Writer Woes 5.0—Worldbuilding (aka the Bane of My Existence and Yours Too)

Is that someone sobbing in the corner with red eyes and snot on their face???

THE POOR SOUL.

Who is definitely not me.

Worldbuilding is a torturous pleasant experience that makes you scream in agony smile in happiness because it’s finally over you get to create whole! new! worlds!!!

It definitely does not cause you to sob in the corner with red eyes and snot on your face because THAT would be RIDICULOUS.

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I’m sorry, child. You do not deserve to go through this pain.

Because I’m an extremely nice and helpful person, I’m going to give some important things to focus on while worldbuilding. Note that there’s not a lot I can help you with since EACH novel has a DIFFERENT world which requires DIFFERENT worldbuilding. #IDidNotPlanForThis

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WHAT WRITER WOES IS

Writer Woes is a writing advice series brought to you by MOI (May). The advice given will be decided upon by whatever MOI (May) is currently suffering with. Because if she talks about her problems, there is a 97% chance that they will be solved. (The other 3% chance is that she’ll just end up agonizing over her life choices and ranting about all her other problems. #oops)

If you have requests for any advice you’d like to get, contact me through the form on my Contact page, or let me know in the comments.

Today’s advice will talk about all sorts of things to do with worldbuilding.

(Click the link above to see previous Writer Woes!)

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why worldbuilding is important

Worldbuilding is extremely important, okay???

To those who don’t know: Worldbuilding is developing the setting of your novel. Basically.

That means, if you don’t worldbuild, your setting won’t be developed and YOUR READERS WILL BE CONFUSED.

For example, a fantasy novel is about a war between dragons and people. But WHY is there a war? How did dragons come to be? What about people? WHERE is this war? WHEN is it? HOW are they fighting it?

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Think of worldbuilding as a backstory for your setting. Without backstory, your setting is just FLAT.*

*HAHAHA GET IT. BECAUSE PEOPLE THOUGHT THE WORLD WAS FLAT. WORLD = WORLDBUILDING. I’m… sorry. (Not really.)

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Before we get into the details, let me tell you one very important thing,

I. HATE. WORLDBUILDING.

It is absolutely torturous and agonizing and every night I claw my eyes out because my brain. is. dead.

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JSYK I have a very strong dislike towards Stitch. For #reasons that I will not share.

I struggle with worldbuilding. It’s not one of my strong suits. ESPECIALLY with fantasy, which is what I’m working on. BUT. Then I found these amazing worksheets at eadeverell.com and they helped SO. MUCH.

But I know some people don’t prefer to fill out worksheets (EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE AMAZING!!!), so here is a #list of some things you need to have for your setting:

  • Time period. This is EXTREMELY important, and one I actually don’t have right now for my fantasy novel. Go ahead and say that the novel “exists in floating time” but it will NOT BE HELPFUL. Yes May follow this advice.
  • What world you’re in. Are we on Earth? Perhaps we’re on a planet? Or maybe we’re on Earth but it’s with different continents? BRAINSTORM ALL OF IT. IT IS IMPORTANT. (Even the tiniest village where people worship vegetables. Record all the despicable cities.)
  • Location and geography. Relating to the above, you need to know exactly where in this world your novel is taking place. And other important things like mountains and rivers and lakes and plateaus… (I REMEMBER SCHOOL LESSONS HUZZAH.)
  • The government. Establish how this setting is run. Government is EXTREMELY important because it sets the table for…
  • The rules. This can apply to lots of stuff: social class, magic, technology, money, etc. (Find out the rules so you can BREAK ’em.)
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Me too.
  • History. What is the history of this world? Why? How has it evolved? (This is also related to the next point…)
  • Important events. What are some significant that led your setting to be the way it is today? THE BATTLE OF YORKTOWN? THE ELECTION OF 1800? THE REYNOLDS PAMPHLET??? (No I’m not referencing Hamilton that would be ridiculous.)
  • How the setting affects the plot/character(s). If your setting is a dystopian European city and your plot is about everyday problems in school—why not make it a contemporary setting? Make sure the setting makes sense for both the plot and character(s).

Those are the basics! Then as you expand on these, you’ll find OTHER little holes to fill in for your world. I can’t give you everything to fill out, because every novel needs different settings. Meaning different methods of worldbuilding. Meaning I CAN’T HELP YOU.

