Worldbuilding for Writers and Readers

All writers create a world for their stories; we call it worldbuilding.

What is Worldbuilding?

Worldbuilding refers to how you create the place of your story. You can create a completely different environment and culture like in Game of Thrones, or you can create a story in familiar places, like in Little Fires Everywhere. 

In stories with familiar worlds, we read about characters living within an environment we recognize. If it's historical fiction, the author might need to help you understand more about the customs and society of that time, but the rest should feel familiar. These worlds reflect the community, society, culture, etc. of the actual place and time where the characters live. In this case, worldbuilding refers to how the story's characters interact within their circle of people.

In contrast, speculative fiction authors create almost all of the aspects of their worlds including cultures, customs, plant life, animals, borders, geography, religion, etc. They still need to adhere to some of the laws of nature, though, for their reader to comprehend the majority of the story. Yes, authors can and do make stuff up, but it must remain consistent with the laws of that world. Often, this requires extensive record-keeping on the author's part to ensure they don't change something about the world accidentally.

Write What You Know

The adage "write what you know" confuses some people when they look at the task of creating an entire world or solar system. How can you know something that doesn't exist? 

First of all, it does exist in the author's mind.

Secondly, you use what you do know as a jumping off point. For example,  I drew on my knowledge in the following areas to create the world in The Watchers of Moniah:

  • Learning styles 
  • Giraffe biology
  • Family dynamics
  • Faith and religion
  • Organizational structure
  • Friendships and love relationships

Just for kicks, let's look at learning styles.

We use our five senses to take in information from our surroundings. Three of our senses--sight, hearing, and touch--play a large part in how we learn. We gravitate toward one of these three as our primary method of information intake, but we use all of them. For example people who are:

  • Visual: learn best through observation
  • Auditory: learn best through listening
  • Kinesthetic: learn best through doing

When we combine all three, we tend to improve our learning ability, but first, we process information through our preferred sense.

Learning Styles in The Watchers

As you might guess from the title, the Watchers are visual learners, except their visual acuity exceeds the abilities of people like you and me. Watchers can recognize minute details and notice the slightest shift in them. Their eyesight allows them to see farther than the average person and interpret the signals they observe. They excel at reading body language and at any form of target practice, such as archery. In addition, they have prophetic dreams and visions. 

When you travel, a Watcher makes a great companion because they see danger coming long before you do. Incidentally, I drew parts of the Watchers' gifts from the traits of actual giraffes. You can read more about that here: Why Write About Giraffes? 

The key is to take what you know and apply it to your story's world.

What's your favorite example of worldbuilding in a story?

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