5 Tips For Worldbuilding

5 Tips For Worldbuilding

The quickest way to get a reader immersed is through the world.

When I sit down to write a novel, especially genre fiction, one of the most important parts of that is the place and location of the story. It’s important for me to iron out where exactly the characters live and go throughout the piece, because the surroundings affect and influence the story. Here’s a list of important parts of your novel’s world to think about when writing.

1. Ethics/Morals

No matter what genre you’re writing, it’s important to think about what is “right” and what is “wrong” in context of the location. While it may seem rather black and white, it’s important to think about how others might see it. Is there a religion that a majority of the population follows? Is there a certain standard of living? What kind of rules and morals might they have that differ from your own? Think about it from a practical standpoint—try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who believes in something you might not believe in, and figure out what circumstances would make them believe that. This will help you come up with other facts and pieces of the world around your characters.

2. Ecosystem/Setting

While you know your own hometown very well, other towns (especially made-up ones) are going to have different features such as weather and wildlife. What sorts of nature surround your location, and how does that influence the society? If you can visit a place that’s similar to your story’s location—whether that be in temperature or urbanization—that would help you figure out how to describe it in writing.

3. Music/Arts/Culture

The way the arts is treated in different places is a great way to establish a unique setting. In your fantasy culture, art may primarily involve musical art performances that tell stories—it may be reveered, or it may be a talent that many don’t use. You can get extremely creative when it comes to creating a culture and what kinds of arts come out of it. It’s also very important to do your research if you’re basing it off a real culture.

4. Race/Class

Unfortunately, prejudice is very real in human society—there are lots of different ways this can be portrayed. It’s important to note what sorts of features of a person may make their life more difficult and how it makes them treated. Is there a class system? Is there a heavy prejudice against a race, gender or religion? Take your time to think about what sorts of influences these things may have on your character.

5. Laws of the Universe/Magic

One of my favorite pieces—and perhaps one of the most difficult pieces—is figuring out how the universe can interact with the characters. This is mostly a focus for if you’re writing in genre and are creating most of the world. Think about the universe your character lives in and what sort of abilities they might have. You should be able to explain why your character can do something—if your character can shoot fire out of their hands, there has to be a good reason. Maybe everyone has these powers. Maybe your character is a special exception. Either way, there must be some aspect of the universe that makes it possible. While you don’t have to be super picky about planning all your rules out down to the T, it would be good to have your baseline rules. Establish what is and isn’t possible as early as you can—therefore when a character breaks these rules, you can incorporate this into plot. The most believable way to create magic and laws of the universe is to make sure the reader understands what’s normal and what isn’t. Then, when they see a character that defies the rules, it draws attention.

Cover Image Credit: i naina _94 on Flickr

Popular Right Now

10 Struggles Of Being A Self-Published Author

Some little truths discovered about the art of writing, from the author of The Insurrectionists

I love writing fiction and stories. Like every author I dream about my stories being read for hundreds of years, being turned into films and stage masterpieces causing the audiences to be brought to tears. I dream about people generations from now relating to the struggles of my characters and crying, cheering for them.

Besides writing and revising, there is much more to writing than meets the eye. Here are 10 of my opinions on the difficulties of writing.

I'm the published author of The Insurrectionists available on Amazon USA and Europe.

1. Should take less than a year!

Actually, it took me six. Six years of looking at my characters differently. Years of trying to perfect scenes. Writing scenes in the middle of the night expecting them to be wonderfully tear-jerking but only to see them the next morning and be like "well this is corny!" and revise. Writing takes years, many years. Even when you think you are done- you may want to change again.

My published story isn't the first story I wrote, but its the first one I've published. It also went through so many changes. It was tricky to write the American Revolution taking place in the 21st century. Of course, reviewers asked "is this Obama?" or "is this Mitt Romney?" Nope, neither of them were in "The Insurrectionists".

Most of my characters are original or loosely inspired by historical figures. But I stayed away from current US Politics as "The Insurrectionists" takes place in the future. It is funny, however, looking back I can see some characters who could easily be a Donald Trump or an Elizabeth Warren! That I will leave up to you readers to discover.



2. Naming characters is fun and easy!

For me, I love packing in symbolism, like Rascumparati my communist police chief's name actually is Romanian for "redemption." Zakon, my other police chief's name means "the law." Rascumparati is a dynamic character, I hope his name foreshadows who he is.

Sometimes I'll use a name like Marianne (the symbolic figure of France). Other times if you have a foreign character from a place like Poland or Russia, their naming follows a very specific set of rules and you can't have as much latitude. They also may be tricky if you have no concept of Slavic languages.

My Polish revolutionary leader, Lech Wałzyński (Vulh-chin-ski) I originally named "Rewolucja" (revolution) but people weren't falling for it. Wałzyński does have a charming ring to it though! People are like "why didn't you choose something easier?" I don't think it would be very believable taking a name from my country to name a Polish character unless of course, he is an American immigrant living in Poland. Actually, those could make for some cool characters.


