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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Catching Your World on Paper

Courtesy of heban
World building.

If I were to stereotype, I'd say it's something that every author who writes speculative fiction is intimately familiar with. And yet, it's a tool that all authors--regardless of genre--can make good use of in deepening their stories and bringing them to life.

World building, in it's most basic form, is the process by which an author takes the story as it is in his or her mind and carefully reconstructs it on the page.

In speculative fiction, it involves creating a new world from the ground up. In other genres, especially in contemporary settings, it involves catching the world and pinning it in strategic places in the story.

So what's involved in a world? There are three main components to any world:


For any people in any world to live together, they have to be able to communicate with each other. How this is done--both verbally and nonverbally--will depend on the people and their world view. What's important to this people? What do they value? Have disdain for? Fear? What sounds do they make, and why? How formal or informal is the language, and in which situations?

Having a basic understanding of the people's language will enable both the author and the reader to have a better understanding of the world and the characters that populate it.


Culture covers a wide range of things: architecture, morals, values, laws, dress, grooming, fashion, foods, expressions, governments, religion, customs, art, daily life, etc. A person's culture helps to shape who they are. How they see the world. And how they react in certain situations.

Having a basic understanding of the people's culture can help the reader connect with the characters better, and can also present all kinds of opportunities for conflict.


How the world is shaped and formed will have a huge impact on who populates what areas, if they are to be populated at all, and how they must adapt in order to survive and flourish. Geography will also shape a culture and language as people integrate it into their daily lives.

During the world building process, it's highly likely that you will have more built than you may ever use--and that's okay. More than okay, actually, because the more world building that makes if from your mind to the story, the more real and vibrant your world will feel to the reader. (Caveat, like everything else, there is a balance. All world building and no story makes for a very dull time.)

Once the basics are down--even in a contemporary setting--it's all a matter of details. Of allowing the world to intrude upon the characters, to help shape who they are and who they will become. It will inform potential conflicts in the story, and deepen the sense of history of the tale.

Some great resources I've used for my own world building include: allowing my muse (a.k.a. my subconscious) to run wild, Patricia C. Wrede's world building questions, and Holly Lisle's world building series that (for now) includes language and culture.

What about you? Any good world building resources out there?

 Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.


Anonymous said...

This is very useful!! I love worldbuilding and the more I write in the universe I've built the more "real" it becomes to me. There's so much work to do though, to bring it alive, like you suggested. A long while back, I found a series of explanations on worldbuilding put out by the Science Fiction & Fantasy workshop I belonged to, I use it's outline often. It's amazing how deep you can go but yeah: language, cultural, and geography are very important as well as laws of the land, government, day to day jobs, etc. Basically, you want to model our own world and change-up to want you want for your own rules.

Danyelle L. said...

Thanks, Traci! :)

I definitely find inspiration in this world for the worlds I'm writing about. I like having that foundation, and then I like to add my own flair. :)