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how to worldbuild

Well. Um. This is awkward.

Like I said, everyone will have different methods of worldbuilding! I seriously CANNOT give an example of how I do it because 1) I forgot, and 2) it’s basically just rambling to myself until something presents itself???

The only tips I can give on “how” to worldbuild are:

  • JOT OUT IDEAS.
  • TAKE NOTES.
  • RAMBLE TO YOURSELF UNTIL YOU FIGURE SOMETHING OUT.
  • ASK QUESTIONS (to yourself, obviously. who else???)
  • FOCUS ON MAIN ASPECTS OF SETTING AND EXPAND.

I highly recommend method #3* because I do it and obviously whatever I do is right.

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*100% guarantee that this will work. No money back. (And I know I’ve already used this joke before but IT’S CALLED REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE.)

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EXTRA TIPS

So this post was just filled with mumbo jumbo of stuff because HOW CAN I HELP YOU WITH SOMETHING THAT VARIES WITH EACH PERSON??? But here are some extra bits of advice that will (hopefully) help you succeed with worldbuilding.

  • RESERACH. Research is your FRIEND. Especially if you’re writing historical fiction! Worldbuilding is when most of my research is done. For example, did you know Kazakhstan is friend of all except Ubekistan???*
  • Draw a map! Even if you’re a horribly skilled artist (like me), maps will help SO SO much in visualizing your setting! Whether it’s the whole world or just a city or perhaps just the inside of one building, DRAW IT OUT.
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#DRAWING.
  • Think about current events. For example, terrorist attacks. War. President issues.**
  • Include both positive and negative things about your world. It can’t all be happiness and mangoes, can it??? Make sure to add misery and sadness and death and *shudders* vegetables.
  • Names of places. WRITE THEM DOWN. If you name a city and go “AHA! THAT IS THE GREATEST CITY NAME YET”, write it down!!! Despite all of its greatness, you will NOT remember it and you will be condemned to a life of sobbing and heartbreak. True story.

And because I’m #nice, here are some links!

*But HOW to research is a whole other post. *sigh*
**What??? I’m not referencing anything???


shall we chat

how do YOU worldbuild? any tips? what are some main aspects you focus on? do you agree that worldbuilding is important? and do you REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE??? (saving the environment and may’s humor one mantra at a time.™)

sign off 2.0

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78 thoughts on “Writer Woes 5.0—Worldbuilding (aka the Bane of My Existence and Yours Too)

  1. what is a worldbuilding????
    i have never built a world in my entire life.
    (realistic fiction that is now sometimes called contemporary for the win)

    but i wish you luck on your world building because im love you and you are a nice friend person that i don’t want to die

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loveeee wordlbuilding. Most of the time, anyway. I love thinking of things and why they happened and what might come of it, and then how that all affects the characters. It’s awesome! But also frustrating when you can’t figure it out.

    Honestly…I just ramble about things, like you. Sometimes when I write, I come up with random details that I just go “ooh, that’d be cool”, so you then have something to go off of. Like, why are lots of the stores covered in graffiti, or something like that? I also love working on cultures. So if you think of how a society tends to act in your story, you can come up with a reason/point in history why they act that way. Something I try to focus on is what the religion or religions are because tons of culture things come from religions because they have rules/traditions/rituals that people follow strictly. *grins* I get so excited about this…

    Liked by 3 people

    • I with you. World building is awesome. Maybe it’s a timeline thing. If you sit down and force all your ideas then of course it’s going to feel like squeezing a watermelon through your eyeball.

      But, if you just let the world marinate for s few weeks, jotting down ideas whenever they come to you, the fun comes out as much as the ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

        • In my opinion, going ahead and starting to write is perfect! There’s only so much developing you CAN do before you actually start writing anyway, because there are tons of things you need to add to a world that you won’t realize until you’ve started writing (or plot-outlining, but I’m against over-preparing 😀 ).

          When you’re world-building, you need to have a focus. You don’t need to explain every inch of your world to yourself before you start writing. If that were necessary, I could safely promise myself that I’m never writing fantasy. The focus is this question: What elements of this world are essential to the story itself? Is it the history, the people, the geography? No one NEEDS to know the rest.

