Struggling to Fill Out Your Fictional Setting? 30 World Building Elements for Fiction Writing
Updated: Apr 17
World building for a novel or series can be both the most fun and the most challenging aspect of fiction writing.
The more detailed a world is, the more authentic it feels. And the more authentic it feels, the more your reader will truly live inside the world of you story, soak it up, and keep coming back for more.
But how do we make certain our fictional worlds feel detailed and authentic? In today's podcast, I give you 30+ things to consider when building your world. You certainly don't have to use them all, but you should at least consider all of them.
After all, if one of them is relevant to your story and you overlook it, you'll miss an opportunity to hook your reader. Don't do that! Listen below and download the free PDF World Building Checklist to have handy the next time you're building a fictional world!
Get your World Building checklist HERE.
00:00:00 Do you want to write fiction, but don't know where to start. Believe me. I understand I've stood in your shoes. I've wanted to write amazing stories and wondered if I was even on the right track. I worried and struggled for years. I know what it feels like to have no idea what you're doing. Like everything you write is cheesy and amateurish, and you'll never be good enough to sit on the shelves next to the great authors of your time or the classics.
But I want you to know there's an answer for you. A way to know that the stories you're writing will resonate with readers, a way to transform from wherever you are now in your writing journey to someone who's universally hailed, as talented and as skilled storyteller. Welcome to the Story Savant. The podcast with free writing advice for the aspiring storyteller. I'm going to give you every tool I know to help you become a master storyteller every week. I'll bring you tips on story structure, characterization, themes, heroes, villains, and more to automatically make your story resonate with your audience. Stay tuned. We're going to learn to tell amazing stories and we're going to have a ton of fun doing it. Let's do this!
00:00:56 Good morning story savants. How's everyone doing today? So today we're going to talk about world-building. I've had some questions about this. It's really difficult to be very specific about world building, because world building is all about you as the writer, it's all about your muse and your creativity and what needs to happen for your story and all of that. So it's really hard to get very specific.
00:01:23 If you have specific questions about world building, feel free to send them to me. You can DM me on Instagram or, you know, put it in any kind of reply to the podcast, or even in a review. I'd love to hear what you are struggling with and what you need help with. But I have gotten a few messages for people asking me just in general, to talk about world building.
00:01:44 What it really comes down to, I think, are the details. The more detailed you can make a world, the more rich it is and the more the reader will feel like they're kind of living in that world, but it's all, it also depends on what kind of story you want to tell.
00:01:57 If you're telling a contemporary story, something like contemporary romance, you're not going to need to do a whole lot of world building because the reader already knows everything about our world, right? It's really when you're doing things like fantasy worlds, so high fantasy, post-apoc, scifi.
And even if you're doing something like that feels contemporary, but you have like say something paranormal in it. So it pretty much is our world, but there are vampires or werewolves. You're still going to have to deal with how that is going to affect our world. Do people know about this other race of creatures? If they don't, if you're kind of doing a Harry Potter muggle thing where they are an underground society that the rest of the world doesn't know about, that's fine too, but you're still going to have to think about the world of that society. You know, how does that society function?
00:02:38 That's one of the reasons Harry Potter was so successful is because she thought out like every detail of the Wizarding society and how it did, and didn't interact with the real world and how things were the same and how things were different. And that's what makes it so rich and so much fun to be in that story. Or one of the things, anyway.
00:02:56 Um, I would actually recommend you do as much as possible. There's your first tip before plotting. Of course, this is really going to depend on your writing process. And if you come up with a story long before the world, then obviously you'll be doing the world building separate, but especially if you're doing a fantastical world, that's very, very different than ours--something like a high fantasy world--your plotting is going to be very effected by what's going on in that world. So it would actually probably be better, in my opinion, to get the world building, or as much of it as you can, done before you start plotting. But you know, again, it just depends on how you go about it.
00:03:31 And the two can really be, they can feed into each other. Maybe you have a pretty good idea of what the story is going to be. And then you sit down and get some world building done, but there's things that you're not sure about. You're not sure how they're going to work. And then as you plot more, you kind of figure out more of the world building. And as you world build more, you figure out more of the plot and you know, it can be really fluid. So don't put yourself in too much of a box where that is concerned. You are probably gonna end up having to do some revising, whether it's of your outline or whether you're writing as you go along. And that's perfectly okay.
00:04:00 So what I'm going to do is I'm just going to give you a list of things to consider when you're world building. And I will create a PDF of this so that you have a list of things that you can think about when you're building your world. And, you know, beyond that really, I can't give you a step by step on what to do of world building other than to go through each of these things and think about them and decide whether you need them, need to plan them out for your story. You know, some of these things may be irrelevant depending on what kind of story you're writing. And again, whether it's a contemporary, you know, our world or whether you're building a whole new world from scratch, but, you know, beyond that, you just got to brainstorm and really call on your creative powers and really get this stuff hashed out.
00:04:41 So the main things you're going to want to consider are the economy, the government, the land, society and culture, and then magic and science. Don't worry. I will go into those in more detail here.
00:04:51 So for the economy, you may want to consider, you know, the type of economy it is. Are we talking a capitalist free enterprise economy? Are we talking a Marxist economy, a dictatorship? You know, what kind of economy, like the ins and outs of it? You're going to want to consider what kind of currency they use. Is there a standardized currency? Is it more of a barter system? Who are the major players? You know, is there a monarchy that makes all the decisions? Is there a banking system? Are there really powerful people that kind of control the economy?
