Worldbuilding: create beautiful new worlds [+model] (2023)

Worldbuilding is the process by which authors create a fictional world by inventing its history, geography, politics and economy, as well as religions or power structures. They might also consider the world's demography and ecology, including the existence of fictional or non-human races, unusual flora or fauna, or other magical properties of the world.

Since creating a fictional universe is a daunting task, you might need a little help. How to build the world in 7 steps:

  • 1. Define your world name and setting
  • 2. Make a map of the territory
  • 3. Fill the world with people
  • 4. Craft your civilization's history
  • 5. Create technology and magic systems
  • 6. Allocate resources with a working economy
  • 7. Determine your world's power structure

We've also created a template to help you with your process, which you can download for free.

Model disclaimer! Download Reedsy's Free World-Building Guide, your ultimate cheat sheet for creating a fictional world 🌎 Click to tweet!

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The ultimate world-building model

130 questions to create a world readers will want to revisit again and again.

1. Define your world name and setting

Roughly speaking, thelocation of your storywill it be our own world or an entirely fictional world - what is known as the "Second World" fantasy. Before you start working on your backstory, it's important to know which of these categories your story falls into.

Create second worlds from scratch

Jorge R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" cycle and Raymond E. Feist's "Riftwar" cycle are classic examples of the "Second World" fantasy: they were able to create worlds that were not limited by paths or laws historical, which gave them a lot of freedom of choice.

This creative freedom is exciting, but it also requires averyfrom world-building work to inventing an elaborate and structured fantasy world. A good starting point for defining your world as "different" from ours is to choose a name for your world. You can make it as cool as you like; Think Discworld, Middle-earth, Zamonia, etc.

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Set up your story in an Earth-like location

However, not all fantasy writers want to create an entirely new world. You can always play your story here on earth. For example, the vast majority of literary fiction, detective fiction, and romance takes place in a place called Earth, which bears a striking resemblance to our own world. This type of world-building may require less inventiveness on the part of the author, but it requires the same preparation, being constrained by historical specifics, technology and politics.

However, in the "real world" fantasy, you will see two bigsubgenre: alternative historical fantasy and historical fantasy.

For historical fantasies, although a certain degree of historical license is accepted (and encouraged), your readers will sense that something is amiss when in his book Atilla the Hun kidnaps Florence Nightingale without the aid of a time machine.

(Video) Worldbuilding: How to Start — Worldbuilding Series

The Alternate History Fantasy offers a little more freedom; As the name suggests, invent aexchangeversion of the story. Still, you should think carefully about the changes you make and how they might affect your characters' daily lives.

After choosing between the first and second world settings, you can start building in earnest. here's the funReallystart.

Watch: How to Create Your World-Building Bible

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2. Make a map of the territory

After naming your world, it's time to populate it. This means you'll at least have a good understanding of geography and ecology, so you'll know what the landscape looks like and what beasts your characters are likely to encounter.

For a complete list of prompts, see our worldbuilding guide. However, some issues to consider are:

  • What kind of environment can be found in different areas of your world? (Deserts, oceans, mountains, forests, etc.)
  • What wild animals are there?
  • How's the weather?
  • Where are the cities? How tall are you? What did they call?

Get inspired by real countries

You can draw from the real world by imagining these aspects of your fantasy world. For example, Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse draws inspiration from the geography of several real countries, often at a different point in their national history. In Bardugo's books you can find analogies for Tsarist Russia, the Dutch Republic, China and Scandinavia.

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Besides going back to the past, another approach could be to imagine a future iteration of our world. NK Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is a masterful example of speculative world-building. The trilogy takes place on a supercontinent called Stillness, which is plagued every few centuries by massive weather events that change the entire geography of the world. colson whiteheadsZone Einstakes place in the familiar but decimated remains of a future New York, a cityscape ravaged by a zombie apocalypse.

Maybe start your story in two different places

Another possibility is to create a dual environment, locating your narrative partly in our own physical world and partly in another. Erin Morgensensthe starless seatackles this deftly, using the classic "magic door" to connect its real-world locations (Vermont and New York) to its fantastical world, the honey-filled Starless Sea and the magical harbors that lie within it.

