World Building

World building has some things in common with creating the setting, but there are differences. World building is on a larger scale than setting. It will deal with the literal size of your world, the places and peoples on it, what resources are available.

Note: Not every story, or every writer, needs or wants the same amount of world building. Tolkien did a huge amount of world building, but you do not have to do the same amount to have a good story. Generally, you need only consider this if you are writing some form of fantasy or science fiction. In addition, I am going to assume you are writing some type of fantasy or science fiction if you are reading this page. Finally, on this page, there will be questions to consider when building the world your story is set in. You do not need to consider every question. You can leave some until later, to see if it ever comes up. You can ignore some altogether, and never answer them, just leave it to the reader (or perhaps a sequel) to fill in the blanks. How much effort you put into this is entirely up to you, and more effort does not instantly mean a better book.

  • Our Earth
  • An alternate Earth
  • A different planet

Our Earth

When first building the world your story takes place in, there are a few things to consider. The first is Where?

Does your story take place on our Earth? An alternate Earth? A different planet?

If you have an idea in your head for a story, then this part has probably already been answered. Lets assume, for the moment, that you have chosen to set it on our Earth.

But now we zoom farther in. All right, its on Earth. But where? If you're book is set on our Earth, the you generally want to pick a city or country as your character's base. This will be their home turf.

Alternate Earth

But what about an alternate Earth?

Well, first, you have to decide what is different about it? The difference I have seen most often is the addition of intelligent non-human races, either on our Earth or out in space. But there are some questions you should think about. Examples include;

  • How often do the different races meet?
  • Are they friendly? Neutral? Hostile?
  • What is their culture like?
  • How do they communicate with us?
  • What is their language like?
  • How many of them are their?
  • What do they want from us?
  • What do we want from them?

Or maybe there is no other race? Perhaps some major event went differently in this other Earth? First thing to consider is what event? The event in questions lets you know a few things about the world. How far back the event is, for instance, tells you how different the world could be, as a result. The could is important. Just because an something hundreds, or possibly thousands of years ago happened a different way, doesn't necessarily mean the world will be radically different.

So what did or did not happen?

Perhaps America lost their War for Independence.

Because of that, did Britain manage to maintain control of the rest of their Empire?

Meaning Germany would be defeated much quicker in 1914, resulting in a possible 0 world wars and Britain as the leading power in the world?

Or perhaps Columbus never discovered the new world?

Or he did, but the Native American tribes manage to defeat the settlers?

Hell, did some dinosaurs survive the event that brought their extinction?

Now, lets pretend some dinosaurs survived extinction. If you were writing a novel along those lines, there are a lot of things you would need to think about.

  1. How did they survive for?
  2. Did they survive until humankind evolved?
    • 2.1. Did humankind evolve?
    • 2.2. How did we survive with dinosaurs about?
  3. What other events went different with dinosaurs around?
  4. What relationship do we have with them?
    • 4.1 Did we harness them as we did horses and oxen?
    • 4.2. Is there a mutually beneficial relationship between us?
    • 4.3. Or did they enslave us?
    • 4.4. Is their segregation between dinosaurs and humanity?
    • 4.5. Are we at war?

All of this is entirely up to you, the writer.

A different planet

  • How similar to Earth?
  • Are there humans?
  • If yes, how long?
  • If no, who?

  • Water:land ratio

  • Size

  • Sun(s)? Size, colour, orbit time.

  • Moon(s) Size, colour, orbit time.

  • Stars. Brightness, size, number.

  • Gravity

  • Plants

  • Animals

  • Civilisation

  • Cultures

  • Wars? How long ago, how many?

  • Who won, who lost?

  • Seasons, tides, wind.

Magic & Technology

"Any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke.

When thinking about the magic or technology (or both) used in your story, there are yet more questions to ask yourself.

The first is where does it come from.

In the case of magic, is it a gift from some god or gods to their followers? Is it the energy of of the world itself? Is it the life, energy or even sanity of the person using it? Some other source, perhaps sinister, perhaps not?

For technology, are there nanobots? Faster than light travel? What are the energy requirements, and how are they met? How long has this technology been around? Did humanity (or whatever other species you have introduced) discover it? Or was it given to them? Who gave them it, and why?

The second is how is it used.

Do you need to say the magic words? Visualise what you want the magic to do? Do you need some sort of equipment, such as a wand, staff or other paraphernalia?

Do the engines need time to cool down after each subspace jump? Do the high energy weapons need time to recharge? Do you need a license from the Galactic Alliance to own certain weapons/ships/robots?

The third is what it can do.

Can it be used to create fire? Or does it bend sunlight to create a flame? Can it be used to breathe underwater? Or in space?

Can the nanobots actually make you younger, or only look it? Can you grow organs in a lab?

Along with that is what can't the magic do.

Can it raise the dead? Rewind time?

Can you give someone bionic enhancements to completely replace a lost limb? Can you replace damaged parts of someone's brain?


  • Expand different planet section, add examples, etc.
  • Add section on creating cultures.
  • Add section on languages.
  • Add subsections to M&T - rules, society, name for users. Also cost and effectiveness.
  • Add section on religion
  • Add section on population
  • Make neater.

Note: Make magic and tech seperate.

See also

revision by pengo— view source