Are You A Worldbuilding Wizard or Wimp?

Posted on May 8, 2014 by   5 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized · Writing

By Gemma Juliana

Worldbuilding is a fascinating topic, and especially of interest to those who write in the fantasy, futuristic and paranormal genres.

I did some research on building a world when I wrote a series set in a fictitious series of kingdoms, and thought I’d share some of what I learned with you here.

  1.  Remember that your characters—as well as your readers—need to know the lay of the land and the rules of this place. If you outline your story in advance, you can sketch in the concept of the world you wish to create in layers. You may already ‘see’ it in its entirety in your mind’s eye, but I’d caution you not to get ahead of yourself. Start with the basic structure, just like a builder clears the land before laying pipes. Construct your world brick by brick, and if you have a blueprint to work from, it will make your life easier. Don’t assume your characters or readers know anything at all about the place you are creating. As you make notes, question yourself.  Not just about the whys and hows, but ask, ‘where will this lead’? If you dump too much information too quickly into the first few chapters, you may discover later in the story that you have written yourself into a corner.
  1. Create a map. In the case of my fictitious world, several kingdoms surround a common desert. Drawing a map, naming the countries and cities, as well as a couple of desert oases, helped enormously. Some people are very visual and can benefit from seeing where an ocean is located compared to an inland desert. The map is on my website so readers can check it as they read my novellas.
  1. Draw a family tree for each group. This is probably advised for any series or where generational stories are likely to occur, but I think it is particularly useful for FF&P authors. In my series, there are various royal families merging through marriage, as well as stories written at different historical times. The family trees help me keep it all straight.
  1. Endow your non-human characters with ‘human’ traits so your reader can relate. Whether we write about a ghost, a vampire or a wizard, sometimes we forget that these supernatural creatures can come across as two-dimensional if we don’t give them sufficient human traits or characteristics. It’s important for the reader to be able to relate to them on an emotional level. Taking the ghost as an example, perhaps he is earthbound and seeking revenge against the man who stole his life. The reader doesn’t need the entire backstory, but showing the ghost’s anguish, loneliness or sense of loss (of love, perhaps?) will make him a much more real character. Some truly human flaws will endear him to the reader. Perhaps he had a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and the woman who now lives in his old home bakes them every weekend.
  1. If there are different magical races in your constructed world make sure your reader—and your characters—fully understand how these beings relate to each other and why. If a fairy race is at war with fallen angels that just arrived on their shores, we need to know where the hostility originated, and why it matters now.
  1. If your worldbuilding is for a series… you might want to hold back on setting all the details and rules in cement. If you tie it all down too rigidly, it may hamper your creativity two books later if your character railroads (or teleports) you into a plot line you had no idea was coming when you constructed your world. For that reason, the first book in a series should deal only with the worldbuilding necessary for that story. Hints about what lies ahead, in vague enough terms for you to keep your creative license, can be useful hooks.
  1. It’s great fun! If you’d like to see how it feels to be a god or goddess, worldbuilding can be fun and very satisfying. Just make sure to keep copious notes on what you are doing. Playing with the elements, creating languages, thinking up events that go against our known laws of physics, and bestowing magical talents on otherwise normal beings, are all in a day’s work. As long as you follow the threads you weave to ensure consistency in all things, the wonderful art of worldbuilding will fascinate you and your readers.

If you’d like more help with this subject, try World-Building by Steven L. Gillett. It has received great reviews.

GEMMA JULIANA is a multi-published author who lives in an enchanted cottage in north Texas with her handsome hero, brave teen son and a comical dog who is really a human in disguise. She loves making new friends and hearing from readers. Exotic coffee and chocolate fuel her creativity. She writes romance, mystery and suspense with a splash of the paranormal. You’ll find alpha heroes in the Sheikhs of the Golden Triangle series and modern heroes in To Kiss A Leprechaun and Autumn Masquerade. More books coming soon.

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5 Responses to "Are You A Worldbuilding Wizard or Wimp?"

  1. Comment by Paula Millhouse
    May 8, 2014 11:37 am

    Great suggestions, Gemma.
    I’ll check out your website for that map.

  2. Comment by Cathryn Cade
    May 8, 2014 1:41 pm


    You have some great advice here! I learned the hard way to keep those notes on my sci fi rom world when I began a 2nd, paraquel series and had to keep flipping back in the books to remember all the characters, races and worlds.

    I’ve also heard these series notes called a Series Bible, Aptly named–can’t run a world without it.

  3. Comment by Debra Elise
    May 9, 2014 12:15 am

    Gemma, great post. Creating a map is such a great idea!


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