Worldbuilding Tips

Have you ever read a book set in a world completely different from our own? It's incredible how complex, detailed, and alive an entirely fictional world can feel. If you've ever tried to write such a book, you'll appreciate how much work goes into making that happen. With so much groundwork to do before you even get started, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and become discouraged. To help you avoid this, here are some worldbuilding tips and some scaffolding to build your new world upon.

Cartography map compass - Worldbuilding Tips

What's Your Story?

Depending on your writing process, you may have an outline for your plot before you know anything about your world. While there's nothing wrong with that, it does mean you'll end up doing some retrofitting as your world develops.

In a sense, your world is your story; its landscapes, living conditions, social constructs, and inhabitants all have a profound effect on how the story plays out. For example, if a character is of low social standing, the ruling elite may look down upon them. Centuries of conflict between one species and another will affect the way they interact. Characters born into cities will acquire different skillsets and values to those reared in the wilderness. Whatever you had in mind when you set out to start writing, it will have to learn to play nice with all of these factors if you want your world to be convincing and consistent.

The more you know about your setting before you start writing, the easier it is to situate your characters within it. Develop your world enough, and the story will almost write itself!

Questions To Ask Yourself About Your World

It's worth noting that worldbuilding is not limited to fantasy or science fiction. Answering these questions for almost any story that deviates from history or the present day can help to give it structure and direction.

What's the environment like?

Details such as a region's terrain, climate, and natural resources are often overlooked in the pursuit of dragon-slaying and destiny-fulfilling. They appear descriptively when a character arrives in a new location (if at all) and are soon forgotten.

The places where people live determine much of who they are, what they do, and why they do it. What does your world (and its regions) look like? Does the terrain present any challenges? What does the landscape have in abundance? Is it lacking in a particular resource?

If you answer these questions, you'll know what motivates its society at a fundamental level. Once you know that, the rest will come.

Who's in charge?

Whether it's an emperor, a god, a president, or a secret society, there's always somebody at the top.

How did they get there? Who came before them? Are the general public happy with them? Why/why not? Is there risk of rebellion?

Even if you'd rather steer clear of politics entirely, it's best to establish who governs your world (and whether they'll present any problems for the main cast).

How advanced are the civilisations?

Answering this question will determine much about how your world works and what its priorities are. The less advanced the society, the more it relies on manual labour, and usually the less prosperous.

What kind of tools do people use? Is mass production possible? What is the most advanced form of technology? Does everyone have access to it? How common is a basic education?

Differences in technological advancement between civilisations often serves as a source of conflict. There is also tension between those who must labour to survive and those who need not.

Are there any major wars or conflicts?

These don't need to be central to the plot to serve your story and enrich your world. Your protagonist(s) may make a point of not getting involved, or only doing so if convenient.

Are any large continents or factions at odds? Why? Who are their allies? If times are peaceful, what was the last major conflict? How did it end? Is there a risk of it reigniting?

Wherever there are people, there has been, is, or will be, conflict. Wars are not easily forgotten, and historical conflicts can inform the present almost as much as current ones.

What are the cultures and traditions?

Saving the best of these worldbuilding tips for last, injecting your world with culture is one of the fastest ways to fill it with life and colour.

What are the tenets and customs of the world's major factions? How do they express them? Are any of them incompatible? Do they have any unique traits, attire, skills, or activities? Are there any shared traditions across race, faith, and region?

To make your world unique, try to get as creative as you can with these, and avoid relying on tropes.

Tips Beyond Worldbuilding Tips

For more ways to get your writing project off the ground as smoothly as possible, see these posts on planning your writing and creating character timelines.

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