THOUGHTS ON WORLD BUILDING
Mark Peter Hughes
In some ways the writerly concept called “world building” is just another way of saying “writing”. Still, no matter your story’s genre, taking the time to think through and organize some of the world’s details and rules up front can help keep the story coherent, consistent and feeling ‘real’ (and save you lots of rework time later). Whether you’re writing sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary realistic, or any other flavor of fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter), the following non-exhaustive list of considerations is intended only as thought-starters as you begin to organize and plan.
What is your story’s world?
A Few Questions/Considerations
Place and Time:
- When and where does the story take place? An current-day town on an ordinary day? Future Earth? Another planet? An imagined ‘Almost-Earth’? A suburban garage? Somewhere else?
- What is the geography? Terrain?
- What is the climate?
- Is it a time/place that really existed? Is it totally imagined? Where do the real and imaged overlap?
- Futuristic? Archaic? Now?
- What happened to make this world what it is?
- Does the history overlap with the real world?
- Wars, politics, heroes, villains, hopes and dreams
People and Creatures:
- Who populates this world?
- Races, customs, food, languages, beliefs, religions, jobs, …
- Speech patterns, regional voices…
- How does each see the world differently?
- Who is in charge? Government? Bullies? Gangs? Teachers? Kids…?
- What are the rules? Laws, traditions, written vs unwritten…
- What conflicts exist? Overt wars, hidden wars, social/polite rebellions, youth vs age, rich vs poor, tribe vs tribe…
- Real vs imagined, futuristic vs archaic, science-based, magic-based, …
- In your imagined world what rules vary from those found in the real world? What rules are the same?
WHAT WRITERS SHOULD NEVER EVER FORGET
- No matter the details of your world, never forget that your #1 job is to tell a story, so don’t get too bogged down in the complex details at the expense of skimping on character, voice, or plot. If the world details are part of the frosting, these three are the cake.
- Build what you need but don’t feel you need to have all the details of your world worked out. Trust your readers. If you get it right, their imaginations will help fill in the gaps.
- Push limits wherever you can but don’t worry about getting everything perfect. Perfection is the enemy because it is never achievable. Just do the best writing you can do right now–and have fun. That’s what writing (and reading) is supposed to be about!