Five aspects of worldbuilding not to overlook

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I’m pretty excited, y’all! I should be hitting 60k words today, which means I’ll be about 3k from hitting my monthly target of 10k! I’m not good at reaching my goals because of all the shit that gets in the way, so this is a big deal for me.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a few days, but it took me a while to get everything together. I know I’m a new author and some of you might balk at me trying to give advice, but I’ve had very good reviews of my worldbuilding so far and these are things that helped me. If they helped me, maybe they can help someone else, too.

When building your world, there are several things you want to focus on in order to make the readers’ experience multifaceted and immersive enough to evoke deep emotional connections. Now, this might sound a little too focused and you might be sitting there screaming at me (at least mentally) that it’s the CHARACTERS that connect to readers, not the world. Okay, I feel you, but think about this. Think about your favorite book. If you took the character out of that world and put them somewhere else, would that book be as good? If Katniss wasn’t in Panem, what would she have done? Had a normal fucking childhood, for one, but would that be worth reading? No. Because readers are as psychotic as the writers and are entertained when the characters live traumatic lives. Take the man and the boy out of their apocalyptic environment and The Road can just be about a normal shopping trip on Black Friday. Maybe not, but that depends on where you’re shopping at. I may have seen cannibals at my local mall…

So are you on my side, now? Or can you at least concede my point just a little? Good. So what do we do about it? Well, I have five aspects of a world that might help you build a convincing one, which will become a character in and of itself and give your characters the proper backdrop they need to do the damn thing that you need them to do. Even if these characteristics don’t have a prominent focus in your novel, you need to keep these things in the back of your mind when you’re writing to keep a cohesive feel to your setting and environment.

  1. Geographic Setting: I’m not just saying this because I’m biased, but the physical where of your world is the most important aspect of it. This will give your world literal and figurative ground to stand on. Does your novel take place on another planet? Earth? Several planets or an alternate universe? You need to flesh that out. This can be broken down into several other aspects that should not be overlooked:
    1. Climate/Weather
    2. Geology
    3. Flora
    4. Fauna
    5. Celestial bodies and their effects on the planet (if it’s out of our known solar system)
  2. Culture: This is a big one and likely one that could really bog you down if you focus heavily on it, but I would argue that if your novel doesn’t really revolve around the mechanics of the culture, don’t spend a lot of time on this one. This is something that you could write the basic tenants down and just refer back to them when you’re deciding how your character would respond to a certain situation. If he is the richest kid in school, for instance, and is interested in a “common” girl, will his culture prevent him from pursuing her or would it not be a big deal? Culture dictates character actions and motivations, so it’s a biggie to include in your world. Some other aspects of culture that can be included:
    1. Building Materials
    2. Food
    3. Social structure
    4. Infrastructure
    5. Economics/Financial structure
  3. Religion: This could be lumped in with culture, but if you look at Earth, we don’t have just one culture or one religion. If this could be an aspect of your world, you need to define it. It will also have an important impact on character motivations.
  4. Time: Don’t just think about this one in terms of the date. In Science Fiction especially, there are circumstances when time won’t behave the same way as it does on Earth. If you are very near a black hole or another gravitational anomaly, your characters could experience time distortion. Interstellar goes into this pretty well, but if you want more information on the topic, check here.
  5. Government: This is bigger than culture. If you think about the US (I’m using the US because it’s where I live and I’ve studied US government extensively for my previous degree – you can think of your own government if you’re reading from somewhere else), culture can be affected by the government and vice versa, but they’re separate entities. Something can’t influence something else if it’s the same thing. So you have to think about government separately. What kind of laws exist in your world? What are the punishments for breaking those laws? Who decides the guilt and punishment? What type of government is it (Theocracy, Democracy, Dictatorship, etc.)? The answers to these questions will guide character decisions and motivations, either in line with the government rules and laws, or in opposition to them. Don’t overlook this.

I haven’t given you an exhaustive list, obviously. I posed this question to one of the Facebook groups I’m in and received a wild array of suggestions. Everyone has different opinions of what should go into planning their world, but I wanted to write out a list for anyone who might be stuck or just getting started. It helped me to write this out when I was planning my Darkness series and I hope that maybe it can help one of you out there in Internet Land. If you’ve got a better idea, or something to add to the list, please leave it in a comment! Happy writing!

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