Imagine a whole new environment

Of course, you might want to create a landscape completely foreign to ours. Frank Herbertsfor yesterdaytakes place on the desert planet of Arrakis, a world without natural water and inhospitable to most forms of life. Notable exceptions to this are the sandworms, huge and dangerous worm-like creatures that the Fremen, the inhabitants of the planet, learned to ride.

Many fantasy readers like to refer to a physical map when imagining a world other than our own.cardsthey are not always necessary, but they are a useful basis for defining a sense of distance and space - and they can help you envision your world as you build it.

Draw a map to help the reader

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For a personal and expert approach, it's definitely worth hiring a professional illustrator to develop your fantasy map. Here at Reedsy we are rigorously curatedthe best freelance illustrators in the publishing market— and they're just one click away from making your work stand out.

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Would you like to give your cards a professional touch?

Reedsy is home to professional illustrators with extensive experience creating bespoke fantasy maps. Sign up for free to meet her!

Find out how Reedsy can help youmake a good book.

(Video) How to WORLD BUILD (Like a Boss!)

3. Fill the world with people

Now that your physical landscape exists, let's add some people. To create a structured and believable environment, you must populate your planet with a variety of races and cultures - which can be created or based on real-life cultures.

You might want to draw on species from the rich traditions of high fantasy (elves, dwarves, trolls, etc.), but you could also invent entirely new races. Our world-building template will help you define the details of your villagers.

Beware of Tropes and Stereotypes

Be sure to do thorough research before deciding on any attributes or traits for your characters. Even in the imaginary worlds of fantasy and science fiction, harmful stereotypes can be perpetuated, especially when they are based on real-world cultures.

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As such, some research is needed to ensure you respect your source material and avoid outdated stereotypes when portraying the characteristics of imaginary races (including "classic" fantasy characters like dwarves, who have long been influenced by anti-Semitic tropes).

An example of real-world cultures influencing fantasy cultures is the setting and characters ofChildren of blood and bones.Author Tomi Adeyemi draws on African mythology and her own Yoruba heritage,The story takes place in a fictionalized version of pre-colonial Nigeria. Your imaginary land of Orïsha is inhabited by two peoples; the magical Divîners with distinctive white hair and their non-magical oppressors, the Kosidán.

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How to develop characters

In 10 days, learn to create complex characters that readers will love.

Invent an alien species

Of course, your characters don't have to be human. Octavia Butler's Xenogensis series is an example of an invented non-human race. In the first part of the seriesTwilight,A human Lilith wakes up alone in a prison cell, only to discover that she is one of humanity's last survivors. She was abducted by the Oankali, a humanoid but totally alien trisexual species covered in sensory tentacles. The differences between humans and the Oankali, as well as the unusual biology and reproduction of the Oankali, are the driving force behind the novel's plot.

Invent a new slang or language

When we talk about invented languages ​​in fiction, most of us can imagine Tolkien devotees whispering Elvish love poems — or Star Trek fans barking threats in Klingon. But language is something that applies to all books. Your choices here affect how the story unfolds and can make a difference to your book's credibility.

Languages ​​can be an interesting and exciting way to build the world. The spoken word reflects the cultures that produced it, and the evolution of language often indicates a change in society.

For example, the teenagers in Anthony Burgess's 1962 novelclockwork orangespeak a dialect called "Nadsat" which mixes Russian and English words. That choice alone says a lot about the book's dystopian world, and hints at a future where Soviet culture spread further west.

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Our world-building guide will help you develop your ideas about languages, but first you should consider how many languages ​​are spoken in your world, which language is spoken the most, and which common phrases or greetings are common.

If your story takes place on Earth, you can play with idioms and slang to create a unique dialect for your characters that differentiates your fictional world from ours. Historical novel writers should also pay special attention to dialect to ensure that the vocabulary used is authentic.

While language building isn't strictly necessary, all the little details like this that you can add to your worldbuilding will help create a richer, more immersive structure for your story.

(Video) Brave New World-building - the ultimate RPG worldbuilding guide (Tracon 2018)

4. Craft your civilization's history

Civilizations are defined by their history. That may be too broad a statement - but it contains a kernel of truth. Regardless of genre, writers should have a solid understanding of their world's history and be familiar with key events relevant to the story they're telling or the culture they're exploring. So how can you deal with it?

