When writing a science fiction or fantasy story, the world it takes place in is important. Some examples of effective worldbuilding include J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Fantasy can be split into two main types, high and low fantasy. High fantasy is set in a created world, which could be a parallel or secondary world to our own, or an entirely original world. Low fantasy is generally set in a past, present, or future version of our own, or an otherwise normal, world. Both genres can be split further into subgenres, such as grimdark, space opera, and urban.
Whether you’re writing high or low fantasy, shaping the world into one which enhances the story and readers engage with is important.
Magic and Technology
One of the key aspects that requires exploration is the magic or technology found in your world. You should consider how it works; what it is based on or made up of; is it science based; elemental? Also establishing attitudes towards magic further helps to expand your world. Is magic accepted, or is it looked down upon or illegal? Does it have different positions in different parts of the world? For example, in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, different nations view magic differently. Technology’s purpose and use should be explored.
Magic and technology are often the focus of fantasy and science fiction stories and therefore should be aspects that you build upon throughout your work.
World History and Culture
Knowing the history of your world provides your readers context regarding the world’s position at the point in which your book starts. For example, what has shaped the world politically? Has there been a war that has divided nations? This can lead into the explanation of the social systems in your world, such as power structures, whether in a political or military sense, or education. Knowing the history of your world can also help to explain its culture through aspects such as religion or folklore. This can help with understanding the characters and their motivations.
One decision that you may want to make early in developing your story is whether you want to depict one place, a city or a nation for example, or a whole continent or world. This allows you to create an expansive world, though may not be viable depending on the length of your story. If you are struggling with this, you may benefit from developmental editing. The creation of nations could also lend itself to the creation of language, which isn’t necessary but can add to your world.
Worldbuilding in fantasy and science fiction can encapsulate many aspects and features of your world. A few other considerations include the use of maps and glossaries, as these help readers to visualise your world, as well as provide pronunciation guides and information regarding characters, places, and terms. Maps and illustrations can be helpful in visualising the story and characters, and especially for younger readers. You will also want to reflect the real world in your created world, and one way to do this is through not creating a homogenous world. This can be done through the inclusion of characters with different ethnic or gender identities, sexualities, or disabilities. Although when writing outside of your lived experiences, you may want to consider using sensitivity readers, as they will help make sure you do not include any negative portrayals or stereotypes that relate to their identity.
Having a writing advisor throughout your writing process may also help you shape the world by getting a second opinion. Using beta readers can help you gather feedback pre-publication so that you can make any necessary changes. The world that you create can play as important a role as the story and characters. History can often help explain character’s motivations and actions.