World Building 101 – An Introduction


World building is not just for fantasy writers. Honest. All writers world build. It’s just that contemporary and historical fiction writers call their world building by different names, chief among them research, setting, and characterization.
Multi-published, award winning author Holly Lisle says:
“You’re worldbuilding when you sketch out a floorplan of the house that your character lives in so that you don’t accidentally have her bedroom on the first floor in chapter one and on the second in chapter three. You’re worldbuilding when you draw out a little map of the town in which your characters live and name the streets and decide that the corner drugstore is on the corner of Maple and Vine. You’re worldbuilding, in other words, when you create some guidelines about the place in which your story takes place or about the people who inhabit the place in order to maintain consistency within the story and add a feeling of verisimilitude to your work. So worldbuilding is essential to anyone who writes.”
Worldbuilding done right can be an amazing creative experience. It can also infuse your novel with an almost sensory realism and help tie your entire novel into a cohesive whole.

Having said all that, when someone mentions world building, most people immediately think of fantasy and science fiction novels. That’s because in the fantasy and science-fiction writing realm, authors are, in fact, writing entire novels set on planets, spaceships and even in galaxies that do not exist. For those authors, the term world building really means world building!

In the following series of articles, I’m going to take you through the process of creating and fleshing out an entire fantasy world. We’ll go step by step, covering all the basics, and a few of the not-so-basics. And if you follow along, when you’re done, you’ll have built a world you can use with your own stories.

Note: This series of articles is my take on the worldbuilding process. I am far from the only writer out there who has developed a process or written articles about it. In fact, there exists a veritable cornucopia of free online sites and lists to help with worldbuilding. At the end of this world building blog series, I’ll post a reference list so you can check out the sites, compare their methods to mine, and choose whatever works best for you.

Where do you start?
Inevitably, this is among the first questions that comes up when I discuss worldbuilding, and it’s a bit of a tricky one to answer because where you start with your world building depends on you, the writer. How do you write? How well-formed are the ideas for your book before you begin? How much about your world do you need to know before you can begin to write the story you need to tell?

Some writers, like Holly Lisle, start with maps. Tolkien started with the Elvish language. Some writers start with the planet / solar system / galaxy in which their story is set.

For the Tairen Soul series, I started with the image of an immortal, magic-wielding, shape-shifting king sitting on a golden throne, contemplating the pending extinction of his entire race, and the idea that a mysterious (seemingly) mortal girl somewhere half a continent away would hold to the key to his and his people’s salvation. I knew I wanted to write a fantasy-romance, so I knew the romance had to be central to the successful completion of the quest. Everything else in my story and my world flowed from that one initial image and sense of direction.

Truthfully, it’s really not that important where you start. Whatever works for you, start there and roll with it. What’s more important to my mind (and here’s where that bit about cohesive wholes comes into play) is how you use the world you are creating to echo, contrast, or accentuate the major theme(s) and/or plot(s) of your story.

Having said that, I also know that many people prefer a little order to the madness of their creative genius, so tomorrow I will pick a specific starting point and we’ll begin building a world. Just to keep things nice and tidy, we’ll start with the most basic foundation: the planet itself. – See more at:

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