Worldbuilding: How to Make a Living World for your story


Every story needs a setting. Without one, the heroes and villains would never go anywhere, struggling against nothing in a blank void, surrounded by nothing but emptiness. Worldbuilding is present in every piece of fiction to some extent. It’s a fiction author’s job to immerse the reader within a world, painting a picture of each scene, location, and character from the book.

Building a world for your story will either be very easy or very hard, depending on what you’re writing. If you are writing a historical fiction story about World War II, for example, all you would need to do is research the events and build that story around the events. On the other hand, if you’re writing a book that doesn’t take place in the real world (or your story takes place in a fictional town), worldbuilding becomes harder. The main thing you need to focus on is balance; if you have too little information on the setting, it feels like a vacuum, which only exists around the main characters. If you go too heavily into fleshing out your world, it feels overwhelming, making the reader feel like they need to memorize the first hundred thousand years about your world for a test. Worldbuilding is a balancing act, trying to give enough information to make the world seem like it’s real, but also not too much that it scares your reader.

Each style of fiction needs a different amount of worldbuilding. My personal method of deciding is by using a spectrum; the more you want the readers to immerse yourself within your story as a character, then the more worldbuilding you need. If you want to write a more, pulp fiction-like story that is meant for pure entertainment, then less is needed. But remember your audience. If you’re writing a story meant for first graders, don’t pull a Tolkien and spend two chapters talking about a tree. Try to ensure that you are writing enough that would keep your audience’s attention.

A great example of balancing worldbuilding with story and characters is Brandon Sanderson’s 2006 low fantasy heist book trilogy, Mistborn. In it, Sanderson has the first book take place almost entirely in the capital city of Luthadel. This allows him to focus on one important location, and he slowly moves the main character out of Luthadel throughout the trilogy to explore more of his Final Empire. This is a great example of slowly introducing the reader to the world so it’s easier to understand. Mistborn is also a fantastic example of having a POV character who is as clueless as the reader, as it gives the readers a character that sees what they are seeing for the first time, which is important in a story that has strange uses of everyday things (I.E. Mistborns use of eating metal to use magic).

Now while there are an endless supply of bad examples of worldbuilding, we aren’t going to mention those. I believe in the idea of showing good examples and helping others with their mistakes when they pop up. In brief, when writing a world, find a balance of entertaining your audience and making the world feel real. I hope this can help any aspiring writers reading this. Go Knights!