Creating Worlds in Fiction

When writing a novel, one of the challenges you may come across is creating the premise of a whole new world, realm, domain, whatever you wish to call it, and sometimes, that can be daunting. But don’t fret! It’s not as hard as you think, and it’s one of the most fun things you’ll do when prepping for a book. Trust me. 

Creating a world from scratch gives you a sense of power (wa ha haa). It’s a task where all bets are off, where all rules are thrown out of the window, and the only limitations are from what you put on yourself. 

Here are twenty suggestions to get you started:

1. Have a General Idea

You’re going to need this part I’m afraid. Think of this as your seed. You can’t grow fruit without one.
What’s the genre of your story or what you envisage at this stage? Is it set in the future? In the past? If so, how long ago? Will there be humans there? Other species? What will the terrain resemble? Is it desert, sand, barren? Does it require nature, food and water sources? Is it already built up, a city, overcrowded with buildings: a concrete jungle. What do you first see when you close your eyes? Make a note of this. You can always come back and change it later.

2. Environment

You’ll have touched on this above, but now it’s time for the detail. In addition to what the world looks like, what does the ecosystem include? What’s the weather system? How do people access water? Electricity? Are their roads? Flying cars? Is the air breathable? Will there be woods, trees? Does your world have lakes, rivers, oceans? Your environment provides the foundation for everything, so by having this part down, all the rest will be able to grow from it. In my books, because I’m lucky to have elemental fairy power, there is a Weather Management System that creates the seasons so all species can survive. In Darkwood, where the vampires live, it’s set in twenty-four-seven darkness.

3. World Inhabitants

Ask yourself who is going to live in your world. Only humans and animals? Or will there be other species? If there are different species, how will they co-exist? If there are humans, how will they be segregated? Hierarchy, race, class. It is human nature for subgroups to be formed in society, those groups needing a leader for structure and guidance. What draws them to one another? What keeps them separate from others? Whereabouts do they live in your world?

4. Survival

Every race, every species, will need fundamentals and resources to keep them alive. What will they eat? Where will they get water? Power? Heat? Energy? All of these questions need to be answered, and remember, your imagination is limitless!

5. Roles in society

What roles will people play in society? What jobs will people hold? Often, a structured organization will have some form of law enforcement, economics, financial management systems, for example, banks/how to pay for things, a currency. It will also have healers or medical assistance, schools, stores or market stalls for purchases, farming, power sources, inns, restaurants, hotels, weaponry, armies, supplies. All of these things will require people working within them, so create job roles for a couple so you can get a sense of the people who work within your world. 

6. Buildings/Infrastructure

How do the buildings look? What materials would you use to build? Remember to only utilize structures with materials that are accessible to your world—or alternatives. Is the architecture based on past buildings, future ideals? Or alien design? Sketch out or try and imagine it. Scour the internet, put the images on a vision board, and see it come together to get a sense of your world’s appearance. 

7. Challenges

What are the challenges? If an alien came to our planet and asked this question, we could list off an endless number of things: pollution, starvation, war, prejudice, ignorance, and all that lies beneath them. What challenges will your world have? And if it’s starvation, for example, why are people starving? Why isn’t there enough food to go around? Why are others more important to feed than others? And so on.

8. Government

Does your world have a government or council? Usually, for a society to work effectively, there is a governing board of some kind to keep order. If not, is your world separated into lands where someone takes charge such as a governor, king, queen, or ward? If no one is in charge, how is order maintained? Rebellion is another thing to consider here. Not everyone is going to be happy with who or what governs them. Are there any rebellious groups or individuals rising? If not, why not? 

9. Know your people

If you have different species in your world particularly, then it’s important to know the traits of the species. To provide more depth, you can add different layers to said species. For example, with humans, we have gender, sexual preference, race, cultures, traditions, history etc. This type of detail works if you have different kingdoms, and various cities too. Not everyone is going to be the same; many of them a result of their environments. It will make your world more interesting if these differences are made apparent. 

10. Know your Limits

I don’t mean in with your imagination or creativity here. I mean in your world. Give it limitations. Maybe you can’t add farms because of the ecosystem, so you need to have terraformed sections. That’s a limitation. Such a limitation forces people to protect their crops by patrolling, protecting their grounds with weapons, for example. These limitations can create conflicts and adds reality to your world where your characters develop flaws, and experience challenges.

