World Build While You Write

Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash

If you love to world build, make it a productive past time that aids your writing rather than delaying it.

Creating worlds sounds like a herculean task. It can certainly be daunting and overwhelming to the new and aspiring writer.

It can also be an addiction that becomes procrastination to not get your writing done, if you’re like me. I love building worlds and can spend hours doing it, but if it does not relate to your immediate story then it is an excuse not to write. Muses are tricky like that.

Worldbuilding does not count as writing nor does revising, just saying.

If you already have a story idea, then only build the parts of the world that you need to enhance your story, create points of conflict by building character, or reveal something about your character through their world. Yes, world creation can do all of that and more, unfolding your story like the flowers in the spring.

What is the definition of story?

Definitions from Oxford Languages / Screenshot by author

You will note the definition says “an account of imaginary or real people and events,” so when building your world, start there.

This does not mean there won’t be other considerations. Stories about people and events are shaped and influenced by the environments and cultures they live in.

Personal beliefs and philosophy also factor in.

What are the pieces of worldbuilding?

Whether real world or imaginary, you need to create a feeling of time, place, and the daily lives of your character’s ordinary world.

You need to understand how your world works for your character, and how living in that world has made them the person they are in your story. Sometimes, you may need to look to the real world to figure out how things work and fit in your new world.

When beginning from nothing, there are some things you will need to consider such as what do the geography, histories, and philosophies of your world look like? Just like we are influenced by those things in our world, so will your character be influenced in similar ways.

Geography will include such things as location, water, lands, climate, housing, and survival necessities. You do not need to create your entire world all at once. You need just enough for the story you are writing right now.

This establishes that sense of time and place.

Other things to think about include culture, world power structures, government, religion, arts & entertainment, social classes, food, drink, and the appearance of the people and the society they live in.

Worldbuilding helps you create characters.

Who is your character? Where did they come from? What shaped and influenced them? What skills do they need to live and thrive in your story world? Answering these questions gives you information about your story world.

Yes, you are also character building when you are worldbuilding, focused on the story you are writing now.

Just building what you need narrows your focus down to the current story place and time. As you write the draft, you will continue to world build while you get those words on paper. Build as you write.

Worldbuilding is not writing. Writing is putting new words in your story draft.

Why? Because it is easy to get lost in the creation, complexity, and connections of how worlds work as you explore the possibilities. Building within the story as I am writing means I am less likely to procrastinate.

And if I am building my world as I draft my story, then if I get lost in the creation I am still putting brand new words into the first draft.

For me, this works because instead of having all that writing in front of me to do, which can feel daunting despite all the massive worldbuilding being done, I am closer to finishing my story.

To be cliché: Kill two birds with one stone.

So where do you start?

What details of the real world do you want to utilize to create the place and time your character lives in? Worldbuilding can get intricate, but where do you start?

  • Start with a character with a problem.
  • Put that character in a setting that you imagine for your world. You can use real-world elements to create it or change real-world elements to fit the world you imagine.
  • Create someone, or something, or an event, whatever, to stand in the character’s way. Your job is to create someone or something that gets in the way or keeps the character from what they want or need most in this world.
  • Give them high stakes — I mean life or death stakes, literally or fugitively, and pair that with physical and emotional high stakes that intensify the thing they want and can’t reach.

Ask yourself these questions:

How does this world (including the other people living in it) influence and affect your character’s internal and external needs?

What does that world look like to them, your character? Break it down more — go personal. What do they see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and sense?

What does your character do for a living? This will tell you something about your world. Where do they live? Why? Is it a totally made-up world or just bits and pieces?

That is how character building can also help you create your world. Yes, you can go bigger and create a whole universe, like I do, or a fantasy world, but start small with the characters you are writing about and then build out.

For more elaborate worldbuilding, some things to consider are:

First, make sure your worldbuilding serves your narrative. Don’t overbuild — give your Muse room to play, grow, pretend and makeup. If you know it all from the start, it won’t be fun to write and create —the Muse will get bored.

An introduction to worldbuilding from A few lists.

  • Geography, which includes location, water, lands, and climate.
  • Character skills for survival. It means you will have to consider shelter, food, clothing, weapons, tools, knowledge, and abilities.
  • Power structure & shifts. Your world’s governments, countries, religions, leadership, and conventions will affect laws, norms, rebellions, and more.
  • Arts & entertainment.
  • Social power, clothing, adornment, popular styles, skin tones, builds, coloring, hairstyles, physical features.
  • History, involving traumatic events/disasters, wars, famine, plagues (recent and past,) changes in landscape, populations, laws, norms, and cultural beliefs.
  • Magic systems: tools, who can use, how, fears, knowledge.
  • Technology: Used to communicate, travel, power tech, develop entertainment, fulfill people’s everyday needs, weapons, how created, affordability, affects on education, way of life, has/does the government use to control people?
  • Languages
  • Unique species
  • Otherworldly races

DON’T OVERBUILD; you won’t need it all for the first novel, and probably not the second or even third novel. This leaves lots of room for your Muse to still play and create.