world build

World Building for Fiction Authors: How to Create a Believable World

World-building is one of the most important aspects of writing fictional stories and screenplays. If you want your readers to buy into your world, you must create a believable world for them to explore.

This can be tricky, but with a little planning and creativity, you can create a world that your readers will love!

In this article, we will discuss some tips for creating a believable world for your readers.

What is World-building?

World-building is the process of creating a setting for a story, typically involving the construction of imaginary households, cities, countries, cultures, or even entire worlds, as well as the creation of religions and political systems and the development of history and backstories for individual characters or entire groups.

This can be done through careful planning and attention to the smallest detail by the author, or much of it can be left up to the reader’s imagination. World-building can be essential for creating a believable and well-developed story world, but it can also be a fun way to explore different possibilities and create something new.

Whether you’re planning an epic fantasy saga or a small-town mystery, giving some thought to the world where your story takes place can help bring it to life.

Why is World-building important?

It is important to have a well-developed fictional world to create a plausible and engaging story. Without a strong foundation and clear understanding of your world, the story can feel scattered or without purpose.

Furthermore, world-building can help to make a story more relatable. By providing context and background, most readers can connect with the characters and their challenges on a deeper level. Lastly, world-building can add depth and dimension to a story, making it more complex and exciting. When done well, world-building can transform a simple tale into something truly special.

city during day

What to think about before starting to build your fictional world

1. Start with your characters

World Building Steps: create your characters

Characters are the heart of any story, so it’s essential to take the time to develop them before you start world-building. By fleshing out your characters and understanding their motivations, you’ll be able to create a richer and more credible world for them to inhabit.

Start by asking yourself some basic questions about your characters.

  • What do your main characters want?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What motivates them?

Once you have a good sense of who your characters are, you can start to think about the kind of world they would inhabit.

  • What kind of environment would best suit their needs?
  • What sort of people would they interact with?
  • What sort of challenges would they face?

By answering these world-building and character-development questions, you’ll be able to create a more compelling and tenable story.

2. Plan out your plot and character arc(s)

World Building Steps

Before you start building your world, it’s essential to think about your plot and character arcs.

  • What’s the story you want to tell?
  • And what kind of journey do your characters need to go on?
  • What kind of challenges or obstacles do they need to overcome?

Answering these questions will help you create a world that feels grounded and relatable, even if it’s entirely fictional. By planning these things out in advance, you’ll save time and effort later on. You’ll also be able to ensure that your world-building supports your story rather than getting in the way of it.

So take a few minutes to think about your plot and characters before building your world. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier – and more fun!

3. Decide on the theme for your story

decide on your story's themes

Deciding on the theme for your story before you start world-building helps to ensure that all of your world-building serves a purpose.

It can be tempting to get carried away with creating intricate details about your story’s setting, but if you don’t have a clear idea of the themes you want to explore, all of those details will be for naught. By taking the time to figure out what themes are important to you, you’ll be able to focus your world-building efforts and create a richer, more nuanced story.

So take a moment to ask yourself:

  • What themes are at the heart of my story?
  • What is the underlying message(s) of my story?

Once you know the answers, you can start building the world that will bring those themes to life.

4. Define your world’s name and overall type of setting

world name

Before you start diving into the nitty-gritty of world-building, it’s essential to take a step back and think about the big picture.

  • What is the size and scope of your world? A single household or an entire galaxy?
  • What is the name of your world?
  • What type of setting is it? Where and when does it take place?
  • Is it a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a medieval kingdom? A historical world or a futuristic one?

The setting often defines the genre, so once you have a general idea of the feel of your world, you can start fleshing out the details.

For example, if you’re creating imaginary worlds, you’ll typically need to come up with races, creatures, magic systems, kingdoms, and religions.

If you’re creating a dystopian society, you’ll need to decide what kind of government controls the populace, what sort of technology is available, and on what side of the conflict your main character starts.

By defining your world’s size, scope, and overall type of setting before you start building, you’ll save yourself many headaches.

blue and brown globe on persons hand

How to World-build: Follow These Eight Steps:

Step One: Decide on the time period of your world

time period

When you’re creating a world of fiction, one of the first things you need to decide is the time in which your story will take place.

Will your story be set in ancient times, in the present, or in the future? Will it be a world of knights and castles or of spaceships and aliens?

The time period you choose can significantly impact the kind of story you tell.

