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How in the World to World-Build!

Updated on July 29, 2015
ckbrooke profile image

C.K. Brooke is a published author. Her titles include The Duchess Quest, The Duchess Inheritance, Fool Moon and The Red Pearl (coming soon).

What in the world is world-building?

If you read or write fantasy books, you've probably come across the term "world-building" more than once. World-building refers to an author's development of their fantasy realm within the text of their novel. Think Narnia, Middle-Earth, or the Wizarding World - these are classic examples of world-building. At best, world-building is gradual, complex but not terribly difficult to understand, and unfolds naturally within the narrative of the story. As the author of multiple fantasy novels, I'm here to share a few pointers on the process.

The map of West Halvea for my first novel, The Duchess Quest by C.K. Brooke.
The map of West Halvea for my first novel, The Duchess Quest by C.K. Brooke. | Source

Pointer #1: Develop your names and map first.

Create your map and all corresponding names of places (and characters) first. This should definitely be done before writing or even outlining your story. Why? Because the setting - especially if your characters are going to move about and explore it - will likely be an important aspect of the plot. You'll want to ensure all of the details are thought out ahead of time, so that you can stay consistent in the planning of your story.

If you need tips for coming up with names for fantasy lands and characters, see my 10 Secrets for Naming Your Fantasy Lands & Characters Hub.

Pointer #2: Drip it in gradually.

Don't lay out all the logistics, background and backstory in the very beginning of your book. It may seem clear and like "laying the groundwork" for you, but there's no quicker way to alienate readers. A big, puffy preface or prologue full of exposition (and containing little action) will overwhelm readers and make for dense and uninteresting reading. Instead, start with an action scene that draws readers in and makes them care about what will happen to the characters, and sparks their curiosity in wanting to read more.

Once you've hooked in your audience, skillfully trickle in pertinent details about the world throughout the course of the novel. This can be done through dialogue or in the narrative. If you do it through dialogue, be sure that the dialogue still sounds natural for that character, and is not overly detailed so as to lose its believability as dialogue. If placing it in narrative, make sure it's brief and to-the-point, and flows with the story rather than interrupting it.

Map of The Great Continent in my second book, The Duchess Inheritance (Jordinia: Book 2) by C.K. Brooke.
Map of The Great Continent in my second book, The Duchess Inheritance (Jordinia: Book 2) by C.K. Brooke. | Source

Pointer #3: Only include what's relevant.

You might've mapped out your entire world down to every last river, village and mountain range. But it's crucial to only include whatever information is relevant to the plot. It might feel like a waste not to share every bit of additional background you hold about your universe, but your job is to sculpt down the useful details into digestible chunks for your readers. Don't tell them things they don't care about. Only share what's going to come into play later, and/or what's needed for the purposes of advancing the plot and developing character arcs.

Pointer #4: Make sure the world is going somewhere.

Ensure your fantasy world is transforming or evolving in the story. Few people necessarily want to read a trilogy about a static fantasy land that will always remain the same whenever the main characters enter it. That's why in most fantasy books, there's often a war, uprising, or revolution - the world is threatened or compromised in some way, and it's up to your heroes to save it. (Or, maybe your heroes are the ones who've come to destroy it...)

The World of C.K. Brooke: Comparative map from The Duchess Inheritance (Jordinia: Book 2).
The World of C.K. Brooke: Comparative map from The Duchess Inheritance (Jordinia: Book 2). | Source

Pointer #5: You don't need to reinvent the wheel.

In my early attempts to write fantasy, I thought I shouldn't include literally anything that belonged in our real world. So, I was inventing my own plants, animals, foods, planets, languages and phrases. The result was barely legible gibberish. From those sorry attempts, I learned to keep men as men, trees as trees, bread as bread... you get the picture.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel when writing fantasy. All fantasy novels borrow from each other and the real world. For example, I'll bet you can name more than one fantasy novel that features a giant spider. And next time you read the Harry Potter series, see if you don't pick up on parallels and historical references to Hitler and Nazism. There's plenty of room for creativity while keeping your world understandable, similar to ours, and easy to relate to.

Until next time, happy writing!

Check out my novels, rich with world-building!

© 2015 CK Brooke

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    • ACSutliff profile image

      ACSutliff 15 months ago

      Hi C.K. Brooke,

      I absolutely love this hub about world building! I will definitely be keeping your tips in mind as I write my own fantasy. I especially can relate to the idea of recreating everything for the sake of avoiding cliches. Writing does become overly convoluted when writers try to be completely original, and sometimes, as Hubber M.T. Dreamer wrote, cliches can be a good call because they bring with them a sense of familiarity that readers can latch onto.

      Your examples about Narnia and Harry Potter remind me of Martin's Ice and Fire. Some important aspects in his world, such as dragons, are familiar to readers, while others are unique and completely original (Red Priests, the Seven New Gods) and still others are based on something that seems familiar, but given unique names (White Walkers, Children of the Forest).

      I love your maps for West Halvea, etc! Somehow, I get the impression that your world is an ancient version of Earth, with continents in mid-shift. I had a similar idea for my fantasy world. I just recently made a tweet about this very conflicting situation.

      You (the author) feel so smart for coming up with a great way to make something cliche just a little bit more unique and interesting, only to find that your idea (though it is undoubtedly a good idea) was somebody else's idea first. On a positive note, you feel smart for coming up with such a great idea that other smart people had the idea too, but the drawback is that you worry people will question your integrity when they see the connections. How do you let your reader know you didn't copy someone, you just had a shockingly similar idea on your own, only to find out other people beat you to it?

      Are authors required by some unwritten (or officially written) code of conduct to remove those similarities from their work?

      You have given me much to think about! Thank you!

      ~A.C.