From Mountains to Forests: World Building in Fiction

World building is an essential part of novels, especially for fantasy and science fiction. A detailed and clear world (setting) makes the plot and characters feel more real. World building also creates consistency within the story.

Many times fictional worlds borrow pieces of real locations. J.R.R. Tolkien used ancient Norse mythology to help build his world. However, the way he put his world together was original and interesting. It felt real. By having such a detailed foundation and history of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s plot gained power.

Though creating a history for your world is something you have to do on your own, there are some things to consider:

  • Climate. What’s the type of weather? Is it hot or cold? Dry or wet? Are there seasons? People live different lives depending on where they reside. If you live in Alaska, you’re not going to dress like someone who lives in South Africa. You may even have different morals. Climate (and setting in general) affects what’s considered normal.
  • Animals and Plants. What kinds of plants grow in this world? Are they purple stemmed with red flowers? Is the grass orange? What types of animals live there? How about food (it’ll differ depending on local animals and plants)?
  • Industry, Economy, and Resources. What types of jobs are there? Where do people live? Is it an agricultural world or is the world littered with cities? Are resources readily available? Are they only available to certain socioeconomic classes? Is the air polluted from industrialization? What’s the usual mode of transportation?
  • Government. What’s the political system governing your world? Is there a centralized government or is it a fractured system? Is it more like a monarchy or a democracy? Has the government been warped over time?
  • Religion. What’s the religion? Is there a religion? How about religious tolerance? Is there one god or many? Are there multiple religions? Do they contradict each other?
  • Education. How do people learn? Are there elementary, middle, and high schools? Do you learn only what you need to survive? How about higher education? Is education restricted to only certain socioeconomic classes?
  • Entertainment, Art, and Architecture. How do the people in your world express themselves? Are music, dance, and art allowed? How are the houses decorated? What materials are they made of? What do people do for fun? Often acceptable and unacceptable types of entertainment show the morals and ethics of a people.

By spending time on developing your world (even details that won’t play a big part in your story), your world will better stand up to scrutiny, and there will be less plot holes. Plus, creating obstacles for your characters will be easier.

What’s your favorite fictional world?

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