Again, a popular way to flesh out your world's history is to borrow from ours. the line betweenhistorical fictionand the imagination is a little muddled, and rightly so. A good fantasy world will have as interesting a story as what we have here on Earth Prime, so why not take inspiration from that?

times paraA Song of Ice and Fire, Martin is known to have created the central conflict of his book after the Wars of the Roses. Starting with a thinly veiled version of English history, Martin fills in the rest of his rich history with dragons, mad kings and ice zombies. Similar to RF Kuangsthe poppy waris a fantastical reimagining of 20th-century China and features imaginative drug-fuelled conflicts inspired by real-life Opium Wars.

Speculate on moments that changed history

Let's assume you're dealing with a futuristic version of our reality: there's still work to be done. You need to have an idea of ​​what happened between now and the time you publish your book. Start speculating about the evolution of technology and society. Then, most importantly, find out how these changes have affected the characters and cultures in your book.

If your book is an "alternate history" it might come from a single "what if" question. Think of a single point of divergence: a moment in history that changed only slightly, leading to changes that spread out over time.

Em Philip K. DickThe Man in the High Castle, the point of divergence comes with the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt in the early 1930s. This leads to a continuation of the Great Depression and American isolationism, allowing Germany and Japan to win World War II. The book then answers the question, "What would 1960s America look like if the Allies lost the war?"

5. Create technology and magic systems

Perhaps the defining characteristic of any SFF book is its system, whether magical or technological. It's important to carefully examine the details of how these things work; just waving your hand and saying "and there's the magic" is not enough. You must define the magical or supernatural elements of your world.

In both science fiction and fantasy world building, you're likely to come across the terms "hard" and "soft" a lot. These designations are a (somewhat arbitrary, but still useful) way to distinguish between different types of SFF. Let's look further so you can decide where your world falls on the spectrum.

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Formulate the rules of hard magic

A hard magic system is one that is defined by its rules and has clear and defined boundaries for when said magic works and when it doesn't, and what the consequences of using magic are.

A great example of this type of magical system is Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn. Series set in a world where the primary form is magicAllomancy: a system where users ingest different metals and metabolize them to different effects. Dedicated fans managed to catalog all possible variations of Allomancy and discovered a clear cause-and-effect relationship between Allomancers' actions and their consequences, resulting in a truly hard magic system.

As you can imagine, designing a hard magic system is a very significant undertaking that can involve many variables. For this reason, it's often worth spending a good chunk of your world-building time making sure your system is watertight.

Play with mysteries and gentle magic

You can choose not to explain how the spell works and allow it to retain some of its mystery. Because once you explain all the mysteries of magic, it almost ceases to be magic.

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An example of a "soft" magic system that doesn't have hard and fast rules is the inBelgium. David Eddings's Sorcerers in Belgariad manifest their willpower through a system he calls "The Will and the Word." does not require anypotions or scrolls, and so-called “rules” can be broken. Therefore, the limits of magical powers in this world are conceptual rather than practical, and you find it difficult to describe exactly what can and cannot be done.

While the flexibility of a soft magic system might be appealing - after all, you can't break a rule unless you set one - it's certainly not a free jailbreak card. If you have an "anything goes" approach to magic, your characters' actions may no longer have consequences: you can bring someone back from the dead, time can be reversed, your hero can only escape danger through " Magic". of soft magic, and don't use it asDeus ex machinawhich miraculously solves its plot issues.

Explain how magic affects the world

In addition to thinking about the rules of your magic system, think about what it means to have magic. What are the implications for your world and the people who use it? Perhaps it causes physical harm to the user, or perhaps the practice of magic has an emotional, mental, or social impact.

Who can do magic? If your protagonist is the only person with your gift, how does the world around them react? Are they revered or reviled for their abilities?

(Video) Worldbuilding: How To Design Realistic Climates 1

On the other hand, what happens when someone whohe musthas powers, right? for example inAller Codeby Jim Butcher In childhood, the people of Alera bond with one or more "Furies"—elementals of air, water, fire, earth, wood, or metal. Everyone except the protagonist Tavi, who happens to be the Crown Prince of Alera. This lack of bond has dire consequences, as the nobles around him begin to look to his ultra-powerful father's throne.

