Building Worlds: Topics a Writer Needs to Consider

This post was inspired by Ellen Brock’s “How to Write a Believable World” YouTube video.

I have always been interested in world-building. No matter whether I write poems, stories, novels or memoir, I want a stage set for readers to see and enter. Perhaps this idea came from my elementary school where we put on plays beginning in third grade. The plays were usually taken from Shakespeare’s works.

The school’s wardrobe room behind the auditorium fascinated me. The musty wardrobe room was crammed with costumes. In an all-girls school, we played all parts: elf, tramp, soldier, and king as well as fairies, housemaids, and queens. Each costume helped us create a character and an era.

A fiction writer joins the world they create. Friends have suggested ideas for my next novel. They sketch out the plot. So far, my response has been no. Their story didn’t lure me into spending hours and hours writing about their particular world. A writer wants to concoct their own world.

world building

  1. Names: In my debut novel Shelter of Leaves, all my character names carried meaning. Here’s a bit from the prologue:

“Beside her swimming pool, Elaine closed her eyes against the sun. She imagined a drifting boat flanked by trees; crimson, marigold and burnt sienna leaves spun to the ground. Brilliant leaves signaled good fortune; after all, she’d married a man surnamed Owen. The name meant “wellborn” in Greek.”

2. Voices, slang and colloquial phrases – Make sure the voices of humans and animals in fantasy writing are varied and recognizable in conversation. Personality needs to comes through in their speech. Be careful with the character’s language. Don’t slip in a slang word or colloquial phrase that doesn’t fit the era. Words can throw the reader out of the story.

  1. History – Do you know how this country or world came about? Consider writing about what made things the way they are at the book’s beginning and update if the characters travel. You may need to expand the environment during the course of the book.
  2. Religion – Writers make a mistake if they think only about their local religion(s). Broaden the possibilities. Use other religions and consider making them up. For fantasy, the writer might create animal worship or worship of a landmark such as a mighty river or mountain. Having only one religious practice isn’t realistic.
  3. Education – Characters usually can’t jump into a career without education or training. Think about your character’s background. Perhaps the character needs to attend a school or have a tutor or mentor. Skills training is important for what the characters are preparing to do.
  4. Medicine – Medicine is often connected to the culture’s religion. Think about the kind of person/entity whose role it is to heal. What kind of education is needed? Was the character born with the talent? Does the character use a conventional or unconventional approach? Does the culture have a clinic or a hospital? Do they use rituals and prayers for healing?
  5. Food – If you have scenes with food or invented food, what does it taste like? Sweet and spicy or bland? Food choices among cultures will vary; likely your characters will eat a variety of foods.
  6. Technology – What sort of technology is available in the culture? When and how was the technology invented? Consider a brief history if it is central to your story. Will the technology apply to one thing or does it have many uses?
  1. Animals and Magical Creatures – Whether you include magical creatures or animals, consider writing about a variety. Consider the age of your readers.
  2. Weather – Weather can have a powerful effect on characters and animals. Some climates will have a stronger impact than others. Does the weather affect your characters? Is so, in what way?

building worlds topics writer needs consider

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