For example, if you want to write a historical epic, then you’ll need to choose a time with enough social and political turmoil to provide plenty of material for your story.

On the other hand, if you want to write a light-hearted fantasy, then you can opt to make up your own history.

Deciding what time period to set your story is a very important decision. Make sure that it’s a period that will allow you to tell the story you want!

Step Two: Decide on the location of your world (include some memorable geography!)

World Building Steps

One of the most important aspects of world-building is deciding on the location and geography of your world. This can be a daunting task, but there are a few things to remember that will help you make the right choices for your story.

First, consider the type of story you want to tell. Is it a high fantasy set in a sprawling empire? Or an intimate story set in a small village? Or a dramatic piece set in a modern office building? Your world’s location and geography should support the story you want to tell.

Second, think about the mood and tone of your story. A dark and gritty world will have a different feel than a light-hearted and whimsical one. Again, the location and geography of your world should support the mood and tone you are trying to achieve.

Some location-based aspects of your world to consider include:

  • The landforms and terrain of your world
  • Important bodies of water
  • Climate (is it a warm land? or a frozen tundra?)
  • The natural resources
  • Artificial structures (buildings, bridges, towers, statues, etc.)
  • Flora and fauna of the world (plants and animals)
  • Are there any examples of unique or memorable geography or landmarks that you want to have in your world?

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try out different options and see what feels right for your story. You may even want to go so far as to create a visual map of your world or territory, such as George R.R. Martin did for his Game of Thrones books. There is no wrong answer regarding world-building, so have fun and see what you can create!

Step Three: Decide on the history of your world

world history

Whether you’re world-building for a fantasy novel, a historical drama, or a science fiction epic, the goal is to create a real and alive setting. Here are a few key considerations that can help you decide on the history of your world.

  • First, think about the kind of world you want to create. Do you want a world that closely resembles our own or one that is vastly different? Once you’ve decided on the general feel of your world, you can start to flesh out its history.
  • What key events have shaped your world?
  • What have been the prevailing political and social structures?
  • How have the people in your world evolved over time?
  • Has the world always been around, or is it newly created?

By thinking about all these elements, you can start to build a rich and detailed history of your fictional world. Think of the Hyborian Age, created by Robert E. Howard for his Conan mythos and how in-depth it goes into this fictional chapter of Earth’s history. It is so detailed and rich that it feels like it could have happened in our real world.

Step Four: Decide on the technological level of your world

world technology

When world-building in fiction stories, one of the decisions you’ll need to make is how advanced the technology in your world will be. This can be a difficult choice, as there are many factors to consider.

Do you want your world to be a realistic depiction of our own or a more advanced society? What kind of story are you trying to tell? For example, advanced technology is probably a given if you’re writing a space opera. But if you’re writing a historical drama, having characters using advanced gadgets and gizmos might not make sense.

Another thing to consider is how advanced technology will impact the characters and the plot. Will it make things too easy for the protagonists? Or will it create new challenges and obstacles for them to overcome?

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding on the technological level of your world. It all depends on what kind of story you want to tell.

For example, imagine how different Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek would have been if he opted to set his universe in the near future instead of a distant one. Not only would the technology be markedly different and closer to our own, but it would impact the social and societal development of the characters that inhabit that universe.

Step Five: Decide on the customs of your world (include some unusual customs!)

world customs

When creating a new world in fiction, one of the most important things to decide is what the customs and traditions will be. This can be a daunting task, but there are a few things to remember that can help.

Consider the daily life of your characters:

  • What do they do on a daily basis?
  • What kind of work do they do?
  • What do they eat and drink?
  • How do they dress?
  • What languages do they use?
  • What kind of transportation do they use?
  • Is there a formal or informal class system?
  • What are the gender roles (if they have any)?
  • Other factors to consider include religion, education, and family structure.
  • You also may want to consider adding an unusual custom or ritual to your characters’ daily life, as this can help make your story more memorable to your readers.

All these factors can help create a rich tapestry of customs and traditions for your readers to explore. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien created entire new civilizations to populate his Middle-Earth, each with its own languages, histories, and customs, which he also explored in great detail.

Step Six: Decide if your world includes magical elements

magical elements

While there are many factors to consider when building fictional worlds, one of the most important choices is whether or not to include magical elements or a magic system. There are several things to keep in mind when making this decision.

First, consider the type of magic you want to include.

