World Building

World Building

Welcome back, loyal listeners! This week, the crew talks about building your fictive world. You may listen and watch below. As always, show notes are beneath the YouTube embed. Please don’t forget to add us to your various social media outlets, hit the thumbs up, and subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Thanks!



When new writers think of world building, they often think of fantasy or science fiction. That is certainly true but world building should be an art mastered by all genre and literary writers.

Mark Twain built a world around a small town along the Mississippi and the people who lived there–primarily Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

Arthur C. Clark did a superb job creating a world in the alien spaceship Rama. Aaron’s book The Bargain is rooted in a small town situated in the high desert of California. That world made the story possible. Dean Kootz made his character come alive by setting Odd Thomas in a small desert town and making sure he fit the place while still being the most different citizen in the community. The podcast Welcome to Nightvale is highly regarded for its quirky setting and personage.

Imagine your favorite book with descriptions of place.

World building the umbrella term for setting.


  1. First, realize that setting is as important as your protagonist. The stage defines the character and the action to come. (Molly: This is my theory behind NOLA; creating a story where the location is so integral that the plot absolutely could not happen in any other place. I’m creating a new subgenre: Location Mystery.)
  2. Give as much thought to your setting as you do you to your main characters. Yes, it’s that important.
  3. Give thought to
    1. External places–landscapes, geography, etc.
    2. Internal places–buildings, architecture, etc.
  4. Use sensory rich descriptions
    1. Sight
    2. Sound
    3. Smell (if it makes sense).
    4. Taste (not just food: blood, dust in an old, abandoned building.
    5. Touch.
  5. More than place
    1. Setting–the physical place (Draw a map. It helps.)
    2. Social–the people of the place (party school, or academic school? Star-bellied Sneeches.)
    3. Customs–every town is different. This is especially important if you’re writing about a foreign land. (Al: I wrote a piece that was set in Ethiopia, so I described the people, the coffee, the use by some of Kat.)
    4. Economics–what is used for money? Gold? Silver? Cigarettes in prison? Etc.
    5. Politics–red state or blue state? What’s the hot political topic?
    6. Holidays–what and when does your town celebrate? How do they celebrate it? What customs?
  6. Decide if you want to set your story in a real place or a fictional one.
    1. Stephen King’s Derry, Maine, and Castle Rock are fictional.
    2. Dean Koontz’s Pico Mundo for Odd Thomas is fictional.
    3. Many stories are set in real towns: New York, etc. (Al: I’ve done many books in San Diego but I’ve also created fictional towns: Ridgeline (Gates McFadden, Santa Rita (Maddy Glenn).
    4. Advantages of fictional worlds.
      1. Avoid errors of geography, history, roads, streets, names, etc.
      2. You can shape the setting to your story instead of shaping your story to the setting.
      3. Less research on setting, but more decisions to keep track of.
      4. No can tell you you’re wrong.
    5. Advantages of real settings.
      1. Maps available
      2. No need to fabricated, say a park scene, just use a real park
      3. Readers can relate to the location.
    6. Blending settings (Molly: This is when you create a smaller, fictional place in a real setting, such as a made-up street or company or town when the rest of the story is a real location. Or, you put a real place like a Wal-Mart in a fictional town.)
  7. Keep POV in mind
    1. First person: everything is experienced through the protagonist.
    2. Third person: The narrator describes setting.

Study the best writers. When you come across a setting that stands out, study it. Reread several times. Ask, what did the author do? Some great writers: Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Ray Bradbury. 

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