I mean, it would be interesting if you had a world where maybe the farmers were the most important rich people because they controlled the food and, in most economies farmers, aren't the richest of the rich, but hey, what if you created a site society where they were? What are their basic products in this economy? You know, what are their imports and exports? Are they mostly a farming economy? Are there mining kind of economy? You know, did they grow things? Textile? I mean, that's also going to depend on the technology and time period and what they actually can, what kind of inventions they have, right, in their world. So those are the basic things you want to consider about the economy.
00:06:01 Let's move on to the government. You're going to want to consider the crime and legal system. You know, how are criminals taken care of? Do they have prisons? Do they have capital punishment? Other things would be foreign relations, relations with other countries, their politics, and what happens in war time. Now, once again, this is really going to depend on the story you're writing. Maybe none of this will apply to your world because that's just not the type of story it is. But again, if you're building, for example, kind of the extreme example is a high fantasy world from the ground up. If you're doing that, you're going to want to consider all of these things.
00:06:33 The land. Physical and historical features. So the physical is the geography, right? But historical can mean a couple of things. It can mean how has the land changed over time, and does that have a place in your story? But it also could mean things that are still there that are like historical landmarks and what those might mean to the culture or to the people. Um, the climate, natural resources are things to consider. Uh, the population. How many people and where are they living, in what parts of the land? And then rural and urban factors. Again, just depending on if you even have urban cities or not.
00:07:06 Society and culture. This is going to be the one that's probably the most detailed, because this is the thing that's going to affect the people and how they act with each other and with others day in and day out. So things like arts, architecture, entertainment, recreation, the calendar they live by, their diet and dining, customs, daily life, education, ethics and values, fashion and dress, their history, their language and gestures, their manners and mannerisms, meeting and greeting, religion and philosophy, social organization, and specific countries.
So again, if you have several countries in your world, you're creating a whole world with different regions or city States or whatever it is you have, you're going to want to consider that, you know, different places, even regions and States are gonna have cultural differences. So yeah, you can get into a lot of detail on these, or you can just kind of do a surface sort of thing. It's just really going to depend on you and what's relevant to your story and what's relevant to your world.
00:08:08 And finally we have magic and science. So this is going to depend on whether you have magic or not. Maybe you have a world that's medieval and it's all magic and they don't even know what the term science means. Or maybe you have more of a sci-fi world where everything is science-based rather than magic based. Or, of course, you can have a mixture of the two. If you have magic in your book, you need to consider the actual magic, like the magic system. What are the rules? Is it a hard magic system, soft magic system? And the magicians or whatever you call the people who are wielding, the magic--wizards maybe, mages?
00:08:41 How does it affect technology? What kind of technology comes from it and is present, you know, side by side with it. Also, how does it affect medicine and healing in your world? Other kinds of...I said science and technology, and then also transportation and communication. And these are going to be affected even by magic, because even if you don't have science such that you have cell phones or, you know, some sort of Star Trek-ian communicator, or what have you, maybe they use magic to, you know, communicate telepathically or, you know, you can make up some way in which they use magic to communicate. Even communicating by owl in Harry Potter, that was still...maybe there wasn't a whole lot of actual magic going on there, but that was still sort of a trait of the magic world. And that's how they communicated with each other. So just some things to keep in mind.
00:09:32 So yeah, this is, this is pretty much it, all I can tell you is I will give you that PDF. You can go download it and get a notebook and just start, you know, having fun. Flesh this stuff out. And, you know, you might want to, it's one of those things you might go through it. And then some of it you may not use in your book, just depending on, you know, again, the story and how much the reader needs to know about your world and how different it is from our world. But if you have all of these things covered in some shape or form, which you know, can mean that you're not actually covering them because they're the same in your book as they are in our world, that's fine. But as long as you know, you kind of have an idea how all of these things are going to work, you should be fine and your world will be more than adequate for your reader.
00:10:15 And of course, that's what you want. You don't want the readers going. I don't understand what's happening in this world. I need more because then they're not going to want to pick up your book again, because it's kind of the mark of an amateur to leave all of these questions about your world. And then that makes the reader not be very into the story, which is of course what we're trying to avoid. We want them to get into a really rich world and a really rich story with really great characters functioning in that world.
00:10:37 And so building the world up adequately is really, really important for that. Okay. So I hope this has been of some use for you. Go pick up that PDF. If you need to do some world building and have fun, go build out your world, more power to you. Alright. And I will talk to you next week.
00:10:54 Did you know you can work with me? I do story consulting on an hourly basis. So if you want help developing your story to make sure it will be a winner, go to my website at www.authorlkhill.com/workwithme to learn more. See you there.
00:11:04 Hi there! Before you go. If you found value in this episode, I would appreciate it so much if you could leave me a review on iTunes. Be sure to screenshot it, share it on your favorite social media platform, and tag me. Remember, only you can tell your story and there are tons of people out there waiting to connect with it. So get out there and write the best story you can write. Remember, only you can change someone's heart with your fire-breathing dragons, your mind blowing mysteries, your epic romances, and your intense thrillers. So be a Story Savant and get out there and get that sucker written!