  • A soft magic system is one in which magic is not well understood, may be rare, and often has unpredictable results.
  • A hard magic system is one in which magic is better understood, is more common, and has more predictable effects.

Second, think about how magic works in your world.

  • Will it be used for good or evil?
  • How will it be obtained?
  • What are the consequences of using magic?
  • Is magic banned in any way?

These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to answer before deciding whether or not to include magic in your worldbuilding.

For example, Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books establish in fine detail the various types of magic used and studied on the Continent, as well as the rules for who may use them and how.

Step Seven: Decide on the economics of your story’s world

world economics

There are several factors to consider when deciding on the economics of your imaginary world.

First, what is the prevailing economic system in real life? This can provide a good starting point for your fictional world, as you can then build on it or deviate from it as you see fit.

Secondly, what kind of society do you want to create? Is it a utopia where everyone is equal or a more stratified society with a clear power structure?

Thirdly, what resources are available in your world? This will have a big impact on what sort of economy is possible.

Lastly, think about the needs and desires of your characters. What do they want and need from an economic system?

Answering these questions will help you to create a believable and well-rounded economy for your fictional world.

A great example of the importance of economics in world-building is in Frank Herbert’s Dune, where the story’s central premise revolves entirely around the Spice trade and how the economic realities of that universe shape everything from individual relationships to those of entire societies.

Step Eight: Decide on the world’s laws and government

laws and government

When creating a fictional world, one of the first things you need to decide is what sort of government and laws will be in place. There are many different options to choose from, and the right choice will depend on the story you want to tell.

For example, if you’re creating a world based on real-world history, you’ll need to research the political systems of different cultures and civilizations. On the other hand, if you’re creating an entirely imaginary world, then you have free reign to invent whatever type of government you like.

Either way, it’s important to think carefully about the implications of your choices.

  • What sort of society do you want to create?
  • What sort of people will live there?
  • What sort of conflict will arise from the way your characters interact with the government and each other?

The answers to these questions will help you to create a believable and compelling world for your story. For example, in the Judge Dredd series, created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, the systems of government and law enforcement are the drivers for the story world at large, especially as seen through the titular protagonist‘s eyes.

Examples of Well-Written, Believable Fictional Worlds

Example 1: The Hunger Games

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is an excellent example of world-building. In the story, the nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts, each with its own unique culture and history. The capital city of Panem is a wealthy and powerful metropolis, while the other districts are predominantly poverty-stricken and oppressed.

Suzanne Collins details the different districts, their customs, their way of life, and how the capital controls them. This richly-imagined world makes The Hunger Games an immersive and captivating read.

Further, this setting heightens the story’s sense of urgency and stakes, as the characters must fight for their survival and the future of their entire world.

Example 2: Harry Potter

Close-Up Shot of a Spell Book and a Wand

One of the most beloved examples of world-building in fantasy novels is the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling created an intricately detailed wizarding world, complete with its own history, customs, and rules.

Every aspect of this magical world is meticulously planned, from the magical creatures that inhabit it to the spells that are used. This attention to detail makes reading the Harry Potter books a truly immersive reading experience. Readers can picture themselves attending Hogwarts, casting spells, and even fighting Voldemort himself.

It is no wonder that the Harry Potter series has such a devoted fanbase; Rowling’s impressive world-building makes it impossible not to be drawn in!

Frequently Asked Questions About Worldbuilding

Why is World-building popular?

World-building has become increasingly popular recently, especially among science fiction and fantasy writers. There are many reasons why this is the case. First, it allows writers to create a fully-realized fictional universe, complete with its history, customs, language, and maybe even magic system! This can make the reading experience much more immersive and enjoyable. Additionally, this exercise can help to make a story more unique and original. A well-built world can be a breath of fresh air in a genre like fantasy, which often relies on well-worn tropes. Finally, world-building is simply fun. It’s a chance to flex your creative muscles and let your imagination run wild!

What is fantasy world-building?

World-building is the process of creating a story’s world. This can be done for various purposes, such as creating a setting for a novel or film or developing a fictional world for a role-playing game.

The process often begins with creating a map of the story’s world. This can be followed by developing the history and culture of the world, as well as its flora and fauna. Sometimes, world-building can also involve creating new languages for fictional worlds. All of these elements work together to create a believable and immersive fantastical world.

What is good world-building?