          Disclaimer: this advice is being given to you by a contemporary short stories writer who never got past the first two chapters of her attempted fantasy novel… (but I LOVE fantasy and have read plenty of it so that’s where my experience is really coming from.):D

          Liked by 3 people

          • Oh, I definitely agree! I think a lot of the time people say that you’re supposed to develop your entire world, which is, of course, daunting. But if you know what’s needed for the story, then you can develop that and not worry about the rest.

            That being said…sometimes I don’t know what is important to the story until I start developing random stuff that somehow becomes important to the story… I don’t know, my way of preparing for a novel is kind of odd and non-linear… 😉

            I love fantasy, too! Who are your favorite authors?

            Liked by 2 people

              • Ooh, I love all of those! I don’t normally find other Brandon Mull fans, but he’s great! (I’m reading the first Fablehaven book to my little brother right now.)

                Hmm…Brandon Sanderson I love. And then I also love Jessica Day George (her Dragon Slippers series is awesome), and Jennifer A. Nielson (False Prince series). I’m sure there’s others, but I can’t think of them right now, haha…

                Liked by 2 people

                  • I still haven’t read Beyonders…or Five Kingdoms… (my friend is always telling me to read Five Kingdoms, though…) The Fablehaven series is my favorite of his.

                    I’ve read his Reckoners series, The Rithmatist, Elantris, both of the Mistborn series (though if he got the most recent book out I may not have read it yet), and the published books of the Stormlight Archives. Oh, and his novella The Emperor’s Soul. I have Warbreaker, but I haven’t read it yet…

                    I started with the first Mistborn series and that was an awesome one to start out on. There’s three books, but the first one has a satisfying enough ending that if you want to stop there you can…but he pulls everything together by the third book (which is so awesome and why I love his books) and it’s amazing.

                    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I mean I like it when I can do it! But most of the time I just CANNOT worldbulid and it makes me frustrated and therefore hateful. XDD

      Yeah, exactly! A lot of things are based on questions I ask myself. And AGH I FORGOT CULTURES!!! That’s soooo important. I definitely think that culture is important, especially about how society affects people.

      Like

      • Oh, I know how frustrating it is when it won’t work! That is hard.

        And yes, how society affects people is definitely important, because then you get to factor in how the culture affects your characters and why they act the way they do!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A while back, I made a Create a Fantasy World worksheet for myself! I had the categories:

    – Geography (size of world, name of world, number of continents/countries etc., map-drawing)
    – History (important events from the past, important people from the past whose children tell their stories)
    – Politics (judicial system, leaders, what is considered moral in a political leader)
    – Culture (clothing, food, architecture, lifestyle)

    I’m not a fantasy-writer, but I do LOVE to read fantasy. (I recommend Brandon Mull and once again, J.R.R. Tolkien. 😉 ) Unlike you, I LOVE creating worlds! But I guess I’m a little different because I do it for fun instead of for building a novel out of. But I know what it’s like to try to tackle big writing projects so I feel your pain!!!

    My stories take place on this earth. But even in this world we’re so familiar with, we still need to sketch it out in our minds. Because every story, no matter where it takes place, has its own voice. Every AUTHOR, every WRITER, has their own voice, their own worldview, and of course, their worldview is going to shape the world they create.

    Back to my own stories, my stories are aimed to capture the great but hidden significance of a single moment. I like simple settings. One of my favorites settings is a playground. Writing about playgrounds usually comes with writing about children, and for me it’s fun to characterize my playground to compliment the character traits of my young protagonists – or whatever setting I end up choosing.

    One time, I took a journal with me when I went to a restaurant. (I only did it that one time – dinner outings are about spending time with family, not about burying my head in my books. 😉 ) But it was a cool experience because I jotted down everything I saw, smelled, heard, touched. Observing things from real life helps you add real depth to your world – to your setting. (In my personal opinion, creating an entire world isn’t as pleasurable nor as effective as describing one moment, one setting at a time.)

    Well, this wasn’t a long comment at all! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • WOW LONG COMMENT! XD

      *sigh* I forgot culture haha. But I remembered those other ones! And building fantasy worlds is different than contemporary settings, but all the points you mentioned are important to both.

      I like creating worlds too! I just hate that it’s so frustrating. I mean — making whole new worlds??? THAT’S AWESOME. But the process is soooooo haaaaaard.

