From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

Thursday, September 16, 2010

World Building

Both in fiction and nonfiction writing alike, your work should – in some form or another – answer the “big six”:


Like a good recipe, you should add a splash of character, a dollop of plot and a dash of descriptive detail. We have discussed a number of these “ingredients” previously here at Fiction Flurry. Today, we are going to focus on the where.

As fiction writers, we have far greater latitude on this particular point than our fellow nonfiction writers who must stick to “just the facts, ma’am.” Rather than simply confining ourselves to the basic relaying of information like a police blotter (the event occurred at 1:00 p.m. on 123 Main Street), we have the license to create entire universes for our characters to play in, for their lives to unfold in.

However, when creating a brand new world, as a writer you must make the rules and norms of this foreign land familiar to your reader. If all the residents of Land Xulu are purple, for example, then you must show your reader this fact and reinforce it often enough so that Xulu soon becomes equated with blueberry-tinted folks in the reader’s mind. Ultimately, the imaginary world that you have created should be very much real in the mind’s eye of your reader. If you cannot achieve this from the outset, you lose credibility – and ultimately, your reader will be less likely to follow you into the land of make believe. The technical term for this is the suspension of disbelief. When you create a new universe with unique facts and laws of nature, a place that would not otherwise exist in reality, then your reader must pause, set down their preconceived notion of what is and what is not possible, then follow you as you guide them on this voyage.

Let’s look at an example from modern literature. If I were to say to you "Hogwarts," then the majority of you would be able to immediately conjure a fantastical place populated by Wizards, Muggles, and Dementors; with lessons on Divination and Occlumency; and where games of Quidditch break up the long days of studying. If any of these foreign words sound familiar to you, then you know I am talking about the world of Harry Potter as brought to life by author J.K. Rowling. Of course, none of these things exist in real life, yet within the pages of Ms. Rowling’s novels, we are immersed in a new and exciting universe that takes us away, and we go happily along for the ride. This is the wonder of the suspension of disbelief, and what is possible when you invest in solid world building.

World building is just one more tool in the writer’s kit. Even if you are not creating an entirely new universe, as an author you should make sure and certain that your characters, plot and storyline are all feasible within the confines of your particular novel, short story or poem. Immerse your reader into this world, and just see where the imagination can take you!


  1. There are a lot of great tools out there for world building. Two of my favorites when it comes to populating the place with characters are which will let you instantly populate your story with as many as 50k people with many details about them, not you need that many, but it is a tool that gives you a spreadsheet of potential characters you don't have put thought into. It's also a nice brainstorming tool.

    The second world tool which takes some tedium out world building is They have a random calendar date function that will give you as many as a hundred birthdays over a specified range. I love this as I keep track of characters in excel which allows me to see how characters age over a period of time in my longer stories.

  2. Barb, thanks for sharing this with us. I have not used either of these before, and I am very intriqued by both of them. And you have a very valid point. All of my work is very character driven. If one were to START wtih the character and work backwards, you could create a wonderful world around them - in other words, the perfect place for them to exist! Great input!


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