World building is one of the most important facets of storytelling. No one wants to read a story that takes place entirely in a white room. These environments and times are referred to as the setting of the story.
Settings are important in storytelling because they make the story graphical, real, and often trigger a sense of relatability in the reader’s mind. Well-crafted settings can make a story unforgettable, like Hogwarts did for Harry Potter or Middle-earth did for Lord of the Rings.
The process of constructing a world for your stories actually forces you to deconstruct our current world, and break it down to its core. And because crafting coherent imaginary settings takes time and a whole lot of energy, today, we’re going to introduce the core elements of world building.
The Core Elements of Basic World Building
Whether you decide to stick to what we’re most comfortable with, or delve into the unknown, such as magic systems, understanding the physics of your world is an important first step.
While magic is common in fantasy stories, you may find yourself diving into ultra-tech if you’re writing science fiction. All of these are aspects of your world’s physics, as it alters your world’s rules. And while magic isn’t a necessity for your fiction world, it’s important to know rules and boundaries your world is bound by.
Knowing these key concepts and how they relate to your story will help you knock out a coherent first draft, and you can always tweak the little things later.
All worlds live within a larger ecosystem of planets and suns, even if you’re not writing science fiction. But does this mean you have to understand everything about your world, even if your story never leaves the planet?
The short answer is not really. While it’s important to understand your world’s basics, you don’t have to understand every little facet to breathe life into your story. You just need to understand the pieces that are relevant to your story.
Knowing everything might be fun, but it might also inhibit you from actually writing your book, and that’s not something any writer wants!
Aside from the basic physics of your world, and magic systems if you’re writing a fantasy novel, knowing the immediate world in which your story takes place is the most important thing. Constructing a fictional map is often one of the first steps writers take when world building, because it makes it real. Or, as real as a fictional fantasy world can be.
I created a very rudimentary drawing for the fantasy series I’m writing. My goal is to eventually recreate my drawing into an actual map, created by a cartographer light years better than me in terms of drawing, but, for right now, it works for its intended purpose. Which is to simply give me a basic understanding of where everything is in my world.
Understanding the physical geography of your world helps the writers write tangible worlds and visceral descriptions that suck the reader into the story. And that’s exactly what every writer wants, no matter which genre you’re writing.
After building the world itself, and the rules that define your world, you can dive deeper and create different cultures and people to populate the planet’s surface (unless, of course, they live in space.)
Culture is probably one of the biggest categories, because it includes basic things like government, religion, and basic human interactions, but it also dives deeper to include society norms, occupations, and history. And all these things are important to crafting believable worlds that suck readers in.
Draw inspiration from past (or even present) human civilizations to help you mold your fictional societies. Many fictional peoples have been based off of the Roman Empire or Ancient Greece. Using these, and other established civilizations, as starting points, you can tweak and reform your new people however you want to make them more unique to your world.
As an author, you see your characters and worlds in your mind. They play out as you write, just like a movie would. You feel the emotions you create and relate with every situation. And, while that’s great, you have to be able propel that image into your readers’ mind, too. To do that, you need immersive worlds that suck readers into the story.
Using the four core elements of world building above, you can perfect your world through learning and understanding all the different aspects within your story.
Remember, bad world building could leave sour tastes in your readers mouth. It could make them put the book down before they even get to “the good stuff”. It’s important to remember that a book isn’t just plot, or just character development, or just world building. It’s the accumulation of all these things that creates books that withstand the test of time.