W is for world-building

World-building is an important exercise, even outside of speculative fiction. Authors need to decide where to set their story, and if they use a fictional town or city, it still has to feel real. Still, for me, I find more work goes into the world-building when the first step is “decide what world I want to use.” (This is true for both fantasy and science-fiction, of course.)

For those looking for a good place to start with world-building, Patricia Wrede has made available her list of questions. Questions cover everything from climate to education and the calendar, with magic, religion, medicine, and politics along the way. I have never actually answered all of her questions, not even all of the questions in any one section. However, I have used them as a starting point to think about what some of the issues are that I want to get clear before I write.

Kate Elliott also has an elegant post on the questions she starts with for world-building, as well as a guest post from Helen Lowe on cultures, layers, and world-building. Definitely worth a read.

Some people don’t do their world-building first; they start writing, look at what they’ve put into place, and look at implications.

However one builds worlds, the hope is for a coherent, cohesive whole at the end, one that allows the reader to sink into the world. What are some of your favorite books for that immersive feel? If you write, how do you go about planning your world?

This is a post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. My theme is epic fantasy, and blog posts will cover authors, books, tropes, themes, or anything else I can think of to fill the alphabet. Check out some of the other bloggers participating or follow my blog by e-mail if you like what you’ve read.

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  1. Thank you for the links! I’m going to go check them out now. I prefer to build my world first so I don’t get lost and know the rules. It’s easy to go back and tweak something later.

  2. Great world-building…

    Well, a good number of the Terrirtories from DJ Machale’s ‘Pendragon’ series have exquisite worlbuilding, particularly the sociopolitical side. And, as anti-Tolkien as I am, Middle Earth is astonishing. My favorite might actually be Lem’s robotic world from ‘The Cyberiad,’ but it’s more an accquired taste.

    My world-building varies. In most genres, I just wing it and keep notes as I go, but I really bang out that information for high fantasy. Every time I write it, I have at least one map (normally more), I fill out the world-building questions, and I have pages of general notes and diagrams. But only in high fantasy.

    Great post, yet again,

    • Ooh, more books to add to my list to look up. Thanks!

      I’m really regretting not having a map for the current book I’m working on. I think I may have to spend some time remedying that before I get much further.

      Thanks for the comments!

  3. Hello, Erin! Whenever I’m reading a fantasy book, I marvel at the world building! I admire fantasy writers so much because of all the planning they have to put into their novels.

    Have a lovely week and happy A to Z!

  4. When I try planning a world before I start (just like with plotting) I get so caught up in the process that I waste all my enthusiasm on that, and when it comes time to actually write, I’m all out of motivation. With the last story I did, I’ll be doing the mapping and rules as I reread it, making my lists, sorting out where my problems are, and fixing them in revisions. It helps me get the story out, and not lose my excitement in planning.

    • It makes sense that your process would be consistent like that. (And I still want to read that story!)

      • I don’t think you can want to read it more than I want to finish it and get it published! It’s on the short list for this year, before I turn another year older, before November, I’ve promised myself this!

  5. It’s so true that even if a story is set on earth, and in a total “real world” setting, one must still do the hard work of world-building in terms of setting, main scene details, symbolic aspects of place and more. Thanks for the links to world-building tips!

  6. I world-build as I go. At the end of every binge … erm .. writing session, or at the very latest, the next day, I go back over what I’ve written and pull out all the world-building stuff and file it accordingly.

    The most engrossing world-building I’ve read might just have to be the ‘Empire’ series by Janny Wurts and Raymond Feist. ‘Daughter of the Empire’, Servant of the Empire’, and ‘Mistress of the Empire’.
    They are kinda companion books to Raymond’s ‘Riftwar Saga’, but they’re so good they stand alone magnificently.

    • That’s an interesting approach, Widdershins. I should do that those times when I don’t world-build in advance. It’s important to keep those details straight!

      I haven’t seen the Empire series. I’ll have to keep my eyes out for them. Thanks for the recommendation!

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