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Day 7: World Building

Readers expect to be transported to worlds beyond their imagination. That’s why they read. Fantasy is well-known for taking readers on journeys to enchanted realms. Beloved stories like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings evoke such vivid alternate realities that setting practically becomes a character. How do writers create these spellbinding netherworlds?

World building is the art of crafting such domains.

There are many factors to consider when world building. To help get you thinking, I’ve created a mind map of elements.

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Jeff Vandermeer, in his stunning Wonderbook, lists several characteristics that make up a compelling and cohesive alternate reality. The trick with doing so is to ground flights of imagination to an underlying order that allows the reader to make sense of things. Among Vandermeer’s recommendations:

  • Employ coherent and consistent logic
  • Provide specific details
  • Mirror our world and deviate from it
  • Make it personal in some way
  • Leave sufficient room for mystery and unexplored vistas
  • Use extended, literalized metaphors
  • Attend to the collective and individual memory

Ekaterina Sedia outlines three vantage points from which fantasy worlds can be explored:

  • The Cultural Native
  • The Tourist or Visitor (this is a well-known and perhaps over-employed trope)
  • The Conqueror or Colonizer

Another perspective that I advocate is the minority voice. Who is privileged to create meaning in your world? What does the world look like from the vantage point of the repressed or disempowered? Who or what determines who is empowered to create meaning for the masses?

Here are some additional ideas and questions to get you thinking about the details of your world:

Creating Cultures in Fiction: 15 Things to Consider

City Build Worksheet

Geography Worksheet

The Cultural Iceberg

Questions to Ask When You’re World Building

What are some of your favorite fictional worlds? While so many great fantastical realms come to mind for me, I’d have to name one of my all-time favorite books, All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. This book features the brain-tickling premise that the future (or, more precisely, our present) turned out exactly like it was imagined in the 1950s. Mastai then renders that society in glorious detail. Check it out!

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Here are links to all of the other articles in the series.


Be sure to also check out the 5 Epic Clues to NaNoWriMo Success webinar.

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