      I definitely agree that their worldview will affect their worldbuilding! That’s why I had a hard time with this post, because I didn’t know how to give accurate advice. 😛

      Oh, I love that! I write longer stories so I can’t stay in just one specific setting, but I love how you find hidden meaning in everyday places! That’s so cooooooool.

      (I bring books every time I go to the restaurant haha…) And yes, keeping a journal is definitely helpful in worldbuilding!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the hearty reply! 😀

        Culture is so important in world-building, because what’s most fascinating to me when I read fantasy is the completely different lifestyle I get to explore! That Distant Land (I’ve mentioned it before) is a collection of short stories by Wendel Berry. The stories takes place in Port William, a rural country area. There’s an entire “cast” of characters, and different stories use different characters as the main character each time, but at the end of the book, you feel like you personally know everyone. Though the setting itself (farmland, a couple little towns) is new to explore, the best part of the story is definitely the lifestyle of the characters. Repeatedly you get to see families gather around huge meals (of Southern food, yum) or talk about people from the past who were important to them. There are different themes and patterns that are reflected off the characters and the world of the story, and it adds so much depth to the story(ies). It’s a masterpiece! I highly recommend it for inspiration for creating settings!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Worldbuilding??? Pshawwww. I totally don’t procrastinate on working on it until it’s too late and I’m writing and I’m like WAIT.

    But of course that can all be fixed bc you just have to put alllll the Hamilton things in and BAM. The world is a messed-up, drama-filled place. So . . . ‘Murica. PERFECT. XDD

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t hate worldbuilding, but I don’t particularly enjoy it either. It’s… fun? I guess?? I just have these really good ideas sometimes but then it’s also hard working out the logic and science behind everything. I mean lots of people just say, “So what if there’s no logic? It’s fantasy, right? Just say that the answer is magic!!” I’d do that but I’m a stickler for reasons behind everything. Even things that don’t exist. ((Teachers dislike me because of this.))
    I don’t have to do much worldbuilding, though. Since the setting of my story is in another dimension, lots of elements are the same. I wish you luck with your worldbuilding though!! Don’t die!!!
    (Also Hamilton references on point.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I mean… I like it when everything clicks… and it never does??? XD Oh my gosh YESSSS. Like magic cannot be the reason for everything. WHAT’S THE REASON FOR MAGIC??? It’s so frustrating and complicated and ugggggh. Yeah, my current project takes place in a world similar to Earth… but not. SO IT’S HARD BUT ALSO EASY. *facepalm*

      (Thank you. I try.)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I actually really enjoy worldbuilding, such as I’ve ever done, haha. But yeah, it can be difficult … but then I’ve only written one fantasy novel. And that is not finished. I mostly turn to Pinterest for information. I think I have a whole board dedicated to it … or used to …

    Liked by 1 person

  7. May! I love worldbuilding SO much!!! I really do. There’s so much room for creativity and imagination. I mean, crazy ideas can merge together to make one amazingly beautiful world. Still, great tips! Loved them. I hope you start liking worldbuilding more in the near future. And, as usual, I love this edition of Writers Woes!!! Plus: those GIFs were just perfection. I personally don’t really use them, but they do make me smile. 😁😁😁

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That first gif. … I totally agree with you there. 😀

    Anyways, I don’t think worldbuilding is that bad, even if I have a hard time overcoming the prospect of worldbuilding, and then dragging myself out of the usual procrastination of worldbuilding. I mean I am already procrastinating on my first novel, the way I have done for about 2 months… I should really get back to writing. XD

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I totally feel your struggles with world building! In my current piece my character is discovering the world as she grows, so I’ve just been building it as she continues on her journey which is SUCH a bad idea I know but I’m finding it really difficult to build a world when she’s basically living in a forest most of her life? And I know the layout of the forest so that’s fine, but part of me is wondering do I even need to build the world outside of it? (The answer is probably yes).

    I do like the idea of using worksheets, I might give them a try!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Haha this is awesome! I agree, world building is SO hard but it’s also SO important. It’s really tempting to just be lazy and skate over some things, but also you want your writing to be really good. So, it’s a problem. Basically.

