On Worldbuilding & Worldbuilding Resources

Last night at my writers’ group, one of our members (Andrew Franke) led a discussion on worldbuilding.  He said your “world” is like the “canvas” on which the artist paints.

Yes, this photo makes me want to break out into a chorus of "He's got the whooooooole world . . . " 🙂

The gist of his talk was that:

1) worldbuilding is important

2) for all writers—of any genre

3) and that the author needs to understand his/her world fully, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need all the nitty-gritty spelled out on the page.

It occurred to me, a great example of this would be J.R.R. Tolkien.  As a linguist, one of the first things he did when creating Middle-earth was write an entire language for it.  He created timelines, family trees, the calendar, the alphabet, other languages used in their world, and one can find it all in the over 200 pages following The Return of the King, along with an overall index. Impressive!  No wonder he’s so popular. 😉

However, even though Tolkien shares all this information by way of appendices, none of it is essential for the reader to know in order to understand or enjoy his series.

Since worldbuilding is most commonly talked about in the science fiction/fantasy realm, Andrew pointed to SFF authors Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Kate Elliott as examples of excellent worldbuilders.  He also mentioned Tom Clancy for a non-SFF author as well Neil Gaiman who writes, well, everything.


Q: How much does the reader need to know?

A: This depends on your genre and the story itself. And, unfortunately, the author is usually the worst judge of this.  That’s where beta readers and critique partners come in!

Q: How much must I know?

A: Everything.

Q: Can I start writing before knowing these things?

A: Sure. Everyone’s process is different. Some like to build everything before writing Word One; others craft their worlds as they go along.  The key is to make sure everything about your plot is believable within the world you’ve created.


So, what is this “everything” you need to know?

Andrew drew questions every writer needs to ask himself when creating a world (from author Holly Lisle’s “How Much of My World Do I Build”):

  • In what way does my universe differ from the mundane norm? (e.g., use of magic, presence of fantastic creatures, imagined institutions, historical people or races, etc.)
  • What is the nature of the difference?  How exactly will these special features manifest?
  • What are the rules by which my world operates? (e.g., special physics, natural laws, social laws, etc.)
  • What effects will these rules have on the culture and the story?
  • What are the laws of my special physics?
  • What is the nature of the people who will use these laws?  How do they differ from regular people?

Having attended one of Orson Scott Card’s writing workshops, Andrew also told us about OSC’s “1000 Ideas in 20 Minutes” worldbuilding exercise wherein he has his classes answer:

  • Why did this change happen, and what brought it about?
  • Who enjoys/benefits from/favors this change?
  • Who dislikes/suffers from/disapproves of this change?
  • What are at least three ways the average person’s daily life is different?
  • What are at least three ways that “official” public life is different?
  • What are at least three ways that people’s behavior has changed as a result?

He recommends OSC’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy to writers of any genre, saying that although there are chapters which deal specifically with SFF writing, the crux of the book is about how to write good fiction.


Here, you can find a ton fantasy worldbuilding resources.

This gives you a very thorough worldbuilding worksheet. It has a section on magic, but the contemporary writer can easily omit those sections and successfully set their realistic stage.

Here, you’ll find Stephanie Cottrell Bryant‘s “30 Days of Worldbuilding,” which is a tutorial of 15-minute exercises to help you create your world.  It’s called the “Magical Worldbuilder,” but it’s easily adaptable to writers of all genres.

Happy building!

In the Blogosphere: 3/8 – 3/12

“In the Blogosphere” is a weekly series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week.  Most posts will be from that week, but if I find some “oldies but goodies,” I’ll throw those up here as well.

I never find as much time to read blogs as I want, but here are a few posts that struck me this week.


I’ve heard of being a query spammer (addressing an e-query to every agent in the country), but this is ridiculous.  Notorious query spammer Oscar Whitfield ruins it for all of us—but his 7,000 rejections should make one feel better about one’s fraction of that many rejections.

Agent Jennifer Jackson of Donald Maass Literary Agency tallies her queries, and guess what: over half of the queries she receives do not follow the submission guidelines close enough to be considered.

Tsk, tsk, tsk . . . I’m not sure what’s worse, Oscar Whitfield’s query bombs or some of the things Lowenstein Associates, Inc.’s Kathleen Ortiz says authors are guilty of when it comes to their query etiquette—or their lack thereof.


Listy listy.  The good people over at Guardian.co.uk have compiled lists of writing tips from several writers—including the likes of the inimitable Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood—in the spirit of Elmore Leonard‘s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction .

Although she said Janet Reid wrote it, middle-grade and young adult sci-fi writer Blee Bonn put my guest blog about the FinePrint Literary agent’s query tips at the top of her “Awesome Advice (for Writers)” post.  Yay!

In this Writer’s Digest oldie-but-goodie post, find out what agents hate (as relayed by Guide to Literary Agents editor Chuck Sambuchino).

On his Web site, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers Michael Hyatt discusses the importance of defending your “brand” in the digital age.


In case you missed my announcement earlier in the week, I did a little guest blogging about leetspeak (“text message lingo”) and the ramifications of its increased acceptance in young adult lit over at Australian author Steph Bowe‘s blog this week.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Are you a workaholic?  Over at zenhabits, guest blogger Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist talks about the importance of resting.

Need something to distract you?  Check out Letterblox over at OMGPOP.


Over at Inky Fresh Press, Kate announces a call for submissions as well as a contest at Narrative, an online publisher and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the literary arts in the digital age.

As well, Writer’s Digest is hosting their 79th annual writing contest with a chance to win $3,000 and a trip to New York City.


Been getting lots of rejections without much feeback?  Here, D4EO literary agent Mandy Hubbard offers some reasons she passes on fulls.

If you’re looking for some “inside” information, the people over at BubbleCow divulge 7 secrets publisher don’t want writers to know.

Have you ever wondered how book covers come to be?  On Orbit, Laura Panepinto posted a YouTube video on that very subject.

Think you’re a diva?  Not sure?  The Waxman Literary Agency offers three questions to ask yourself in order to find out.

Or . . . ask yourself if you're Aretha Franklin. No? Okay, you're probably not then.


I know Wicked was The Wizard of Oz seen in a new way—and I love it (well, the musical).  However, if they remake it á là Tim Burton, as per this Los Angeles Times article, I may actually vomit.

First The Hills‘s Lauren Conrad and now Hilary Duff?  *tear*


Apparently, certain words and phrases—like “seek” and “flee”—are too sophisticated for people to use outside of print.  Well, that’s what Robert Feder says the higher-ups at WGN believe, anyway.

I loves me some Coco.  And, according to USA Today, O’Brien has changed the life of the one, random Twitter follower he’s chosen.

I loves me some Cleveland Cavaliers, as well.  And, according to Cleveland.com, Eastlake, Ohio, resident Jerry Tomko and a radio essay contest are responsible for the team’s name.  (I’m so proud, having grown up five minutes from Eastlake!)

I’m so excited!  Jodi Meadows and I are going to YA author Maggie Stiefvater‘s book signing in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.  Will you be there?