I hope you take the information from this post and find it useful in the future. Novels, no matter what genre, are set in a world that needs to be explored. Your world will greatly affect what kind of novel it will be and vice versa. It is important to consider these points below in order to create a well-rounded world. Obviously I cannot cover everything about world building in one post – but these questions should get you thinking in the right direction. They focus on the big parts of your world like environment; and the tiny things, like how your society says ‘hello’.
To make it easier here are all the things you need to think about, in a handy booklet: world building workbook
What is it like?
Think about and bullet point what your world is going to be like. Is it Futuristic? Modern? Historical? Magical?
- What type of landscape does your world have? Is it bare with nothing growing? Are there mountains and valleys? How does the landscape change through countries/continents or over the ground of your world if it is one block of land?
- How big is your population? Do they live in a variety of places? What is the culture like in your world? Are there lots of different cultures? Is everyone human or are there different species? Is there a variety of races? Take inspiration from cultures around the world, ancient long gone cultures and things from mythology.
- What is the weather like in your world and how does is vary through continents?
Come up with a rich history for your novel to make it really come alive! Even if it is not included in your novel it will bleed through your writing and make your story more complete.
- How did the world you’ve created, get to be how it is in the present?
- What are the important historical events that made the world like it is?
- Does it follow our history?
- What are your world’s mythologies and legends? What nursery rhymes and fairy tales do your people tell the children?
- How long has your world been around? Both the ground itself and civilisation?
- Did the people in your world evolve there? Or did they migrate from another place/planet?
- Are there special events and days in your world’s calendar? What are the festivals and celebrations like in your world? (including birthdays, anniversaries etc.)
Map it out!
There are many websites you can use, but I like to draw these places out with my eyes shut and see what kind of map comes out of my brain! Imagine cliffs and inlets, rivers and mountains and see what you can come up with – keep trying until you’re happy.
Magic in your world
Is there magic in your world? There is lots of research to be done in the world of magic and finding one path of magic to follow can be the first step.
- There are many different types of magic for you to research including Wicca, Neo-pagan, Gypsy Magic, Gothic Witchcraft, Ritual Magic, Earth Magic, Shamanism, and Classical Witchcraft.
- How does magic work in your world?
- What are the rules/restrictions? There needs to be rules and limitations to what a witch or wizard can do in your world because if there are no limits then it’s unlikely there will be much conflict. Conflict needs to happen in your book and so it’s no good if you put a character in a situation that they have no trouble getting out of all the time.
This is something you need to consider when writing a story that happens on another planet or in a country where the main language is not English.
- Do they speak our language? Is there more than one language?
- How do these languages end up interacting with each other?
- Is your world multicultural or are these languages spoken on different continents?
- What kind of slang does your world use? Does people speak formally to one another? Or more chatty?
Make rules for your world. If it is a fantasy/made up world then it will need rules and laws of nature the same way our world does.
- Does your world have seasons like ours?
- What are the laws in your world? What would make someone a criminal? How are they dealt with?
- What are the social norms of your world? Examples of this are: Do people commit violent crimes? Do people have sex? Do they use their hands to eat?
- How long is a day/month/year in your world?
- What kind of weapons does your world have? Have they waged wars against other places?
Think about government in your novel, you need to know how your world is ruled so that your characters can act accordingly, even if the governing body doesn’t play a part directly. Is it…?
- Republic: the supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives.
- Democracy: a system where the eligible population vote for certain political members or party.
- Theocracy: a system where priests rule in the name of God or gods.
- Autocracy: a system ruled by one person with absolute power.
- Technocracy: a system ruled by an elite of technical experts.
- Fascism: an authoritarian system of right-wing government.
- Anarchy: a state of disorder due to a lack of governmental power.
- Monarchy: a government system with a monarch at the head e.g King or Queen.
- Oligarchy: a small group of people having control over a country/region.
- Plutocracy: government ruled by the wealthy.
- Tyranny: a government of oppression, ruled by fear.
- Totalitarian: a dictatorial system of government.
- Federation: a group of states with a central government but independence in internal affairs.
- Communism: a system whereby all property is owned by the community and all people contribute.
- Junta: a military or political group that takes a country by force.
- Dictatorship: ruled by a someone who has taken the role by force.
Society is such a rich part of our world that you need to think carefully about how yours is constructed, even if it’s the society you already live in.
- How does the environment affect your plot and characters?
- How does wealth vary through your world?
- What are the social statuses of your world?
- What types of job are available for the common people of your world? Who do they work for?
- Where does everyone live? Little villages that function on their own? A big city?
- What is the style of dress like in your world?
- What is the religion in your world like? Are there many different ones?
- What are the ethics and values of the people?
- How do the people greet one another? Do people travel from one place to another often? Are they welcome in other places?
- Does your world interact with foreign others?
- What is the industry like in your world? The science and tech? The medicine?
- What is the arts and literature like? What do people do for their entertainment?
- How do your people communicate with one another – phone? Letter? Messenger on horseback?
- What is the architecture like? Research other cultures/ancient cultures/made up types of building through concept art
- What do your people eat? How do they get this food – foraging or buying it in a shop?
- How are the people educated in your world?
- How do people tell what time it is? Clock? Or from the sun?
Extra for you to think about
Here are a last few things to help you along with building a magnificent world for your story.
- Think about favourite (or least favourite) places in your novel – describe these places from your MC’s POV, and other characters if they go there. Use the senses of touch, smell, hearing, sight and taste.
- Visit places that are similar to your novel e.g if you are writing about swimming or water – go for a swim in a pool or the sea. Think about how it feels and tastes, smells etc. immerse yourself in it.
- Think about the mood and theme of your novel – it will affect the type of setting you use.