A book is a wonderful and amazing thing. You hold in your hands the key to another world, a world that previously only lived in the mind of another person. Inside the imagination of the author live the characters, fighting and loving, the world being born and history happening. Wars, evolution, climate change and all sorts of weird and wonderful events. All entirely imaginary, and yet magical enough to first enthral the writer, then drag a reader into that world. Who has not looked up from a book, feeling the real world to be but a pale facsimile? Who would not leap through the door into the world or imagination, or dream about the wonders of another’s world?

    “Which of us had not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?” Cornelia Funke, author of the InkHeart series.

That is the magic and wonder of world building. While I am an author, I was most certainly a reader first, and always. The worlds of others are still as magical and enchanting to me today as my own are.

But what is involved in building a world? I have posted a few blogs on this topic during 2017, and will go deeper into the subject for 2018. I am indebted to many authors for many years of pleasurable rummaging in their imaginations, and the website http://www.well-storied.com/blog/an-introduction-to-world-building/  There are a number of books and blogs on this subject, however I will be focusing on the scifi, fantasy and historical issues, and referencing some classics and some lesser known older books to show you how other authors have delighted in the details of their worlds.

As a taster, world building 101 if you like! The building of a world, and a book for that matter can start from the inside or the outside. Ok, what does that mean? You can start with the story, the characters burning to be written and already conjuring scenes. Then you can craft a world that answers the needs of your plot. This is from the inside out. An example is JK Rowling’s description of seeing Harry Potter in her imagination and then crafting a world to house the story.

The other way, and this may well be a hangover from dungeons and dragons and other role playing, is from the outside in. Build the world in detail, then a plot and characters arise from the world you have built, its history, customs and where the privies are. Tolkien for instance would fit into this category, building an entire language before writing a story set in middle earth.

Which way is for you? I think you probably already know which way you prefer. However, it is worthwhile to consider the pitfalls of both methods. Building the world first may be an absorbing way to procrastinate ever actually writing the story. But it does add a depth of rich detail. Building the story first may lead to a lack of description in scenes, or running into rewrites due to some problem with the world. But the story is written, and you can add in depth of detail later.

            “If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke – Aye, what then?” Samuel Taylor Coleridge


What aspects of world building would you like to see covered?


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How to build a fictional world
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One thought on “How to build a fictional world

  • January 16, 2018 at 11:24

    Worldbuilding is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. It’s just the joy of pure creating, none of the worry of how it sounds or if it has enough tension. Maybe that’s why I have eight unfinished, unpublished novels…

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