11. Transport

How do people get around? Horses? Cars? Futuristic transport not even invented yet, only available in the realms of your mind? But it’s important. If you need a character to travel a thousand miles in two days, then your characters won’t be able to achieve that on horseback. It’s also important to know your fuel sources.

12. Maps

Maps are an excellent way for you to envisage your world. It also adds a dash of reality. If someone has to travel over water—a great way to provide a resource to your inhabitants—how will they do so? Add the lake, ocean, or brook to your map. Same with hills, mountains, get them on there. It will become a great tool of reference for you moving forward, and it will be good to share with your readers, too, to give them further insight, when you publish your book.

13. Short stories/backgrounds

I wrote such for the Terra Vane series, originally writing a short story to provide insight on the ‘Day in the Life of a Vampire.’ It allowed me to see their section of the world through their eyes, and the story turned into something else where I tweaked it to have a mini-plot I could share with readers. 

14. History

You can create a history by writing articles on events that have occurred in your world, or again, a brief story. History forms a world, and many conflicts and issues alive today are a result of past actions. By weaving this into your world, it allows understanding of why people behave the way they do. Or why buildings look a certain way. 

15. Names/Language/Dialect

Give as many places, cities, towns as you can a name that’s relevant to your world. Also ask yourself what languages do they speak, the dialect of the different subgroups/areas. If you don’t know yet, don’t worry. Open a door, and everything will begin to flow through. Keep adding all new discoveries to a catalog of information as you go along.

16. Laws

List the laws that structure your world. What crimes are likely to be permitted against them? What punishment would be dished out for those who broke the laws? Again, not only does this add substance to your world, but it also generates ideas you can incorporate into your story. 

17. Relationships

What are the relationships between people who inhabit your creation? Are there arranged marriages? Laws against certain relationships? For example, in the world of Terra Vane, if two different species would like a child, they have to apply for a license to ensure no issues arise from interbreeding. Such a law means a painful wait for a couple before they can conceive, and a whole world of problems if they go against that and get pregnant anyway. It’s covered only in one sentence of book three, but it also aids in showing the closeness of the couple in question and the impact of their loss. 

18. Alliances

Are there any alliances in place with other kingdoms, countries or worlds? How are those alliances? Tentative or protected? Does anything threaten them? Again, the answers to such questions may throw up ideas you can use in your story.

19. Threats

Are there any threats your world may face? Domination, obliteration, alien invasion, floods, discovery, war, famine, limited resources, lack of empathy, big-brother mentality and so on.

20. Entertainment/Technology

What do people do to pass the time in your world? Do they have TV, music, books, cinemas, pubs, clubs, restaurants and the like. If not, what do they do for entertainment? In Terra Vane, they have hologram TVs. They also have what’s called a T-DAP (Transportable Data Access Point) that operates like a laptop, and hologram pods that act similar to computers. This is due to their lack of WI-FI because they refuse to dig up the ground to lay cables—and they have magic on their side. But to add a bit of fun, they’re also able to transmit programs from Earthside. Or, as we know it, Earth.

And that’s the twenty!

There’s a lot more that will fall within these categories. As you start writing it out, doing the research, creating a binder or file filled with information, more questions will need answering, growing the knowledge of your world inch by inch. 

By having everything mapped out and understood, you may only cover a few sections of it in your book, but those sections will be conveyed with an understanding of your world and consistency, adding depth, layers, and color to the reader as they step into the world with you. You can also use the information on your website to share with readers later on down the road. I’ve got job profiles, organograms, and even a policy on how to become a Courtier Vampire to share on mine in the future. It’s great fun! 

So, what’s stopping you now? Get a notepad at the ready, or set up a file on your computer. Type out a summary of your idea, and go from there. Everything has to start somewhere, and as a very wise cartoon ant once said:

 “Now, now do you see our tree? Everything that made that giant tree is already contained inside this tiny little seed. All it needs is some time, a little bit of sunshine and rain, and voilà!” – Flik, A Bug’s Life

Love that movie 😂

Good luck with your world creation! And please feel free to share any further ideas on this topic in the comments.

NB: Photos sourced via Pixabay


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