    Some things I actually like about world building is 1) naming all of the places and 2) writing the history. I don’t even know why. But I do know that when I’m reading a fantasy or sci-fi or dystopian, one of the most important parts in my mind is how realistic the world is! You have to make it understandable, but you also don’t want to bore readers with too many details. So it’s a balance. An incredibly difficult balance, and that’s where the whole endless frustration and headache thing comes in. #fun

    Awesome post! – Abi

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s grueling and difficult but VERY important. Yeah, I definitely feel like skipping worldbuilding, but it’s an essential part of writing. -_-

      OMG YESSS! I mean naming things is super hard for me, but I love love LOVE the history! There’s something about knowing why this world is this certain way — which is why I also love writing backstory for characters! Well, I always come up with as many details as I can, but I try not to dump it all on the readers!

      Like

  11. IS THERE ANY OTHER WAY TO MAKE ME FEEL LEFT OUT? But honestly, I thought world-building WAS FUN? NO. I mean, I’ve always wanted to write a fantasy with a MAP A MAP A MAPPPPPP! does this count as world-building? If I world built, I’d probably just create a wall and build it up with words about my world. Then I’d follow this advice and make more up as I go? THEN GO ON PINTEREST AND STALK DRAGONS.
    The main aspect = M.A.P.S AND OBVIOUSLY, WORLD BUILDING IS IMPORTANT because I personally love a book with AMAZING WORLD – BUILDING??
    Ugh. Reduce Reuse Recycle. we used to have a sign a song like that! BUT I DO IT, #ecofriendly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • MAPS ARE DEFINITELY PART OF WORLDBUILDING. And everyone thinks different things! It’s just super frustrating to me and that’s why I hate it. XDD YES PINTEREST.

      I love books with amazing worldbuliding!!! Which is why you must worldbuild before writing. XD

      My sister made up a little song to it lol. GOOD JOB FOR YOU.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You are writing the blog posts I need, May and I’m so, SO grateful. I think I quite suck with world-building?! I don’t know – I do visualize things and worlds and maps in my head but I will definitely need to work better on everything once I edit my WIP. For now I’m all about getting the ideas out of my head but I LOVE your advice. I definitely need to draw that map I am picturing even if I am terrible at drawing, really. And go on Pinterest for sure. Get lost there for a couple of days……. oops.
    Great post, May, I really am loving this writing advices series 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I really love reading your Writer Woes posts May, they always inspire me to start writing again and maybe one day I’ll actually get around to opening a Word document and typing something out! 😀
    World-building may be hard to write but it’s one of my favourite things to read in books. Pretty much the main reason I read fantasy is for the different worlds I can explore. You made some really good points in this post, I never thought much about what must go into the world-building all my favourite authors do, it seems like a lot of work but in the end, like you said, it’s obviously an important aspect of writing your story. 🙂
    Again great tips, and a great post too! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I feel like I should spotlight you every week! I love your posts because they are 1) FUN, SO MANY GIFS! 2) They remind me of things that I should remember!! 3) You make me go all soft inside over your lovely friendship with Amelie (and others)!!

    Totally agree with the maps!! MUST HAVE MAPS!! IT really does help visualize, especially with a fantasy world. I loved that you said time period!! Most people just assume medieval because of swords duh but no, there can be a modern world and still have swords and other weapons that ARE NOT GUNS! That is why we have magic people! And last but not lease WRITE IT DOWN!! That is the BEST advice you gave because you are so right about the weeping and gnashing of teeth if you do not because you WILL FORGET!

    Liked by 1 person

    • AWW, THANK YOU!!! ❤ Oh, I looooove gifs — they make everything better. 😉 And I HAVE MANY GREAT FRIENDS. 😛

      Yes, it really helps me visualize! I'm a very visual person, so maps are essential to my worldbuilding process. And yes, a lot of fantasy takes place in medieval times, but it's not always that way!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I love worldbuilding, especially when it doesn’t work, I get so many ideas from broken attempts (but then you end up with novel idea after novel idea that you can’t write…).

    And maps are the best, there’s probably nothing that beats them in usefulness. I mean, you can make most other things up as you go, but visualising what the world looks like seems near impossible without a map. Never mind that they *are* the most difficult element of worldbuilding I have attempted. No joy without suffering, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. !
    I’ve read his Reckoners series, The Rithmatist, Elantris, both of the Mistborn series (though if he got the most recent book out I may not have read it yet), and the published books of the Stormlight Archives.

    Like

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