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World Building – A Novice’s Guide

by Claire Buss

When you set out to write a novel you have an early choice to make. Either the people and the setting are based on real life actualities. Or, and this is definitely more fun, you get to make the whole thing up. And let’s face it, that’s one of the biggest attractions of being a writer – creating your own heroes, villains and their trusty sidekicks. Once you know who you’re writing about, then you get to decide what kind of world they’re going to live in. You want a pink sky? You got it. Everybody talks directly into each other’s minds? No problem. No-one has feet anymore? Go for it.

After playing a deity of your choice for a while you begin to realise that actually with great power comes great responsibility and even with a pink sky, your world needs some serious thought. I’m not saying you’ve got to go quantum, which of course you can if you want to, but you do need to consider the reason behind the pink sky and make sure you have a somewhat plausible explanation other than it just is. Yes, it’s true science fiction readers will accept a fair amount at face value but if you want to be credible, it’s got to make some kind of sense.

Here is a mini checklist of some of the areas you should be thinking about when building your world:

  • History – what has gone on before & what impact did it have on your current story
  • Geography – what does your world physically look like
  • Religion – does your world have one, many or none
  • Magic – is everyone magical or just a few elite, how does the magic work, how is it controlled, who’s in charge
  • Culture – do different places have a different way of doing things, different dress codes, different types of buildings, art & music
  • Language – does everyone speak the same language or are there different ones
  • Food – do some places have access to different types of food & drink
  • Government – whose in charge, how do they rule
  • Transport – what different types of transportation do you have, do you need roads, airways or transporters
  • Currency – do people trade for goods or is there one or more different types of currency
  • Class – do you have a rich and poor divide
  • Location – is your country isolated, part of a large world, galaxy or universe

I feel quite sure I have only scratched the surface of things to think about when you’re world building. Feel free to get in touch and let me know what I missed.

By now you’ve probably got a headache. Welcome to the wonderful world of fiction writing. If you choose to create a brand new world then, honey, you’ve got to invest some time thinking about how it works and why. That’s not to say you have to cover all of these areas in your books, we don’t want to start an info-dump avalanche! However, it’s probably a good idea for at least you, the author, to have an explanation for each of these areas. Writing a one-off novel means, potentially, you may not invest as much time in world building as someone who is writing a twelve book series. But really, if you want your book to be the best version of itself that it can be then you can’t ignore how your world was put together. After all, you want to sound credible otherwise how else can the reader make an emotional connection with your story?

I am terrible at drawing maps, for example this is City 42 from my hopeful dystopian novel The Gaia Effect:

It might not be the best cartography you’ve ever seen in your life but it did help me get the layout of the city organised in my mind as well as make it sound logical when describing character movements from one area to another.

Luckily for you, this is world building 101 – the novice’s guide, so I won’t be setting any homework or making you run laps. But I do want you to think about the world you’ve created. Have you covered the topics in my handy list above? Is there an aspect here you could develop and therefore strengthen your prose with?

The most important thing to remember is – it’s your world so you can have whatever you want in there as long as it makes sense to your story. Have fun!

Claire is a Pen to Print Alumni, award-winning, multi-genre author. Read more about her books and author journey at

If you want your book to be the best version of itself that it can be then you can't ignore how your world was put together.