Five Easy Tips for World-building

بِسْمِ ٱللَّٰهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Five Easy Tips for Worldbuilding

Before we dive into the tips, here’s a question to consider:

Can you tell this story by taking your characters and putting them in another setting?

If yes, then you might want to rethink your story. A strong story has the setting deeply tied to the characters; the world and everything about it is part of their identity. (This is how I approach my stories, and it may differ for you, but for me, world-building and character building are closely related. If you think of your life and how you were raised, would it still be the same if you were raised by a different set of parents in a country half way around the world? Your language, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the activities you participate in would greatly differ because it was shaped by your surroundings.)

All right, let’s get to the tips to help you out:

Tip #1: Start with your POV

Questions to ask yourself as you are writing the story:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • What are their world views?
  • Their biases?
  • Their opinions about certain characters/government/society?

If your story is told through a first-person point-of-view, you can world-build around the things they see (or don’t see) or the things they “conveniently” choose not to focus on.

Tip #2: Narrative Lens

Describe the setting through the narrative lens (i.e., character’s perspective) even if it’s third-person limited. Write what matters to the character (not every little detail—unless you’re intentionally writing an omniscient epic fantasy with pages and pages of what people are wearing, eating, and places).

As a reader, we don’t want to get bogged down by all the details; some might even skip it altogether (I’m guilty of doing this in some of the books I’ve read). I try to write out settings and descriptions if it’s relevant to the characters within that setting (like they’re in a new environment—they would describe what catches their eye (and not everything does).

>>Exercise: write the first three things you see in the room you’re in right now, then go to the next room and write three things, and then go outside and repeat. Then, in the POV of your MC, write the first three things they’d notice in the first room, in the next room, and then when they step outside. This helps develop your character and world-build through their perspective.

Tip #3: Importance to the story

A key reason why you’d want to describe certain things in detail is if it’s important to the character who’s describing them, and/or it may show up later in the story.

Usually, whatever is mentioned in descriptions is necessary and/or meaningful and/or relevant to the characters and the story, otherwise, a reader wouldn’t be interested in reading the story. Readers read to experience the journey with the characters!

Keep in mind that world-building slows the pacing of the story while action (including dialogue, which is also action) speeds up the pacing of the story.

Tip #4: World-building in between dialogue and within dialogue

Instead of having pages of characters talking back and forth in a white space, sprinkle in their actions, and other parts of their surroundings.

This is the best way to incorporate world-building without info-dumping: in between character dialogue and action. (It also helps to add bits of the world within the dialogue.)

Remember, it has to be relevant to the story, characters, and plot (can be irrelevant if you want to throw readers off and this shouldn’t be done often unless this is common for your genre).

Tip #5: Through your characters

Start where your characters are. In third person limited and first person, you describe the setting, etc. based around the characters and where they are in their journey. If your MC is in a farm in Argentina, don’t start the start on the ISS describing the curve of the earth and the shadows of the moon, unless it’s part of the story (i.e., your MC’s father is on the ISS). It’s more forgivable in omniscient POV, where we get a much broader look at the world in relation to the characters.

Pro Tip #1: Write in groups of three

Writing in threes helps the reader remember things and it instills relevancy to the story. Use sensory details. Include what’s integral to the story, character, and plot. If you focus on a certain object’s details, such as a gun, it has to be important to the story. And we expect this gun to be used later in the story, otherwise, it’s misleading the reader (unless it’s intentional).

You might notice that some of these tips sound almost the same. That’s because it is. In order for us to learn a way to write, we’d need to gain such skills through subconscious learning. That’s why I repeated the tips, unintentionally (at first), to help you reinforce the various ways of world-building in your story.

Pro Tip #2: Consistency is crucial

Keeping the reader immersed in your story despite being “transported” to a realm unlike our world is achieved through consistency. If you mention this world has talking animals, then your reader will assume that these animals will have something to say to your characters.

If you mention unusual bits of information (unusual relative to our world), then it should match with the knowledge your characters have in the story. Things shouldn’t be strange for them unless they’re discovering them for the first time (but make sure it’s relevant to the story and the characters, so it doesn’t stray too far from the story and leave your readers feeling like they’re being dragged through a forced world-building. And that’s the last thing you’d want!).

A magic system based on rock formations, floating rainbow mushrooms, and warrior pangolins are all awesome, but ultimately, this world won’t be as awesome if the characters we’re reading about aren’t immersed in this world. It’s through their journey in their world that we find ourselves lost in as well.

Pro Tip #3: Don’t Stress!

These tips can feel overwhelming, but they’re here as reminders when you go back to edit your story. And you’ll be reading your draft multiple times! A great way to edit is to use these tips in each round of revision. As you continue writing more stories, your world-building skills will also improve.

Hope this helps, and happy writing!

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