3. The awkward google searches

No, I'm not doing anything illegal I promise! Also, I'm not pregnant- I just have to Google names for symbolism you know??

I haven't written any crime novels, but those authors have even worse google searches.

However when you are writing an allegory based on history be prepared for "how rebellions start", "justifications for communism", "list of authoritarian ideologies", "text to The Prince," etc.

I'm completely against authoritarianism but trying to write authoritarian regimes (especially in the chapters focusing on dictators) can get weird fast. "Most effective rebellions against authority" has also graced my Google search.



Google probably thinks that I'm a hypochondriac who is sick with tuberculosis, the number of times I had to Google TB symptoms for my poor characters who get sent to the gulag.

4. No, we aren't Madame Defarge.

You are not that person I just sent to the guillotine I promise!!!

So Madame Defarge from Tale of Two Cities infamously knitted the names of those she sought revenge against in her stories. There are jokes "if you annoy an author she will kill you in a story" and this isn't always true. At least not for me- some authors may be more Defargeish.

People seem to be under the impression that all villains are people the author knows personally. No, most of the time (at least for me) my "villains" aren't even villains, they are good people who are misled by power and money. If anything is the villain in my novels it is usually wealth and power.

But no, please be assured that you aren't in my story. Sometimes friends of mine may inspire a character or a character's appearance. But my villains are either based on historical villains or personifications of wealth and greed. Take for example Leninska from "The Insurrectionists"- she isn't evil! Monarchy, her ideology, might be evil (I'll leave that for the reader to decide) but I don't know any Leninska in real life. I do know a few people who I think could play an epic Leninska on stage, though.



5. You stick with one story line



"The Insurrectionists" it is an allegory of a mixture of US and World History taking place in the 21st century. Originally though, the entire post-Civil War era wasn't included. There was no Lech Walzynski tearing down the Berlin Wall, no Marianne Moulin gathering La Resistance against the Nazis, no Leninska trying to unite the world with monarchy.

Just the United States repeating early American history up to the Civil War. I ended it with the close of the Civil War. That was my very first draft. Then a certain "Lech" tugged on my heart. I was taking a class on the Cold War, and the idea of a young dissident from Eastern Europe breaking the world free from Communism tugged on my creative mind. This person who I first named "Rewolucja" was somewhat comparable to Enjolras from "Les Miserables"- he was the ideal of the republic. Lech Wałęsa's true backstory served as research help for my Lech Wałzyński. A young resistance fighter who I originally named "Lady Liberty" until I came up with a less obvious name became Marianne (France's personification of liberty.)

The Civil War itself got changed a lot. Instead of making it "confederacy" versus "union," I set the allegory to "libertarian-ism/individualism" on one end, and "order/rule of law" on the other end to see how it would play out. The South in my story doesn't have much to do with the real South from history except in name.
Why is this? After the American Revolution, the political scene in my story changed so drastically I decided to make the second war an allegory of the raw issue of individualism vs rule of law.

Someday I'd love to write about the actual American Civil War, but this allegory fit my novel better.

Now for the 20th century, as much as I love history- I found this to be a very slow moving era. It was interesting but seemed to drag on a bit. So WW1/WW2 and the Cold War were merged. This is why Marianne and Lech are around the same age, Olivia (that little girl from the Civil War representing peace) is about 20 years older than them.

6. Characterization is easy



Caroline Camhouille, my personification of liberty (complete liberty) in my allegory of "Liberty, Equality, Justice" to show that all three need each other. She was wonderful in my mind, but when I wrote her on paper (at first) people were like "uhh she seems too good" or "where are her flaws?" Of course, she had flaws in my mind- but I had to show this audience a five-page snippet of "The Insurrectionists" (a 310-page book!).
I was really upset at first because my characters are my babies, I get really protective of them. After a conversation with a professor, he encouraged me to work more on inner dialogues. I also found out it takes a lot of time to build up a character.

For example- Sikorska, my somewhat eccentric Polish President. She first appeared in my novel in a brief outline dying dramatically in the arms of somebody. I didn't have much to her at first, but when I continued her- although she wasn't "evil" she had her own prejudices and struggles she had to overcome, she had a backstory full of sadness and rejection. Her prejudices were something she had to overcome.

Its tricky making personifications of the "ideal" which would be Camhouille, Marianne, Walzynski, J'lay (Equality), Ryan (Justice), Olivia (Peace) but it can be done- and I encourage authors to do it!

Sadly in real life, there were/are people who are evil just for the sake of evil. Yes, it is alright to include those characters as well, just don't make it too predictable (unless that is the point).

My "King George" was at first rather flat too until one of my friends pointed that out and we worked to give him motivations and a heart for doing the right thing. He wants to say the right thing but it always comes out wrong. Poor William Arnold!
Also, Van Fordley- the politician who always took bribes- her childhood circumstances led her to believe money was the key to a happy life.

Julia Rospierre- now I'd defend this character in front of anybody. It's the propaganda in the newspapers that make her appear like a villain because people are afraid of the revolution spreading.


