Getting Ideas to Build Your World by Karina Fabian

Posted on Nov 24, 2014 by   2 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

Last month, I talked about  putting your STAMP ON your world. As a refresher, STAMP ON covers seven aspects to consider when worldbuilding:



Animal Kingdom



Origin Story


Knowing what you need to consider is only half the work, maybe even less. How do you generate ideas, keep track of details, and not get so caught up in worldbuilding that you forget to write the story?

Karina Fabian headshot Aug 2013First, it helps to have a way to keep track of your notes and research. There are some great programs, like Anthemion Storylines or Scrivener, that provide forms and folders for storing worldbuilding information. However, even a simple Word file will work. Physical files work fine, too, and some people still prefer the tactile quality, but programs have the advantage of being searchable and allowing easy access to websites by storing links.

Research is certainly the most common way to get ideas for your world, but how do you research an imaginary world? Start by exploring different cultures, stories or history in the real world, and mine that for ideas. Look for unusual creatures or extremophile life to flesh out your animal kingdom. Browse Google images or for ideas.

Once you have some thoughts, start developing them. Go deeper by asking, “What if?” (What if 75 percent of my country has active volcanoes? What if magic and technology developed side by side?) Make mash-ups of culture. (Firefly is a mash-up of Wild West and Chinese cultures predominantly.) Find cultural parallels. (Pattern the army of your growing empire off ancient Rome’s, with similar attention to rank and duties, but changed to fit your world’s needs.) Get with a friend and brainstorm.

As you are developing your world, however, use the story itself to prioritize. You might get very interested in the political conflicts between your empire and the isolated country to the north, but if your story is about a Southern villager taking on the resident sea monster, empirical politics may only be a backdrop. If so, make notes, record references, but concentrate your energies on the small town life and the monster’s watery domain.

Ask yourself, “How does this affect my character?” and “How much does this affect my character?” These questions determine the direction of your focus and the amount of energy you should spend on that aspect of your world. Similarly, asking how some aspect of the world affects the plot gives direction. If you find the answer is, “It doesn’t,” that’s okay. Not everything has to have a deep literary meaning. Sometimes, the curtains are blue because you saw blue curtains when you wrote the scene. However, keep in mind when writing that you need to give details the attention they deserve. If the curtains mean nothing, then don’t spend a page describing the color, texture, history and feelings they evoke in the character. If the curtains catch fire because the stove is faulty and this leads to the owner standing outside in her hair rollers crying and trying to wash the soot out of the remains, then it might be important to know why. (This was a scene in Manhattan; the curtains were tatted by the character’s grandmother and brought over from Russia.)

Don’t feel you need a fully developed world before you can start writing. Let your characters introduce you to the world. Start your story and see the world through their eyes. This perspective helps you to show, not tell, avoid useless details, and keep the reader firmly in the POV of your character. This keeps the reader immersed in your world, too.

In December’s Worldbuilding 201 class, we’re going to work on making the world not just well-developed, but real. I hope you can join me.

More about Karina Fabian

Karina Fabian is a mild-mannered writer for Top Ten Reviews and mother of four. But in her other lives, she’s a snarky dragon detective, a nun doing dangerous rescue missions beyond Mars, a psychic driven insane by his abilities, a zombie exterminator… Her rich fantasy life has compelled her to become a writer, and she has written 9 science fiction, fantasy or horror novels and has stories in dozens of anthologies and magazines. She’s won multiple awards for her fiction, but the best reward is when an editor of fan asks her to write some more.

Because her imagination suffers from “squirrel!” syndrome even worse than the dogs in UP, she alternates her writing efforts among multiple universes. She recently submitted the last novel in the Mind Over Trilogy and wrote a novella to marry off two of the main characters. Her serial novella coming out in Liberty Island in November features zombie Exterminators Neeta Lyffe and Ted Hacker as they take on skiing zombies on the slopes of Utah. Neeta Lyffe’s first book, Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, is now out in audiobook as well. She has two science fiction novels with publishers for consideration and is working on the next DragonEye, and maybe… SQUIRREL!

Karina also writes about the lives of the saints for a Catholic service called SaintConnection, plus homilies for FAITH Catholic. And, of course, her new full-time job is writing reviews of small-medium business services like eCommerce and social media monitoring software. In addition to writing, Karina has taught online classes on aspects of writing and marketing from worldbuilding to time management and even housekeeping for writers.

You can learn more at 

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