Use Worldbuilding to Create Your Story’s Setting

As creating Worldbuilding articleyour story’s setting, you might use the technique of worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding occurs when you construct an imaginary place and time in detail. Such a setting could be as small as a single room or as large as the multiverse with alternative timelines. Usually it is a single planet or region of a world, however.

Examples of settings that underwent worldbuilding in some form include: Westeros from George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire; Stephen King’s Derry, Maine; Dante’s Inferno; and William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.

Worldbuilding mainly is used in fantasy and science fiction as the settings of such novels and short stories often are entirely made up. Still, even if placing the story in a real setting – even if it existed in the past – fully imagining that world will help you convey it in a more realistic and dramatic way.

This world must be so authentic that it could exist independently of the story itself. To achieve that, the world you create must have internal and external validity. Internal validity means the world within the story is consistent. For example, if you’re able to sail to another land in a couple of days, later you shouldn’t say that this same land is 1000 miles away. Doing so would be contorting the setting to fit your plot. External validity means that the world could actually exist. For example, in science fiction you wouldn’t have large dinosaur-like creatures on a high-gravity world. Our understanding of biology and gravity suggests that aliens on a world larger than Earth would be more stout to withstand the pressure of gravity pulling them downward.

Authors take a variety of different approaches to worldbuilding. Usually, though, authors should consider, and hence build, the following elements of their world:
• Location in universe (star type, arrangement of solar system)
• Climate/biome/terrain
• Biology of your species
• Culture (religions, government, history, economics, art, law, linguistics)
• Technology/magic

One good approach to use is to begin building the culture in which your story’s character lives. For example, that culture’s religion might worship two gods, while your main character believes there is only one god, a major point of conflict in the story. This raises the question of how a two- vs. a one-god religion might compare and contrast in their beliefs. How would this affect the way these religions govern and their laws? Further, why would a culture worship two gods? Does the planet have two stars or two moons? Maybe two bright stars in the night sky are extremely close to the solar system? In this way, from culture you move to location in the universe, which in turn would affect the biology on the planet. For example, plants probably wouldn’t be green on a world with a red sun as photosynthesis would work better for black leaves.

All of these elements can affect your characters in a story – the law she breaks, the way she is tried in a court, the way the night sky looks to her, descriptions of the food she eats, and so on.

To achieve internal and external validity requires a multidisciplinary understanding of your world. While you don’t need to be a physicist or a biologist to build a world, you’ll probably need to do a lot of research on these topics as constructing your world. Such research is part of the fun of worldbuilding! Indeed, some people enjoy worldbuilding without ever drafting a story set in their creation.

There are a couple of guidelines to the craft of worldbuilding. First, the world you create should serve a purpose. Specifically, it should allow for conflicts to occur, for the plot to move forward in interesting ways, and for an array of characters to grow and develop. If the setting doesn’t serve your story, then you’re worldbuilding just for the joy of it, and while fun that certainly won’t strengthen your novel and short story. Secondly, you should know your world better than your reader. You always should avoid backstory and info dumps related to your setting. Don’t divulge all of the information you’ve gathered about your setting, just enough of it to keep the plot chugging along.

More articles about setting:
• How to choose a setting for your story
• Use caution when shifting story’s location, time
• Avoid placing ‘used furniture’ in your story
• Use care when naming places in your story
• Avoid anachronisms in stories set in past
• Use caution when employing empathic universe

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My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.

Check out some of my writing guidebook about setting: