If you’re writing fiction, you need to think about the world in which your story takes place. And this is where world-building becomes key! But what exactly is world-building? And how does it work? In this post, we look at the basics.
What Is World-Building in Fiction?
World-building is how authors create believable fictional worlds. It is most useful when your setting is unlike the real world. This could be a minor difference (e.g., a near-future novel where technology is more advanced). Or you could create a completely new, alien world. But the bigger the difference, the more world-building you’ll need to do!
For instance, if you set a story in the real world, there is little need for world-building. Instead, your story takes place in a pre-built world that your reader will already recognize. But in a more fantastical or imaginative work, things may be very different. This could include geography, technology, culture, history, or any number of things. And if you want this setting to feel real for your reader, you may need to “build” the world via your writing.
This is why world-building is most associated with fantasy (e.g., Tolkien’s Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings books) and sci-fi (e.g., the Star Wars or Star Trek universes). But it is equally important when writing about unfamiliar times or cultures, such as a novel set in the distant past.
5 World-Building Tips for Authors
How can you build a fictional world effectively? We have a few tips to share.
1. Look for Influences and Do Your Research
It is very difficult to invent a fictional world from scratch. As such, most authors look for inspiration elsewhere when building a story world. This could be from any number of places, but common examples include:
Other works of fiction (e.g., many fantasy writers are influenced by Tolkien).
Speculative science (e.g., imagining how technology may change).
Whatever inspires you, though, make sure to do your research!
The more you know about the thing that you’re drawing on to build your world, the more detail you’ll be able to integrate. And it is attention to detail that makes a fictional world feel realistic.
2. Keep a Record of Your Story World
With any story, you have a lot to keep track of (e.g., timelines, locations, characters). But when you’re creating a new world, you’ll have even more to remember. It therefore helps to keep a record of your world, including:
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
Key historical events that have shaped your story world.
Geographical features, including key towns, cities, rivers, mountains, etc.
The different groups of people that exist in your world (e.g., alien species, civilizations, competing factions) and how they interact.
Unusual flora and fauna (e.g., alien plant and animal species).
Political, religious, and economic factors that are relevant to your story.
Technologies or magical powers that don’t exist in our own world.
This isn’t a definitive list, but the point is to record anything that helps you maintain consistency in your world building. You can then refer to it when writing your story, or even other stories set in the same world.
3. Beware Excessive Exposition
If you’ve done enough research and brainstormed ideas for a while, you probably have a detailed picture of your story world. You may even have written a historical timeline or detailed descriptions of the politics and culture of your invented world, giving you lots to work with.
However, you may also want to use these details sparingly. Long descriptions of fictional societies and cultures can interrupt the flow of a story, with characters and plot getting lost among encyclopedic details that aren’t relevant to the narrative. So, even if knowing everything about the world is useful for you as the author, focus on details that affect the plot of your story directly, and try to work them into the story naturally.
4. Fictional Words and Languages
One technique authors use for world-building is to give characters a unique way of speaking. This could be by adding slang or unusual terms (e.g., Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange). Or it could be inventing a completely new language (e.g., Dothraki and Valyrian in Game of Thrones). It isn’t easy to invent a whole language from scratch, though! As such, unless you’re a linguistic expert, you may want to limit the number of invented words you use in your story.
5. Create a Map
Finally, if your world is very unlike our own, why not create a map? This is especially common in fantasy novels, where a map of the fictional world often appears at the start of each book. As well as helping your world feel more real, readers can use this to keep track of where events are happening, so it is especially useful when telling an epic tale across several locations!
Fiction Proofreading and Editing
As with any creative writing, you’ll want to be sure your work is free from errors before you submit a manuscript for publication. And Proofed’s outstanding proofreading and editing services can help with this: with our editing service, we can even provide feedback on your world-building!