There are many places to get worldbuilding advice and certainly with more experience than I have. Any one of a number of famous writers can and will give you sound advice on this, and that is where I got much of my advice when I was first determined to finish anything. In fact, I credit such as awesome advice from famous writers for my finishing a Gothic novella that, while objectively awful looking back on it, at least had a consistent feel to it.
This novella, an Annabelle Lee adaptation I named Bringing Me Dreams, didn’t and does not capture the historical era I set it in. You could say that the worldbuilding in this novella is still severely off the mark, and would be right. But I stand by that awful piece of dreck that I wrote two years ago because it I have a soft spot for it and it taught me how to worldbuild, even if it wasn’t an accurate world. What’s not to love about Gothic Fiction, vampires, the 1900s, and interracial lesbian relationships? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. They’re just adorable and awesome as all hell.
But I’m yammering on too much. Let’s get this show on the road.
What is worldbuilding?
Worldbuilding is the process of constructing a story’s world. Wikipedia and others would say that it has to deal with constructing fictional or made up worlds, places like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or the world in which Marie Brennan’s Lady Isabella Trent live. And I don’t disagree. But I think it is more than that.
To set a story in a far away time such as Ancient Egypt under Hatshepsut or a modern culture readers aren’t familiar with requires, in my opinion, just as much worldbuilding as creating a Fantasy/Scifi world or society. Because, and here’s the thing, worldbuilding is everywhere in fiction. Whether describing the Goth scene in 1990’s Boston or a fierce matriarchal culture of Gorgons living on a distant planet. You can’t avoid doing it in some form, no matter what genre you write.
Now that you know my opinions on worldbuilding, it’s time for me to give you some advice of my own.
- Read. Read about the past, read your favorite writers, and read books specifically on the craft of writing and worldbuilding.
- Pay particular attention to writers you love. Maybe seeing something they do will make what you’ve read in your craft books stick better.
- Start with the aspect of worldbuilding that is the most interesting to you and ask yourself the following questions about it: how did it come about? What does this tell you and your readers about the culture?
A Worldbuilding Example
The following sample is a bit short, not as fleshed out as I would like it to be. But I believe and hope that it will illustrate my point in a way that makes sense. If you would rather skip ahead to the recommended reading portion of things, then feel free to do just that.
Valé circled the ring, footsteps echoing against the bloodsoaked stone, keeping her opponent firmly in her sights.
Nema was quick. She’d watched the viper-haired woman take down several opponents already today. One second of laxness, one moment of weekness and Valé could be dead, this fight her last.
She dodged a particularlly vicious bit of her oponents mane and threw the other woman to the ground. Nema may be quick, but she would be the one to meet the gods this time and Valé would be the one to go free.
Can you spot the worldbuilding in this example? If you said everything, you would be right. The stone, the way the knowledge of the two women’s circumstances is convey, it all adds up to help us create a mental picture of the world being shown.
In short, worldbuilding and worldbuilding advice is a variation on the well-loved writer’s soundbite ‘show, don’t tell.’ And if you think of it as the embodiment of ‘show, don’t tell’ you will find yourself writing worlds that are more consistent and fleshed out than someone who doesn’t.
Which bring to the recommendation portion of things.
Writing The Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper (Amazon link.), with its many exercises, is a great resource for worldbuilding worlds within worlds. Think a matriarchal society of Gorgons living in modern day Boston.
On the other hand, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans (Amazon link.) is great for those who want to build their own worlds, or even rebuild the past. Both books give the reader a strong foundation in the basics of worldbuilding and give great worldbuilding advice, so I can genuinely recommend with either or both. Give them a try if you think they may help you.
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