Get Started Worldbuilding

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Get Started Worldbuilding

My four-year-old grandson loves for me to tell him a story as he is trying to fall asleep at night. His bedroom is dark and he knows he has to first provide me with the main character (often a dragon, an invisible dog, a talking carrot) before I fashion a story for him.

Get Started Worldbuilding QuoteGood worldbuilding is an art in itself. We writers must help our readers live in the world we build and stay for the duration of the story, ideally not wanting to leave (unless it is a scary place, then the reader cannot wait to get out of there). Work hard to make the worlds you build compelling for your readers.

Some Steps to Building a World

You have a plot and a protagonist for your story and have sketched up an idea showing the main character’s journey within the story. Before you move any further, it may be a good time to think seriously about the world where the story takes place.

To do that, grab a notebook or a new Word document. Go ahead and imagine the world by closing your eyes and going to that place. Immerse yourself in this world you are creating for your characters and envision everything about it – sights, sounds, smells, parts of the world that may differ from what readers are accustomed to in real life. Envision everything about it. Spend as much time as you need.

Now open your eyes and jot down everything you thought about. There is no need for full sentences – words and phrases will do fine. After you write down everything you remember thinking about then add to it. Continue adding to your worldbuilding document in the days and weeks ahead.

Use these questions and prompts to help you dive deep into the world you are creating:

Describe the people who live there and what their culture is like.

  • Are there particular foods they grow or eat that may be different from those readers are accustomed to?
  • Do they wear clothing that is specific to their world?
  • Do they have routines or habits that may seem strange or different from what we do here on Earth?
  • Are there jobs that are particular to this place?
  • What type of transportation is most often used there?
  • Are homes similar or different from the typical ones on Earth?
  • What laws are unique to this world?
  • What else can you think of now that you are enmeshed in this world?

You likely won’t respond to all of the questions above and will probably have additional unique ideas to write down. You may also want to draw a map if you need to keep certain parts of the setting straight for yourself as you come up with the story.

Get Started Worldbuilding CANVA boy with paper boatNot everything you think about and write down will become part of the story, but if you create a world on paper, you can refer to it as you write your story. You will also add to the worldbuilding ideas and refer to what you have written keeping the story consistent and believable. The process is a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle – fun, but challenging.

After you have your world in place in your mind and on paper, establish similarities to the real world in Chapter 1 of your story. Stephen King does this particularly well when he introduces the main character in his books as usually just a regular person living their life. Then, King turns the real world upside down and lets us know that things are different here.

As briefly discussed in the previous blog post, if you have ever read his book It, you may recall little Georgie Denbrough sailing his paper boat on the street during a rainstorm. Everything seems fine until the boy encounters Pennywise the clown living in a storm drain. That’s when the story changes and we encounter the strange and terrifying world that the writer created. Most books are like this—convincing readers that the world is normal then throwing a spin into it—although not usually to the degree we find in King’s writing.

Get Started Worldbuilding CANVA woman with notebookWhy do it?

Writers need to get the reader into their world and stay there. The use of a strong setting, sensory details, and enough information help the reader feel like they are in the world you have created. The world you build must be plausible or readers won’t feel convinced about it and the spell will be broken.

Building a place for your characters to live will mesmerize readers, pulling them into the world, the story, and the content. Some writers can do this so well that readers never want the book or story to be over.  With practice, the worlds you build will keep your audience reading.

Next Steps

Good writers can explore ideas they would not be able to otherwise when they devise their own world. Pay close attention to the realistic and the fantastical worlds writers create in the stories you read. Think about what makes even the most imaginative places so intriguing as you strive to improve on this part of your writing life.

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Susan Ludwig, MA has been an instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature for almost twenty years. Susan’s writing credits include teacher resource guides, English language learner books, and classroom curriculum for elementary through high school students. A former magazine editor, she assesses students’ written essays as a scoring director for the ACT and SAT exam. When she is not writing or working, she is usually found playing with her grandsons or curled up with a good book.


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What is Worldbuilding?

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