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  • Writer's pictureC.A. Lightfoot


I wanted to take some time this morning to talk about world-building. (Bear with me, I've been up with a sick kid all night.)

I've seen quite a few writers ask about world-building on Twitter and in various other outlets. It occurs to me that this element of fantasy writing may not come as easily to everyone as it does to some of us.

I thought I'd take a moment or two to explain how I do things.

Dark Ember, for example, relies heavily on an entirely new world. I have a pocket dimension, 4 realms, about 6 races, and magical creatures I haven't bothered to muster yet. This urban fantasy novel has several elements of a high fantasy novel. (Think The Magicians) I needed places, races, history, magical rules, political setups, etc, etc.

On the flipside, The Guardian required very little in regards to world-building. It takes place in modern Atlanta, a world hidden in the real world. This one only required basic magical rules and a bit of history that I pulled from...well, history.

I don't find either of these subsets to be particularly difficult to manage. Guardian required less work, of course, but I find world-building to be fun!

So, here's my three steps to make world-building easy:

1. Determine what kind of world you need:

You need to decide what kind of world you're going to need. Do you need an entirely new planet with elements of Earth or do you just need to run alongside the modern world? If you're using another time period, do you need to research? Make a list of things you're going to need and see how many wrenches you can throw into it.

Example: Dark Ember has 4 elemental realms and a pocket dimension that works as a sort of neutral zone. Also, one of the elemental realms has "died" and two others are showing symptoms.

I've got some basics and I gave myself some room for plot with the idea that the very realms we're exploring are in danger. (this gave me an excellent plot point)

2. Decide how much your reader is going to need:

I have an entire 3-ring binder filled with notes on Peralt and the 4 realms. Literally, filled. I found worksheets from a website called The Novel Factory which helped like WOAH. (I'll link it below) YOU need to know to the world, but that doesn't mean the reader needs everything. Places like Heversuch and Atlea are real to me because of my work I've done on the notes side, but the reader won't need 90% of what I have.

Side note: Don't get bogged down in details if you KNOW it overwhelms you.There's not a damn thing wrong with winging it and fixing it in the editing stage. I wrote Guardian over 7 years, the magical rules changed in that time. When I hit the editing portion, I fixed it. If details bog you down, jot down a few notes and get to writing. If the details help, get to work. There's no real road map to writing a novel, find what works for you. (Changing mid-novel isn't a high crime either, keep that in mind)

3. Don't be afraid to really shake it up:

Nothing is more engrossing to a fantasy reader than a world they can get lost in. Do you like the idea of a race of humans obsessed with death? Or a magician too afraid of the cost of magic to exercise his gifts? Maybe you want cities built in clouds, a magic school based on pure belief. If it hits your brain, there's a way to make it work. The best worlds, the worlds readers get truly lost in, are those that feel real. Your world will be the child of your mind and that makes it unique.

Feel the need to borrow something that's been done? That's ok, too. But how can you twist it? How can you take it further, make it more...that's where you find the sweet spot.

Look for resources online, find someone to throw ideas at, sometimes just saying it aloud helps find the holes.

One final note: Yes, every story has been told. I think there are basically 6 real plot lines out there and they've all been done. Here's the catch: everyone has a different take on those stories. If 12 people witness an event, you'll have 12 distinct descriptions of that event. The story hasn't been told by YOU. Your ideas will make the story fresh, your new world will give fanficition writers a sandbox to play in. Your imagination is the unique take on the story.

Happy writing, my friends!


Link to The Novel Factory: (This resource is very helpful!)


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