How to Better Accomplish Worldbuilding Within Your Writing

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Mason Barish, Editor

A definition to help better understand what worldbuilding is would be to chalk it up to the in-depth description of the setting in any story. Worldbuilding is essential when you’re writing any story, but especially comes into play when you’re within the world of fiction (more specifically fantasy and science fiction). For example, looking at the winners of our short story writing contest at the Falcon, we had some exceptional writers who utilized worldbuilding to make their story immersive, captivating, and unique. The way they went about doing this can be seen in a number of ways, from subtle backstories to vivid imagery that allows the reader to easily imagine what is going on within the written world. Ideally, the goal of worldbuilding is for the reader to do that, allow them to picture and be able to map out and picture what exactly is being told by you, the author, in order for them to be able to better enjoy the story that you are writing. To see how this is done, we will take two examples of young adult fiction that I think do fantastic jobs at crafting an environment with precise detail and allow the reader to ground themselves in what is an unbelievable fantasy world. Moving on to the first example is a series that is extremely popular among many young readers: Percy Jackson and the Olympians.


The most interesting part of the Percy Jackson series is that it purports itself to be grounded within our world, in the modern-day, and is told by a protagonist who at the start of the series is as young as some of the people reading the books. Due to this, it has a lot of explaining to do with how things work, and why these teens don’t use stuff like phones, which without explanation is both unbelievable and requires a suspension of disbelief for the reader that goes beyond the whole ‘Greek Gods sit above New York’ schtick that the series is already based on. This is where one of the biggest steps for worldbuilding comes in: Establish Rules. What are some caveats of the world in which the characters live in? How do things work and what changes are there from the world we know? In Percy Jackson’s case, the reasoning for why these superpowered teenagers don’t use technology is because it alerts their enemies to their whereabouts, therefore the intricacies of wireless transmission through the power of a regular cellphone can be completely ignored for a more in-universe solution of prophecies and other such divination. An advantage of the Percy Jackson series taking place in our world is how it can ground itself in real places around the world. Perhaps the best example for this would be that Mount Olympus, the hub for the gods of Greek mythology, is an ethereal realm that sits above the empire state building. This helps many readers picture where many conflicts take place and allows them to better map out what things may look like in this fiction world because it looks very similar to their own. 


Characterization for both the groups of different people or species in the world that you may be writing about is possibly the most important part of worldbuilding. Establishing traditions or customs such as something a group of people may pray to or worship is a good way for the reader to better understand the beliefs or moral rules that your characters may hold. The best example of this in the literature that I have read would be the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Redwall is a series that involves many different animals in what can only be described as medieval times that includes many different staples of what people would think of when they imagine that period of time. There are bandits and tribes of warriors with castles upon mountains and in the center of it all, Redwall Abbey which acts as somewhat of a monastery for the animals that live within it. Think Zootopia but with highly descriptive, and oddly quick-witted animals that range from mice to stoats, to badgers, and to otters. Something that sticks out the most after having read any book of the series would be the dialect that many of the characters speak in which can range from perfect and formal English, to very choppy and cut off words that give a lot of flavor to the world itself. That kind of characterization is something readers don’t often forget and is something that lends heaps of help to worldbuilding effectively. Jacques is famous for the imagery in his books and has been known to take more than enough paragraphs to describe a simple dish that a character may be having since most of the names are all too foreign for the reader in the first place(it got to the point that he made a cookbook for many of meals featured in the series). However, special challenges arise when you have to make a world out of scratch, and while of course maps have been drawn of the world of Redwall, the easiest way for readers to remember the scale of an entire world would be simply using the cardinal directions. Making the main area for many story-beats the center of your imaginary world can help in adding more locations because you can simply say: “This new area is found to the West where the wind blows in from the sea.” Within that simple sentence, you’ve established for the reader that this new area is to the West, which is the obvious clue, and that it is near an ocean which helps to describe the environment. While there are many challenges that come with imagining all the new variables that can take place in a world you’ve theory-crafted, just remember that you can constantly build throughout the book in order to better flesh out things for the reader that might otherwise be flimsy. 


To summarize all that this has covered, make sure that your world is something that can be roughly pictured by using a compass and some key names that may be helpful in placing the locations of important events in the reader’s mind, and remember to give plenty of detail on the many characters and creatures in your story and what their daily lives may look like. Good worldbuilding provides the reader with the ability to immerse themselves in what you’re writing about, while great worldbuilding means your stories are ingrained into the minds of those who read your words. It all starts with imagery and builds into whatever your imagination can put into the written word.