World Building

On Monday evening, I attended a writers’ workshop at the Nottingham Writers Studio, in Hockley. Despite the limitations of the building (it reeks of damp, the chairs are basic, to say the least, and the lighting is not exactly conducive to workshops and note-taking), this was a really good session, led by local author Ian C Douglas, and supported by an amiable and lively group. The Nottm Writers Studio has been running a series of taster workshops over the summer and into Sep, at just £5 for a two hour primer, and have previously covered  a variety of topics including an introduction to poetry, the importance of plot, how to write your memoirs, etc.  Well worth checking out next summer, if they re-run the programme.

(I haven’t joined the studio for financial reasons – it’s £60 a year to join – but they do list these events and their other workshops and regular groups on their website: )


This session was around building a world of your own, aimed at writers of speculative fiction, although many of the discussions were useful pointers generally about good writing techniques.


What is world building?

This is, at its simplest, the process of creating an imaginary world. It could be that you want something that feels like the real world, but with a twist (eg Superman can fly), or you might want to create something more removed (eg Middle Earth). Either way, you need to consider how that world operates, and how you are going to share that information with your readers.


Why world building?

Although the story comes first, the world can inform the story, offering key developments for the plot and character.

The world enriches the story, with vivid settings and evoking mood and atmosphere.

The world individualises the story, setting it apart from other works of fiction.

Readers respond to dynamic, well-crafted worlds, and want to read sequels (eg Game of Thrones).

If you are telling an epic story like LOTR, then it demands an environment/stage for those characters to exist within.

This can be great fun for the author, and can inspire creativity, allowing old themes to be examined in a fresh way.



There are five principles to help create your fantasy land:

– Foundations – build your world from the ground up – consider geography, laws, government, society, wealth, technology, leisure, what the weather’s like…

– History – primitive or civilised world? Religion? Remember causality – what were the causes of the effects that your characters are faced with?

– Feasibility – Ian gave a great example: dragons whose bones are laced with gold may sound grest, but how does that effect your economy?

– Practicality

– Consistency – ensure that your world follows rules


Tools that the author may use to plan

Research / create timelines / create maps / write appendices (not necessarily for inclusion in your final text) / character bios / lineages



Although this is sometimes necessary, it is telling rather than showing, including background info that is not interwoven with the narrative, with too much direct exposition.

This can manifest through forewords, appendices, the Dr Who assistant characters (someone whose purpose is to be there for the clever Doctor to explain what’s going on… preferably without reference to “timey-wimey”), dialogue that goes “as you know, Bob”, lengthy flashbacks, etc. In my house, we have a stock character of “Basil Exposition” who gets a reference whenever we see this in TV shows and films. Thank you, Basil!

This can be used successfully through techniques such as:

– a character delivering a lecture

– two characters debating an issue (creates conflict, at some level, too)

– a special event can be used as an excuse to deliver backstory – eg Reaping Day

– diary entries

– autopsy notes

– footnotes (eg in Discworld) ; wiki entries – would work well on a kindle

– encyclopaedia entries (HHGTTG)



This is not a typo. Incluing is “the process of scattering information seamlessly through the text, as opposed to stopping the story to impart information” (Joanne Walton). This can be achieved through dialogue, flashbacks (used economically), character’s thoughts, background details (the door irised open), in-universe media, etc



As Ian reminded us, the imaginary world must serve the story, and never the other way around. Don’t fall so in love with your fantasy land that you lose sight of your characters and plot.


Some links


It is the last of the summer taster workshops next week – Create a Sense of Place – but I’m not sure whether to go to that, or to try the live poetry event at the Canalhouse… Have never performed any of my poetry before, and I find the prospect absolutely terrifying, but something is drawing me in…  I’ll let you know!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.