The Truth About Worldbuilding

If you know anything about world building, you know that it’s an integral part of your story. Sometimes it requires less effort, sometimes more. You may have put a lot of trouble into creating your world, perhaps less. Maybe it didn’t even cross your mind until halfway through the book.

Regardless, I betcha that everyone’s tried their hand at worldbuilding at one point. Even non-writers: anyone who’s every daydreamed of a world where everything was made of candy was worldbuilding. Anyone who wondered what it might be like to be a superstar was worldbuilding. A lot of non-authors worldbuild every single day.

Down to the roots of humanity, the urge to fantasize whole worlds is irresistible. Amazingly, creating a half-decent, logical, and consistent world is not that hard. Easy, even. We humans do it so naturally, almost like an imprint from our Creator. Worldbuilding is not just for writers; it’s for everybody.

But what is the truth about worldbuilding? Well, it’s actually twofold. For one, (this may come as a shock to you, perhaps not) worldbuilding is actually easier than coming up with an interesting plot or characters. It’s a bit strange that the biggest, most all-round encompassing thing in your story takes the least effort to create and perfect, but bear with me for a moment.

I’d be willing that 70% of the fundamental things in our world are present in your novel. Say you’re creating a traditional fantasy world with a twist. I will bet, without ever taking a look at the world you’re making, that water exists, it’s necessary to quench human thirst, cats hate it when sprayed all over them, dogs are loyal to humans, wolves are not, chairs exist, buildings exist, people wear clothes, human eyes exist for seeing, awkward conversations exist, all people described as “human” have two arms, two legs, and a head with a brain inside, and said people enjoy sweet desserts.

A lot of what I just named, you didn’t even consider. You just kind of assumed that they exist. And while not everything on the list will make it into your story, no one will raise an eyebrow if you introduce the reader to the hero’s pet cat, even if it is in a fantasy world.

So going off that, there’s actually a boatload of things that you borrow from our world to make your own, including up to 80% in my estimation. If your hero enters a drinking contest and downs 11 bottles of the local alcoholic beverage without getting drunk, the reader will conclude either A). He must have some special ability that keeps him from getting tipsy, or B). He should be drunk. Either way, the reader is assuming that inebriants will induce drunkenness, even though we’re dealing with a completely different world.

That’s why worldbuilding is so easy. You borrow so much from our world, even though you may not realize it. Coincidentally, this is also how the layman non-author creates worlds: all he needs to worldbuild is a proper knowledge of this one and a sufficient imagination. Simple, right?

And now we arrive at the truth of worldbuilding: the difficulty of the worldbuilding comes in the execution. Fantasizing about worlds is easy; in fact, creating really good ones can be a complete breeze. Communicating everything to your reader, however, can be extremely difficult. You get all tied up with the breeding cycles of ice dragons and the weight of proto-oxen and the history and relevant battles of the umpteenth city that you forget to make any of it interesting.

In effect, when you try to convey all the information, the reader gets bored. When you convey too little or not enough at prevalent times, the reader will become confused. If you introduce irrelevant information, the reader won’t care. If you drop something too early, the reader will be disappointed. Balancing all of this together is the toughest part about worldbuilding.

So what I’d recommend is to get the most important things about the world down on paper in a sort of outline. Build your world on a piece of paper. Let your mind wander for an hour or two, and then trim everything down into a neat five or six pages that explain every relevant thing about your world. Then you have an outline you can stick to and reference, and most of all, follow through with. Because the difficulty is in the execution.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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