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If, as inAller Code, Magic is widespread, how do people learn to use it? Trudi CanavansBlack magicThe trilogy has a Mages Guild where people rise in a structured hierarchy. magic oneHarry Potterthey go to boarding school and end up in grueling jobs in magical middle management. Imagining how magic would practically work in her world makes her book even more believable and relatable.

Now that we've talked about magical systems, it's time to turn our attention to the science...

Be precise when using hard science

This is a type of writing with a special foundation in technological facts. Best known for his work on2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke is one of the greatest pioneers in this field, whose fictional inventions closely resemble everyday objects of the 21st century.

A great contemporary example of hard science is that of Liu CixinThe three body problem, a novel that examines a real-world phenomenon in orbital mechanics and predicts a three-star system containing a single Earth-like planet that experiences extreme destruction when passing between the three.

The important point is this: if you choose to write about technical science and technology, you must properly summarize your facts. Many fans of the genre probably know more about science than you do. If you get the details wrong, they'll point them out to you; Take Larry Niven, for example, who was mercilessly teased by readers for having a characterRingweltteleport east around the earth to lengthen your birthday, when actually doing so would shorten it.

You can get advice anytime: The Internet is a source of information. If you're hesitant to reach out to people, Wikipedia isn't a bad place to start your search.

..or give yourself some leeway with soft science

We know what you might be thinking - "Damn it, Reedsy, I'm a writer, not a physicist!" If you're not particularly interested in science but still want to write in that genre, you can always turn to authors like the late Iain M. Banks for guidance. His beloved sci-fi novels are about The Culture, a post-scarcity society where all work is automated and citizens leave all big decisions to a benevolent AI.

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Banks' universe is full of sci-fi tropes like androids and spaceships - but he doesn't really explain how any of that works. From a storytelling standpoint, it makes perfect sense: novels set in modern times rarely explain how iPads work. For us they are simply a function of everyday life. Deliberately focusing on story and character, Banks proves that you don't need to know a lot about science to write good science fiction.

Whether you go hard or soft, it's important to define your system in advance so that you can remain consistent and logical throughout your work. Knowing how involved you want your systems to be also helps you plan how and when to use your exposure for maximum impact.

6. Allocate resources with a working economy

It might not sound very exciting, but considering something as basic as your world's economy can be extremely helpful in making it believable. This isn't strictly necessary, but an understanding of economics can help you visualize how your characters will move through the world.

Take Anne McCaffrey's iconic fantasy series Pern, for example..While the dragons are likely what most readers will remember, those who pay close attention to the mechanics of the world will be rewarded with an intriguing system to understand. In Pern, the wooden tokens used for trading, 'tokens', have no intrinsic value - they are not a measure of precious metal, for example, but are simply worth what they are traded for. So your brand can be more or less valuable depending on how good you are at haggling to trade it.

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Its economy can also be speculative, like the post-scarcity economy in Iain Banks' cultural series. The series examines the implications of a world where most goods can be produced in abundance with little or no human labor, in what Banks calls "spatial socialism".

At the very least, it's good to think about what the most important items of value are in your world, how trade takes place (is it a barter system? Is money traded?), what currency, if any, is called, and where your heroes are coming down the financial ladder.

7. Determine your world's power structure

In addition to creating your world's history and economy, you may want to consider other institutions and power structures, such as religions, governments, or political ideologies. Again, this can be drawn from reality: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series portrays a society dominated by the Magisterium, a religious body modeled in part on the real-life Catholic Church.

You may also want to borrow from the past, such as the feudal system offor yesterday,or extrapolate into the future, like Margaret Atwood's theocratic and totalitarian state of GileadThe maid's story.

It's worth remembering that stories set in other worlds are, in fact, always about the world we live in. Some of the most enduring works of science fiction and fantasy are profound commentary on human culture and, in particular, our relationship to power and powerlessness. Even if your story takes place in a galaxy far, far away, always remember to ask yourselfwhat are you trying to say about society or the human condition andTry your best to intentionally deal with how you use real-life source materials.

