write down any details you create and keep them filed away for reference so that your story remains constant.

To do this, you should start with some basic ideas.  Create your geography, economy, language, history, and characters with a rough outline of each one.  As your character moves around in the world, create details to accentuate what is happening a that moment.

If you plan to do a fictional series, world-building will be something you need to create more in-depth so that the details don’t change from one story to another.

Don’t have your characters using magic in one book of the series, then in the next book, magic doesn’t exist in the same world.

Use Only The Details You Need

Worldbuilding can be as complicated as you want to make it depending on what you intend to do with it in the future.  Don’t make it so complicated that you feel the need to describe in deep detail every blade of grass.  However, if your character needs to find a particular kind of grass for a complex potion he is brewing, then give enough description to make it interesting but not boring.

If one book on a particular character is all you ever intend to write, then you can simply write your world in the now and create it as you go by just jotting down a few notes on the side to keep up with the details.

The Results of World-building

Take a little time at the beginning of your novel to create your fantasy world, and you won’t regret the results.

Your reader will be more immersed in your book and engaged with your characters. 

You will spend less time looking back through your pages trying to find that one little detail you mentioned three chapters ago and more time writing the rest of your novel.