Toothless Letter WI’ve talked a lot about it in other posts, by mention or otherwise, but here it is. The world in which your story takes place. Also called setting.

Every story has a setting. It can be your home town, a tiny village, a big foreign city, another world, a parallel world. Real or fictional, every story happens somewhere, and world building is all about the where.

If you write fiction set in a real place, great, you’ve had some of the work done for you. But by no means all. You as the writer need to know the places that you are writing about. Go visit, use google maps, buy travel guides, get to know the place more intimately than you need to for the story. Small details really help to build the picture.

And even if you are setting it in a real place, is everything going to be exactly the same? Are all the shops along the high street as they are in reality, or is one of them a trendy piano bar? Does one of them have a secret basement? Is there a building actually home to an ancient ghost fighting family rather than the rather pleasant accountant that actually lives there.

And then we come onto the non-real world. I write fantasy, so I have to build whole worlds from the ground up. We’re talking geography, climate, terrain, cities, towns, styles of buildings, cultures.

So I have a list of things I need to think about.

1. What does the story/plot/conflict need from a location?

Do I need a city or a rural location? Do I need forests or plains? Am I focusing on a small area, such as a single town, or is my character going to travel so I need to build up multiple places? Is there anything special?

For instance, in Eidetic, I needed something that was a challenge but needed a reward. I’m not sure when exactly the idea of labyrinths/mazes came forward, but once I had that idea, I built the world around them.

worldbuildingThen you need to think about the ‘passive’ stuff of location. Climate – does it rain a lot, is it hot, are there three suns so you only get sunset every 67 hours? You do need to think about this, because readers will want to immerse themselves in your settings, and you need to know what the place smells like after it rains to get them there.

2. Think about the people.

Once race? Multiple races? What about nations? And even if you have one nation, there are bound to be minorities, sub-groups and other things. How do they interact? What beliefs do they hold? In any society, get three people in a room and you’re likely to hear four different opinions on the various topics.

And then you have the day to day things. What do people eat? How do they get their food? What do people do to earn money, or do you have a completely different economy that relies on something other than money?

If might seem boring, but you do need to think about the big parts of life, and then how they affect people in the everyday. Economics, religion (I’ll admit I sometimes ignore this one), social issues. What are they and how do they crop up in your story?

3. History

Linking in from the last point, what is the history of the setting? If it’s earth, brilliant, you’ve got most of it. If it’s alternative earth or not earth at all, then you’ve got more work on your to do list.

What are the big things that have happened to your world. Has there been war? Religious turmoil? Political outmaneuvering? Evil overlords ruling for years?

History is actually really important because you’re writing a story, a story in which change is probably about to occur. History sets the stage for that change. Why are things the way they are now, and why is the time ripe for things to change? It’s set in history, and flavoured by all the things I mentioned with people above (religion, society, economics). What are the background reasons that stuff can happen right here, right now.

4. The laws of the world

Does physics actually have a place in your world? Are the laws of physics as we know them now present? Is there magic in your world, and how does that interact with non-magic or other rules of reality.

I talked a lot about magic in another post, but it does also come into world building because the world does need to function as a cohesive whole, and if you have magic that simply comes along and breaks everything because you didn’t think about the consequences then it gets old really quickly.


Unless the point of magic is to break everything but there are horrible consequences for the user, that could be fun.

But the point is, there need to be laws and rule, and you need to know them. Even if the laws have nothing to do with magic. Maybe water isn’t affected by gravity on your planet, so rain and waterfalls fall upwards, meaning that there is a constant water crisis, which they make up for with abundant tourism. You can go wild, just remember to be consistent (and if you have an explanation, that helps!)

5. Details!

But above all, try to give things detail. One dimension gets boring, especially if the reader picks up on them. It might take you hours of world building to get the level of detail that you need to write that one scene where the lightning storm rages around the floating city as the social elite maneuver around each other for the election, but the payoff of investment from the reader (and your own satisfaction as writing a damn good setting) is great.

There you have my quick guide to world building. As a fantasy writer I do a lot of building up from the ground of worlds, so I have pages and pages of notes about worlds I have built up, and other’s that I’ve built as I went along. Either way is good for me.