And with that last point, now it's up to you: remember to download our free world-building guide for tips on creating your own fantastic lands and customs. We can't wait to see your brave new world. Qapla'!*

*Klingon for "good luck"

(Video) The Breathtaking World Of One Piece


What are good examples of worldbuilding? ›

Politics, religion, tradition, even culinary customs, are all part of cultural worldbuilding. Often, social inequality and injustice are key aspects of plot and character development. Examples are especially rich in 'soft' science fiction, from George Orwell to Ursula Leguin and Octavia Butler.

How do you create a new world in writing? ›

10 Worldbuilding Tips for Writers
  1. Establish the type of world you want. Pick a genre. ...
  2. Decide where to start. ...
  3. List the rules and laws. ...
  4. Describe the environment. ...
  5. Define the culture. ...
  6. Define the language. ...
  7. Identify the history. ...
  8. Use existing works to inspire you.
Aug 23, 2021

Is Lord of the Rings hard worldbuilding? ›

J.R.R. Tolkien was the Champion of Hard Worldbuilding. He spent over a decade creating a cosmology, history, cultures, and even languages for Middle-Earth. He knew every element of his world and shared as much of that info as he could with readers within the text itself. That is Hard World-building in a nutshell.

What are signs of good world building? ›

What is good world building? Good worldbuilding tells a compelling story with well-developed characters, all while setting the events in an imaginary world intriguingly different from the real world. Good worldbuilding is concise and closely related to the plot, characters, and central themes.

Is worldbuilding a skill? ›

Worldbuilding is an essential skill for fiction writers, screenwriters, filmmakers, cartoonists, video game creators, or anyone who wants to give depth to fictional worlds. Any medium or genre can benefit from good worldbuilding.

What are the elements of world building? ›

Here are the elements of worldbuilding:
  • Physical appearance.
  • Inhabitants & people.
  • World history.
  • Society Rules.
  • Religion & customs.
  • Fantasy worldbuilding.
  • Magic systems.
  • Scifi worldbuilding.

How to format worldbuilding? ›

Here's how to worldbuild in 7 steps:
  1. Define your world's name and setting.
  2. Create a map of the territory.
  3. Populate the world with people.
  4. Elaborate your civilization's history.
  5. Create systems of technology and magic.
  6. Distribute resources with a working economy.
  7. Determine your world's power structure.
Feb 3, 2023

How to create a magical world? ›

How to Create a Fantasy World
  1. Use real life as inspiration. That doesn't mean taking people from existing ethnic groups and putting costumes on them—but observe how other cultures live, how they interact with their environments and each other. ...
  2. Define the setting. ...
  3. Create inhabitants. ...
  4. Make magic.
Aug 6, 2021

Is Tolkien high or low fantasy? ›

The works of J. R. R. Tolkien—especially The Lord of the Rings—are regarded as archetypal works of high fantasy. Many high fantasy stories are told from the viewpoint of one main hero. Often, much of the plot revolves around their heritage or mysterious nature, along with a world-threatening problem.

Why is Silmarillion difficult? ›

Among the difficulties of reading The Silmarillion, one of the key ones is that the language is so strange. It is evocative, calling us to greater appreciation of its breadth and grandeur. But there are many genres set within an archaic text and filled with difficult names and strange places.

How difficult is the Silmarillion to read? ›

The Silmarillion is quite a dense read, and should probably be tackled a little later. However, an adult may be better starting off with The Lord of the Rings followed by The Children of Húrin, Unfinished Tales, The Silmarillion, and the various volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Even this is a bit prescriptive.

What are the 2 types of world building? ›

There are two types of worldbuilding: primary world and secondary world. Primary worlds are worlds similar to some version of the real world, while secondary worlds aren't set on Earth at all. Primary world worldbuilding is necessary for stories that are set in a slightly different version of the Earth we know.

What are the 3 ways you can brainstorm? ›

Brainstorms typically have three steps: idea capture, discussion and critique, and selection. The following strategies will help you and your team, whether you're in person or remote, through all three stages.

How to do soft worldbuilding? ›

In soft worldbuilding the creators explain only enough to carry the story, and then let the players fill in the blanks, there is no need to justify anything. The immersion comes from the unknown, flexible rules, mystery, imaginative involvement, magic and otherworldliness.

Is world building a hobby? ›

World-building has been a hobby of mine for the better part of two decades, spanning my youth, my college years, and even my years as a young professional. I'm not alone in this.

