Some parts of writing suck. Like editing. And first drafts. And waiting. And being poor.

But some parts are awesome. Like worldbuilding.

It’s like playing Sims. Or Barbies. Setting up the house is half the experience.

Is worldbuilding important? If characters, plot and setting are important, then worldbuilding is essential to writing a fantasy/sci-fi. The world itself provides room for characters and plots to develop. Here are a few tips to help you build a world as intricate and mysterious as Middle Earth:

Environment: What does this world look like?

Creating the actual physical world is the most important part of worldbuilding, because the landscape dictates what kinds of things can live. Humans? Something cooler?

Alien planets/fantasy worlds are fun because you can start from scratch. Use what you know about what life needs (water, oxygen) and use these as the parameters for your world’s physical qualities. Any other planet, regardless of what kind of creatures live there, could look totally different from Earth. Make it awesome.

When writing a future Earth there are many factors to consider. First, if it’s post-apocalypse, then what was the apocalypse? War? Famine? An ice age? The rapture? Think about how this catastrophe would manifest itself in the land. (This will be part of your alternate history.)

Similarly, think about how this apocalypse would affect the things that are currently on Earth. Buildings, bridges, roads – what happened to them? Are they still around? Figure out how your particular apocalypse would affect various materials like asphalt, brick and metal.

If you’re writing in the deep and distant future, think about thinks like ice ages and other big history events.

Biology: What kinds of creatures and plants live in this world?

The great thing about writing fantasy and science fiction is that in departments like this, you can let your creativity go nuts. There are still basic rules of life; for example, unless you find some awesome alternate explanation, most life needs some amount of water and sunlight.

But think about your planet/dimension/realm/future Earth. If you live on a hot, dry planet, would there really be enough water to talk about fish and reptiles?

Obviously in other-worldly science fiction and fantasy almost anything goes. (Don’t be an idiot, though – no testes under the chin unless there’s a good reason for them to be there.)

However, keep in mind that an alien species will probably look nothing like humans. They may have no fingers, no vocal cords, no eyes – and I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what extras they could have. The more (physically) humanlike your alien species is, the less believable they will be. And less interesting.

Developing future Earths is fun too. What is the state of humans in this future? Are they the same as now, physically? It’s fine if they are, but think realistically about if they would be. Animals go extinct, new species are discovered. If Earth in 3000 still has Siberian tigers, you better have a good explanation. Cuz those dudes are endangered.

Culture: What are these beings like?

You know. What kind of stuff do they do? What is normal to them? Human culture itself is so diverse, developing an alien or fantasy culture has no boundaries. Culture affects every aspect of life: speech, fashion, education, diet, hobbies, body language – the things that are normal. Even if your main character isn’t normal, which she/he probably isn’t because otherwise why would you write about them, talking about what’s normal helps build the world.

Alternate history: How did they get there?

In fantasy, a general sense of your history makes the world seem fuller and multidimensional. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy each span only a couple of years, but they indicate at hundreds of years of a rich and diverse history for several Middle Earth species. The history consists of species dying off and new ones moving in; there are multiple wars and several layers to each of these wars – by the time Frodo leaves the Shire, Middle Earth is ancient and tired.

When writing post-apocalypse/dystopia, your angle is to be able to explain how we came from today to whatever is going on in your story. An excellent example of this is in the third book in the Divergent series, Allegiant. Hunger Games also does this well – the reader can easily envision how “we,” meaning current America, got to the Panem described by Suzanne Collins.

Do you see a pattern developing? Whatever you create, be able to provide a good explanation. It’s the details that make a new world feel real to a reader.


3 thoughts on “Worldbuilding

  1. Great post! I love all the questions you posed – it really gives us readers something to think about. The thing about testes on the chin was hilarious! And the message behind it, to not put it there unless there is a good reason for it to be there is something that can apply to all worldbulding aspects.

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