World-building is an essential part of any work of literary fiction. It helps to create a believable and compelling world in which the story takes place. Good world-building must be convincing and well-thought-out, considering things like history, geography, politics, and culture. It should be grounded in reality, even if it includes fantasy or science fiction elements. The world should feel real to the reader, with its laws and customs that make sense within the story’s context. Careful world-building can make the difference between a world that feels like somewhere the reader wants to visit and one that feels like another fictional construct.

opened book beside crystal ball

How do you create a fantasy world?

Creating a fantasy world can be a daunting task, but it can also be immensely rewarding. The first step is to decide what kind of world you want to create and to ask yourself some world-building questions. Do you want a world full of magic or one where magical creatures are rare? Once you have an idea of the general feel of your world, you can start to fill in the details. What kind of climate does it have? What kind of plants and animals live there? What is the history of the world, and how do different cultures interact?

As you answer these questions, your world will begin to take shape. Of course, no world is complete without its inhabitants. Who will live in your world, and what motivates them? These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to answer as you build your fantasy world. With a little imagination and some hard work, you can create a truly unique world.

What should be in a fantasy world?

Building a believable world is essential for any good story, but it is especially important in the genre of fantasy. After all, readers must suspend their disbelief to accept the existence of magic and otherworldly creatures. As such, authors need to create a world that is both fascinating and credible. Consider elements such as history, geography, religion, and social structure when world-building. These elements can help to create a more fully-realized world that will draw readers in and prevent them from becoming frustrated with inconsistencies. Anything becomes possible with a well-built world, so let your imagination run wild!

How do you start a fantasy novel?

When it comes to writing a fantasy story, the sky’s the limit. You can create an entirely new world with its history, geography, and mythology. Alternatively, you can set your story in a familiar world with a few magical elements. Either way, there are some basic steps you’ll need to follow to get started. A great starting point is to develop a basic premise for your story. What is the conflict that your characters will be facing? Next, start fleshing out the details of your setting. Where does the action take place? What kind of people populate this world?

Once you have a general idea of your story and setting, you can start writing the first draft of your novel. Of course, there’s no set formula for success, so don’t be afraid to experiment and follow your own path. The most important thing is to have fun and let your imagination run wild.

What are the steps to writing a fantasy novel?

Anyone who has read a fantasy novel knows they can transport readers to far-off lands of magic and mystery. However, creating these imaginary worlds is no easy task. So, what are the steps to writing a fantasy novel? First, you need to come up with an intriguing premise. What is your story about? What are the rules of this world?

Once you have a solid concept, you must start fleshing out the details. Who are the characters? What do they look like? What motivates them? These are just a few of the many questions you need to answer before you can begin writing. Once you have a clear vision for your story, you can start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The most important thing is to let your imagination run wild and have fun. After all, that’s what fantasy is all about.

Can anyone write a fantasy book?

Fantasy is one of the most popular genres in literature, and it often seems like anyone can write a successful fantasy novel. However, there is more to writing fantasy than simply coming up with a creative story. To truly capture the magic of this genre, writers need to be able to world-build, creating believable and immersive worlds for their readers. In addition, they need to populate these worlds with interesting characters, both heroic and villainous. And finally, they need to craft a compelling plot that will keep readers turning the page. While anyone can write a fantasy book, it takes a unique talent to write a truly great one.

world building for fiction

What is world-building in science fiction?

World-building is the process of creating a fictional world, usually associated with fantasy and science fiction. This can involve developing the history and geography of the world, as well as the various cultures that inhabit it. In some cases, world-building also includes developing non-human life forms, such as aliens or other intelligent creatures. The goal is to create a believable and convincing setting for a story.

In science fiction, world-building often creates an entire universe, complete with its laws of physics and biology. This allows authors to explore what might happen if specific ideas were taken to their logical conclusion. For example, what would be the consequences if we assume that faster-than-light travel is possible? How would societies be structured? What kinds of conflicts would arise?

Summary: World Building for Fiction

As you can see, there is much to consider when creating a believable world for your fiction story. By building out your world in detail, you will make it easier for readers to immerse themselves in your story and suspend their disbelief!

Interested in storytelling and ways to tell a good story? Check out these other articles:

How to Write a Story with Three Act Structure [with Examples!]

What Is the Climax of a Story? [Definition and Examples]

The Best Writing Tools for Fiction Writers (Reviewed!)

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