How do you get inspiration for worldbuilding? ›

How To Generate Ideas For Worldbuilding In Fiction
  1. Worldbuilding: Two Methods To Choose. M. ...
  2. Mapping A New World. It's not just a lot fun to create a world map. ...
  3. Writing World Histories. ...
  4. Writing Alternate Histories. ...
  5. Creating Magical Societies. ...
  6. Creating Dystopias. ...
  7. Releasing Information.

Why is worldbuilding important? ›

Worldbuilding is so important because it's the creation of an environment where things happen in your story. It's the environment where your characters live and interact. And it's the first thing that your readers will see.

Where do I start with worldbuilding? ›

A World Building Guide
  • Step 1: Plan but Don't Over-Plan. Outliners prefer to map out everything before they start writing. ...
  • Step 2: Describe Your World. ...
  • Step 3: Populate Your World. ...
  • Step 4: Establish the History of Your World. ...
  • Step 5: Determine the Culture of Your World. ...
  • Step 6: Power Your World.
Sep 7, 2021

What are the 9 elements of worldbuilding? ›

The nine elements of creating a realistic, or at least believable, fictional world are: geography; climate; politics; economics; society; religion; intellectual/scientific; arts; and history.

What are the pillars of worldbuilding? ›

There are five main components of worldbuilding. Each helps make a story world feel interesting, meaningful, and contextually believable. Those five components are Concept, Tone, People, Land, and Technology.

How do you build a world step by step? ›

8 Tips to Guide Your Worldbuilding Process
  1. Decide where to start. ...
  2. List the rules and laws. ...
  3. Establish the type of world you want. ...
  4. Describe the environment. ...
  5. Define the culture. ...
  6. Define the language. ...
  7. Identify the history. ...
  8. Use existing works to inspire.
Sep 1, 2021

Is World Anvil worth it? ›

World Anvil is one of the best worldbuilding platforms on the market today. Its complexity and sharp learning curve are overshadowed by its capability and flexibility. It's hard to find anything related to worldbuilding that this platform cannot do.

How do you structure a fantasy world? ›

5 steps to build your fantasy world:
  1. Plan the lie of the land.
  2. Give your fantasy world concrete rules.
  3. Think about the tone of your fantasy world.
  4. Plan magic, religious, social and political systems.
  5. Learn how to create a believable world via plot.

What causes paracosm? ›

There are cases, however, in which the creation of a Paracosm in childhood can be linked to trauma, emotional loss, or maladaptive conditions, acting as an outlet for emotion and a coping mechanism.

How do you bring magic into life? ›

10 Ways to Add More Magic and Happiness Into Each Day
  1. Express Gratitude. Gratitude is a form of magic. ...
  2. Practice Forgiveness. If you're holding grudges you're not hurting anyone but yourself. ...
  3. Perform Acts of Kindness. ...
  4. Take Care of Your Body. ...
  5. Follow Your Dreams. ...
  6. Just Be You. ...
  7. Create a Ritual. ...
  8. Look for Everyday Magic.

What should I include when worldbuilding? ›

Worldbuilding is the part of the writing process that sets up where your story takes place. When you build a world, you include the landscape that your characters will inhabit, the tone of your story, its major preoccupations and themes, as well as the nature of its morality.

How do you do great worldbuilding? ›

A World Building Guide
  1. Step 1: Plan but Don't Over-Plan. Outliners prefer to map out everything before they start writing. ...
  2. Step 2: Describe Your World. ...
  3. Step 3: Populate Your World. ...
  4. Step 4: Establish the History of Your World. ...
  5. Step 5: Determine the Culture of Your World. ...
  6. Step 6: Power Your World.
Sep 7, 2021

What are the different types of worldbuilding? ›

There are two types of worldbuilding: primary world and secondary world. Primary worlds are worlds similar to some version of the real world, while secondary worlds aren't set on Earth at all. Primary world worldbuilding is necessary for stories that are set in a slightly different version of the Earth we know.

What are the elements of worldbuilding? ›

Here are the elements of worldbuilding:
  • Physical appearance.
  • Inhabitants & people.
  • World history.
  • Society Rules.
  • Religion & customs.
  • Fantasy worldbuilding.
  • Magic systems.
  • Scifi worldbuilding.


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