My Top Tips for World Building
World building is a huge topic to cover, but it’s also one that is important when thinking about crafting your story. Whether the world is real or made up world, it’s necessary to bring the setting alive for readers to help them get invested in your book! World building also ridiculously cool (when done right). I’m going to break down my top world building tips for you, and your goal is to implement these tips into your story in different ways.
Show Your World Through the Eyes of Your Characters
It’s important to think about who your characters are in relation to the world around them. Are they new to a city and likely to notice details that regular citizens wouldn’t notice? Are they in a place they’ve lived their entire lives and can’t wait to get out? Or maybe your character was forcefully brought to a particular place and hates it. In order to bring the world alive, think about how your characters’ position, time, and relationship with the world might affect the way they see it.
Show, Don’t Tell
Showing vs. telling is a really vague topic, but when it comes to world building, it’s simple. Show the world, the rules, the way of life through action and dialogue. If you have paragraphs where your characters are explaining the world to the reader, then you’re doing it wrong. There shouldn’t be any explaining, unless you have a new character that doesn’t understand something (which is a device you can use as long as you don’t overuse it).
Don’t feel the need to explain your world all at once. Reveal it bit by bit as the characters move through the story. A really cool magic system doesn’t need to be explained until the characters are actually using that magic system. That way, you can show readers what’s happening. An important city doesn’t need to be described until characters are walking or driving through that city.
Model Your World After a Real Place
If you’re writing fantasy, sci-fi, or you’re writing a contemporary novel that’s not set in a real place (for whatever reason), it can help to base your world off of a place that actually exists. That way, you have a jumping point to build your world and bring it alive for readers. For example, The Deepest Roots is based on a fictional town in Kansas. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are based on Amsterdam (which if you’ve read either book—and if you haven’t, I’m not sure what you’re doing with your life—you can totally see the similarities). It helps to start with a real place because you can research that place, look at photos, and start crafting the details of your setting.
Weave Setting in Through Action
If your characters are doing any sort of action (i.e., a car chase, running, walking, biking, etc.) that can be your chance to bring in elements of the setting. Are characters walking by a pond? Do they have wide-open roads for a car chase or are they in a city where they have to squeeze through back alleys and narrow roadways? Use the action, which should have a purpose in moving the story forward, as a way to bring your world alive.
Use the Setting as a Character or Plot Device
This brings me to my next point. Worlds that are so intricate they can be considered a character are wonderful. Think about the personality your world might have if it were a character, and then think about the ways to bring that personality alive. Is your world calm and serene or snarky and likely to talk back? Adding in some of that personality creates an extra kind of depth to your book.
Additionally, using the world as a plot device is a great way to add some sizzle. Think about ways the world can hinder or help your characters’ ultimate goals. For example, if a character knows his world like the back of his hand (I promise that’s the only cliche I’ll use in this article), whereas his archrival doesn’t, the setting is more likely to help the character accomplish his goals.
And if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, you can have even more fun (sorry, non-fantasy/sci-fi writers, you can skip this paragraph). Your world can actually come alive. Trees can talk, oceans can have tempers, buildings can get up and move themselves. Of course, these things can only happen if your world calls for it.
The Details Are Everything
When it comes to world building, details are everything. Don’t just describe your characters walking through a market, be specific. Is it bustling with caravans and tents and delicious spices floating through the air? Or is it so crowded your character can barely breath, and when he does takes a breath, he gets a giant whiff of raw fish and shrimp? You can see how those short descriptions paint a completely different picture. In every scene, in every aspect of your setting, think about the details. A haunted house is boring. A leaning house with peeling grey paint and boarded-over windows sets the tone for a haunted house much better. Moral of the story: don’t skimp on details when it comes to your world.
The details are also important when describing what you believe are everyday things. Sunsets, roses, fields, rivers all might look different according to your world. A river can be tame or rushing. It can be a place of serenity or a deadly force. Don’t assume your readers will know what something looks like or feels like.
Focus on All Five of the Senses
We’ve covered a lot about how your setting and world might look in this article but don’t forget about the other senses. Taste, touch, smell, sound, and feel (yes, I’m making up a sense and no, feel and touch are not the same thing) are all important as well. A city is going to smell and sound different than a farm in the country. That bustling market with caravans is going to smell different than the crowded market with raw fish. Suck readers into your world by touching on all of the sense.
When it comes to feeling, think about the climate of your setting. Climate can play a huge role in creating setbacks for your characters. Climate can also just be a pain (Anyone else been to Lambeau Field in -20-degree weather with a windchill? Yeah. It feels like your face is going to fall off and you’ll never be warm again.), or climate can be pleasant and wonderful. Think about how the setting makes your character FEEL overall (see? I told you it was different than touch).
And that’s it for my tips on world building. In general, I’m a huge Leigh Bardugo and Brandon Sanderson fan (I mean, who isn’t?), so I’d definitely recommend checking out their books for examples of excellent world building. What are your favorite world-building tips? And what’s the setting like in your world? Comment below!