How to Up Your Game with World-building

Posted on May 15, 2014 by   3 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

Author Jessie Donovan

Author Jessie Donovan

When it comes to fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal stories, world-building is critical.  Too often I’ll reach the end of a book without the author answering major questions about the history or laws of a created group of people. This frustrates readers, and is one of my personal pet peeves for good reason—I hold a Master’s in Social Anthropology, and trying to understand culture and practices is ingrained into everything I do or write.

But don’t worry! There are some simple things you can do to make your world that much more believable. Let’s take a look at some of them now:

1) Know Your History

It’s a common theme for paranormal and urban fantasy stories to take place in the current modern world, and often the created race(s) are in hiding from humans. But you’d be surprised how often people don’t say WHY and HOW this happened. What was the event that triggered the decision to hide? If you want to make it even more believable, use something from our real history to explain it.

Example: For my Asylums for Magical Threats (AMT) series, the decision was made to lock away elemental magic users in July 1953. Why? Because nearly 20 million people in Britain watched Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on TV that year in June, and the governing body of my created race (Feiru) was paranoid that magic would soon be shown on TV and cause a worldwide paranoia.

Adding such a simple detail will have readers saying things like this: “The idea of this world, of the Feiru, and the modern history that got them to our current position is fascinating.”

2) Expand Your World through Secondary Characters

Info-dumping is another thing we see a lot of in FF&P stories. In real life, we learn new skills and information from our social relationships and interactions with others, so why not do the same in your writing? Instead of trying to convey everything through one or two characters, tap your secondary characters and make them do more. What do I mean by “doing more”? Well, I want them to help introduce parts of your world through their interactions with your main characters.

Example: When the sister of my heroine in my first AMT book suddenly shows up, the reader (and the heroine) learns that there are other types of magic besides elemental. How do we learn this? By the character using that magic as part of the story.  The existence of this strange magic then opens up the possibilities of a legend coming to life, which adds yet another layer and opens the world further.  Later conversations with this sister also reveal a few other secrets, so don’t be afraid to have that secondary character come back later! I have one character that appears in every book, and each time she does, everyone (characters and the reader) learns something new.

Just be careful not to introduce too much too soon! If done well, readers will notice and start to say: “I also liked that as more characters were introduced, the world got bigger and bigger and so did the overall storyline…”

3) Don’t Forget the Rest of the World

Readers are starting to point out the lack of diversity in fiction, and while paranormal and urban fantasy stories tend to be more diverse than many other subgenres (well, sci-fi has its own brand of diversity with alien races…), it is still a problem and something we, as writers, need to address in our own stories.

But more than the lack of diversity, so many stories take place in the US or UK (epic fantasy and sci-fi is different, of course) and never explain or mention what it’s like in other parts of the world. Just think—you could mention a leader or rumor about a certain faction in another part of the world, and then maybe have part of a story take place there. It’s a lot easier to implement than you think.

Example: So far, my AMT stories have taken place in the following countries: US, Mexico, Colombia, UK, Norway, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Even if you’ve never been to a certain country (I’ve only been to 15, so even I have limits!), remember that you have created a group of people and their customs/culture will probably be different than the humans. This gives you TONS of leeway when it comes to explaining a foreign country through their eyes!

Including bits of the world touches your non-American readers: “I also want to mention the amazing attention to detail Jessie has when it comes to the little things in her book. From the name of the pub to the international aspect of it all… AMAZING. Specially brownie points for mentioning Eastern Australia, which is where I live. ”


 I’ve reached my word count limit, but those three tips should help enrich the world you create. It’s often the little details that make the world of difference. Keep that in mind as you write, and good luck!


Jessie Donovan wrote her first story at age five, and after discovering the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey in junior high, realized that people actually wanted to read stories like those floating around inside her head. From there on out, she was determined to tap into her over-active imagination and write a book someday.

After living abroad for five years and earning degrees in Japanese, Anthropology, and Secondary Education, she buckled down and finally wrote her first full-length book. While that story will never see the light of day, it laid the world-building groundwork of what would become her debut paranormal romance, Blaze of Secrets.

Jessie loves to interact with readers. When not reading or traipsing around some foreign country on a shoestring, she can often be found on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her pages below:


3 Responses to "How to Up Your Game with World-building"

  1. Comment by Jessie Donovan
    May 15, 2014 11:32 am

    Thanks for allowing me the chance to guest blog! 🙂

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