7. Sometimes it's better to be quiet and let the reader speculate

As I mentioned the more you talk about a character and their backstory, the more the people are likely to sympathize with your babies. But sometimes it can be overdone. If in the beginning of World War II I spend 10 pages on each of the main leader's backstory the readers will lose track of the story and characters. Spend time interweaving the backstories. Lech, for example, is unaware of Marianne's backstory- she knows about him from stalking her research on various resistance members which involves intense google stories, but she can't let on that she knows he has been imprisoned in the gulag.

Give a backstory when it's appropriate, but don't go too long. It may be helpful to have a separate document (not your novel) where you write your own long drawn out backstories for your characters to better predict how they will respond.

8. Talk to yourself

"I'm Marianne Moulin, leader of the French Resistance. Torture me all you want Nazis but I will never reveal a single secret."

Seriously, read your character's lines out loud or they may sound kind of awkward.

Like my fanatic secessionist character Peter Saint-Just, it was kind of awkward to read some of his lines since it made me sound like a radical but the more I read them the more it became natural to write my character Saint-Just and predict what he should say next.
Or reading my Communist dictator, and it's like "disclaimer: I'm not communist. I'm a writer" but I was reading it in a quiet room.

Or reading my revenge obsessed resistance member who is more into revenge than the actual resistance, I had to carefully make sure he didn't sound like a cartoon from a children's movie. That is also very tempting if you don't read their lines. Read and imagine if they are film characters- what would you think?


Nothing wrong with sounding like a cartoon if you are writing a kid's book though!


9. Publishing is really hard

Not really these days, but advertising- that's a different story.

I self-published, and yes you have to pay attention. My formatting got messed up when I submitted it so I had to resubmit it. Its hard to set prices because at least on my publisher- I can't set it below $13 so be careful as to your page limit.

10. Advertising is easy: If it's a good book, it will sell.

Hahaha, no. You really have to push to get the word out there. It's hard to get people to buy books. I'm not familiar with advertising or marketing but I've been learning a lot and still haven't sold enough copies to make royalties. Advertising is an art and there are always more and new ways to do it.

In fact, I may be advertising right now ;) The easy way to do it is "Pleeaaassseee buy my book!!! I need money to live!!!!!!!!!" but that tends to steer people away, for advertising you have to be clever and strategic.
Like in my novel my resistance fighters at first come straight out "Vive la resistance!" and obviously don't make it, but after subtleness, they succeed.




Anyway, those are my opinions on the top 10 things I learned about writing.

Cover Image Credit: Emily Hausheer

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

11 Best Moments From The Golden Globes

This year the Golden Globes did not disappoint with memorable moments.

The Golden Globes. One of the best award shows of the year. And this year was no exception. From stars uniting as one, to say Times Up to motivating speeches, even fake birds on shoulders, you can agree that this year the Globes were a must watch.

1. James Franco pushing Tommy Wiseau away from the mic.

This was just a weird and awkward situation all around. When the man who Franco portrayed in the role, tried to say a few words, Franco uncomfortably pushed him away, making everyone cringe in the process. #awkward

2. Allison Janney’s feathery friend.

When presenting the clip for "I, Tonya," Allison Janney was joined by the bird from the movie. It was definitely entertainment and brought on the laughs.

3. Zac Efron.

There is nothing else to even say. Zac Efron is simply perfection.

4. Natalie Portman bringing attention to the lack of female nominees.

Natalie Portman did not hold back when she presented the Best Director award. She was not happy at the lack of girl power in the category and was not afraid to note there were "all male nominees."

5. Hugh Jackman’s face when he didn’t win.

This one isn’t necessarily a good moment but it was a memorable one.

6. Timothée Chalamet’s face when he saw Tonya Harding.

Timothée is adorable as it is. Add his reaction to when he notices how close he is to Tonya Harding just pushes his cuteness over the edge.

7. Seth Meyers’ monologue.

Seth Meyer's monologue was the perfect combination of funny and serious. He addressed the elephant in the room that was Harvey Weinstein.

8. Sebastian Stan bringing the style.

Sebastian Stan was a sight to be seen while presenting "I, Tonya." From the suit to the stubble to the smile, he looked amazing. What a stud.

9. Tom Hanks bringing martinis to his entire table.

As if Tom Hanks could not get any cooler, he hand-delivered a tray of martinis to his table consisting of Steven Spielberg and Meryl Streep.

10. The attendees uniting as one wearing black

All of the attendees of the Golden Globes standing in solidarity against sexual harassment and assault was incredibly moving. This is just the beginning of the "Times Up" movement and Hollywood is taking note.

11. Oprah’s epic acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Where to even begin with Oprah's speech. It was moving. It was inspirational. It was beautiful. Every second was amazing and reminds us why we love Oprah and how much of an inspiration she is for everyone. She reminded us to stand up for injustices and to pave the way for a brighter tomorrow.

Cover Image Credit: Billboard

Related Content

Facebook Comments