Fantasy Friday – World Building

I’ve been thinking about world building a bit more as I’ve worked on the pre-writing for my next book, the one after The Lore of Efrathah. I don’t know a lot about it yet, but I’m already getting the idea that it will have different world building components than the largely rural journey-quest epic I’m finishing.

Thinking about world building has also made me wonder what a non-fantasy writer has to do regarding world building. A fantasy world is something a writer builds from the ground up.

True, some fantasies take place in this world but have fantasy components. That kind of jigsaw-puzzle world building might be harder than the ground-up kind. I don’t know.

I suppose the contemporary world building has to do with selecting places and visiting them to get facts right. Historical world building might be hardest of all because it is ground up but must be true. Lots of research required!

I’ve done some research for my world building, but for the most part, because I’ve been privileged to travel a lot, I relied on what I knew about different places.

The hard part was that I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. So I hadn’t thought through what I should do to create some language elements. I had no intention of actually making up a new language—just writing a few words here and there.

But that soon morphed to include a few lines of poetry and song, greetings, blessings, and on and on. Of course, there needs to be some rhyme or reason to it all, so there needed to be a little basic grammar. But some of the words didn’t fit the rules. Oh, well, that’s more like real language, I decided. Lots of exceptions to the rules in English, so why not in the language of the Hidden Races?

Organizational structure was another thing I hadn’t anticipated. Who was in charge? What power does the advisory council have? What are the military rankings?

And how many people are we talking about? Is this a well-populated land or sparsely so?

How about commerce? What kinds of businesses exist in the cities? Are the people literate and if so, how important are books? Theater? Entertainment?

Questions, questions, questions—all needing answers if the world is to feel real.

Not that the author needs to inform the reader of all the answers. But if the world is to work consistently, the author needs to make it run by a cohesive set of rules. In so doing, the reader may never think about “world building.”

Except for maps. I love maps. I make maps for everything in my world because I need to see the logistics in order to make sure my characters are where I’ve said they are.

My inclination is to include every map I’ve ever made in my book. Won’t readers want to see these maps too? Well, maybe not. I’ve read some notes in which readers say they are turned off by maps (and glossaries).

The only maps I’m turned off by are the ones that aren’t complete. Something happens in the story and I turn to the map to see where this place is in relation to the others, and it isn’t there! Horrors! That’s a map that detracts from the book if ever one does as far as I’m concerned.

How about you? Do maps help world building do you think, or hurt it?

Published in: on May 14, 2010 at 5:41 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. Once I had a gereral idea for my fantasy story, the first thing I did was draw a map. I hate when there is no map. But I also agree with you, Becky. I get grouchy when the characters are in a city that is not on the map. What’s up with that?


  2. I have spent a lot of time researching different methods and ideas regarding world building. Maps are crucial for you to make to keep things sane, and to give you ideas (“Hey, those two countries are right next to each other, how does that affect them?” etc.).

    I (in coordination with my siblings and friends) developed a mind map showing the various aspects that can/need to be taken into account in world building. The more of it that is developed, the better the world.

    Here is a link to it if you are interested:

    We are still developing and tweaking it, but it is already better than anything we have seen so far. What are your thoughts? Does it answer some of your questions?


  3. Maps can invaluable to writings, just like multiple drafts, character backgrounds, etc. But do readers actually want to see all these things?

    Personally, while I sometimes like maps and/or glossaries, I think they’re way overdone. Some authors think “Oh, I’ve provided a map (or glossary), I don’t have to worry about readers getting lost now!” When in fact, if I have to spend every few mintues flipping back to the map to understand your story, I’m not going to enjoy myself. If your world is so opaque and your writing so criptic I have to consult a reference every time something happens, then I’m not being drawn into your world: I feel like I’m reading a textbook instead of a novel. A map at the beginning can help me give me a starting point to the novel, but I don’t think it’s always necessary so long as the narrative itself makes clear what’s going on.


  4. Must admit I have never had to build a world in my writings but I imagine maps would be of a great help. Sf writer Robert Silverberg created the world Majipoor about 30 years ago and used it in about four novels. He describes the generic building of the planet in his biography “Other Spaces, Other Times,”. He used a lot of maps and it took a lot of time.


  5. I love world building! Although contrary to some thoughts, it takes a lot of time and research (I had a historical writer say she wants to write a fantasy next so she wouldn’t have to do all the research, I told her I had to do a ton of research so my world would seem at least believable… along with that, I had to create everything from scratch: from the different governments to clothing to culture to money).

    I have found a map of my world invaluable. It helped me understand the war going on in my book, where my characters had to travel and why some cultures were different than others. As far as the reader needing it… not sure. It can break the flow of reading, but on the other hand, it helps to quick glance at the map. My pet peeve is glossaries. I do not want to have to look up a word in the back of the book. Use the context to explain the word, not a glossary 🙂


  6. I was trying to draw a map the other day…icky!


  7. Hahahah—don’t worry about it, Galadriel. 😀 You only need to get the rough form down so that you know where things are. I’m sure you’ll find someone along the way who can transpose it.

    I actually put my world map in Word using the drawing capacity. It’s not a map that will go in my book, but it is something a cartographer or artist can work from.



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