World-Building Basics – Part 3: Setting the Stage

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Often times, the fantastical world we’re creating is what first gets our imagination rolling. As writers, we picture exotic flora and fauna, complex civilizations and governments, a network of transportation and communication. Our job is to set the stage for our readers and for the characters who will inhabit our world. The possibilities are endless!

Design the Physical World

As you design this backdrop, you need to have a good sense of the physical world you’ve created for your characters to navigate. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Create a map, even if this map is just for your own reference.
  • Think through how geography informs society. Does a mountain range serve as protection from a neighboring army? Do coastal cultures use the waterways for trading?
  • Understand the climate. How do people have to adapt to their climate? How does the climate in different regions impact how society functions in those areas? Does it affect food production, clothing needs, travel conditions?

Create the Culture

Then, unless your character has crash landed on an uninhabited world, you’ll need to think about culture and society. Here are some things to consider:

  • How does the government function? Who holds power? Who are the disenfranchised? Are there different forms of government in different regions?
  • Does religion play a role in the society? If so, how? What are the tenants of that faith? Are there consequences for non-believers? Are there different interpretations of the same religion?
  • How important is an origin story to your culture? Is that origin story based on real history or mythology?
  • What does the infrastructure look like? People communicate, travel, use water, eat. How are these things managed?
  • Add depth to your storytelling through complexity. Don’t oversimplify or stereotype. Our world surely isn’t simple, and complex issues are, well, complex. Absolutes rarely exist and history is often told through the eyes of the victor. Differing values, opinions, and world views exist within the same country on our world. Why would it be any different on another? And, it’s these very differences that we writers can explore through our storytelling.

By thinking through the physical terrain you’ve created and the important pieces of culture, science, or magic that exist there, you will have created a consistent, believably unbelievable world in which readers can experience the story alongside your characters.


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About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

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