Worldbuilding is one of the most distinctive elements of fantasy and science fiction writing. It’s what separates the genre from all others.
It involves creating lands like Middle-Earth and Westeros, dragons and ogres and unicorns, and elves and dwarves and everything in between.
Worldbuilding is so important to the fantasy genre that it quite simply couldn’t exist without it. But, as we’ll see, it’s a difficult task. And that’s why below you can find a great world building template that you can download for free to help bring order to the chaos.
You can also find some of the best tips and advice available, find a questionnaire to help prompt your ideas, discover lots of sources of inspiration, and the answers to some burning questions.
There are also lots of links to other awesome resources on worldbuilding.
A template is just the start; there’s so much to learn and the journey is both fulfilling and interesting. Let’s dive in.
Choose A Chapter
- What Is Worldbuilding In Fantasy?
- Is World Building Necessary?
- How Do You Build A Fantasy World?
- Download A Free World Building Template
- What Are The Benefits Of Using A World Building Template?
- Is It Helpful To Start With A Fantasy Worldbuilding Template?
- How Do You Find Inspiration For Fantasy Worldbuilding?
- What About Using A Worldbuilding Website?
- Learn More About Writing Fantasy
We can define worldbuilding in fantasy as the process of constructing an imaginary world that’s different to the real world, though sometimes it can exist within a real-world setting.
An example of a unique, secondary fantasy world would be Middle Earth.
The world of Harry Potter would be an example of a setting that involves constructing a fantasy world within our own.
Though the creation of fantastical lands has been around for centuries if not thousands of years, the term “worldbuilding” was only first coined in the 1965 book “Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure by RA Lupoff.
Click To Learn How To Start Worldbuilding
Both science fiction and fantasy stories that are set in a place distinct from our world will require an element of world building.
In order to ground the reader in the story they need to be aware of the setting. And it’s your job as the writer to immerse them in that fictional world so much that they never want to leave.
It’s important to remember, however, that different types of stories require different levels of worldbuilding. For example, an epic fantasy novel is more likely to require more worldbuilding than a low fantasy novel set in our own world.
To help you better understand how much time you need to invest in your worldbuilding process, I recommend checking out my guide, link below. It provides an overview on what I coin the spectrum of worldbuilding, which is dictated by your genre and sub-genre and what’s necessary for your story.
The process of building a fantasy world is tough. There are many different elements to consider, from the climate, the geographical layout and the colour of the grass and sky, to how people talk and what they like to eat for breakfast.
When you start to get down into the nuts and bolts of a new fantasy world, you realise the extent of the challenge before you. It’s easy for writers to get lost or distracted. It’s also possible for writers to procrastinate so much that all they do is world build and never actually get around to writing the story.
There are solutions, however. In my detailed guide, the link to which you can find below, you can find lots of useful methods on how to build a fantasy world, including worldbuilding advice from Brandon Sanderson himself.
I also give guidance on how to reveal a world in a way that’s engrossing and exciting for readers.
Below, you can also download a free worldbuilding template which can help you get off to a great start.
Click Here To Learn How To Build A Fantasy World
How Much Worldbuilding Is Too Much?
One of the biggest difficulties for fantasy writers when it comes to worldbuilding is finding the balance between too little and too much.
You may have heard the phrase “info dumping” before. Chances are you’ve come across a book that’s a tad too info-dumpy too. This simply means that too much detail of a world has been crammed into the story. Usually, the detail is unnecessary or it’s revealed in a forced and dull way. For example, the history behind the traditions of ogre names, or the way in which farmland is cultivated—unless they’re relevant to your story of course.
The reason these incidents of info-dumpery happen is usually because a writer has created so much of the world, they feel the need to get it all in there. Like packing a pair of jeans into an already overflowing washing machine.
I honestly don’t blame writers for doing this. I’ve done it myself. When I interviewed Adrian Tchaikovsky for the Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed podcast, he said his early drafts are also full of info dumps. It’s a natural part of the process.
There are a few ways to avoid doing too much worldbuilding. A template is a great tool. It keeps you focused on the key elements of the fictional world.
You could also try employing my “natural” method of worldbuilding, which you can read via the link below. It’s simply a three-tiered filtration process that prevents unnecessary details from being included and helps ensure that what is included is delivered in the most natural and unjarring way possible.
Click Here To Learn More About Creating Fantasy Worlds
To help you with this sometimes chaotic process, I’ve created a world building template that you can download for free.
Allowing you to be more organised, this template breaks up your process into two key considerations: the physical world, and the cultural world.
It then offers prompts for the most fundamental aspects of your world, such as:
- Are there mountains?
- Are there any landmarks?
- What’s the current fashion trend?
- What’s the position on civil rights?
- What kind of jobs do people do?
Complete this and you’ll have everything you need to begin writing your novel.
Click Here To View And Download The Worldbuilding Template (you can download as a PDF or excel spreadsheet)
World Building Template – What Does It Cover?
My world building template is designed to provide structure to a process that can be quite crazy. With so much to think about, it’s important to narrow your focus on the things that genuinely matter.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours creating fantasy worlds and I know what’s important. I also know the steps that you have to follow to build a world from the ground up.
So that’s why this worldbuilding template first prompts you to create the physical landscape—the forests, rivers, mountains and seas, amongst others.
Once you have a solid understanding of how your world works, it’s easy to then place your cities, towns and villages and begin to think about the characters who could inhabit them.
The template will then prompt you to delve into the cultural side of your fantasy world, asking you to define the likes of the political landscape, religious beliefs, the food people eat and the clothes they like to wear, amongst many other things.
How Do I Use A World Building Template?
This world building template serves as a mini questionnaire. You’ll be asked to define a range of different physical and cultural settings, with each one helping you grow and develop your fantasy world.
Let’s take a look at what it offers:
As you can see, it gives you an aspect of your society’s culture, such as technology or folklore, and asks you to add details to it.
The best thing about this worldbuilding template is that it’s a document that remains very much alive as you write your story. It’s something you’ll keep going back to, adding new stuff or tweaking ideas you’ve already jotted down.
And there’s nothing better than having this document at your side when it comes to editing. With everything codified in one place, you don’t need to scramble through pages to find the name of a character or place; it’s all there, saving you precious time and causing fewer distractions.
Building Upon This World Building Template With More Questions
While my world building template provides a foundation, it’s very easy to keep developing and expanding it to meet your needs. The easiest way to do this is to answer more worldbuilding questions. They serve as prompts for you to consider different aspects of your world, like the food or the climate.
You don’t need to answer every single question you may see in a list, just the ones that you feel are relevant to your story, or where ideas jump out at you.
To that end, I’ve included some questions below you can ask yourself when putting together your world building template.
You can also head here to find a big list of worldbuilding questions and prompts, including ones for characters and societies
- What is the climate like in your world within your fictional universe? Is it hot, cold, or temperate? Does it vary by region?
- How many seasons does your world have?
- Do your magic systems affect the weather?
- Are there any natural phenomena that affect the weather, such as seasonal winds or monsoons?
- Are there any magical or supernatural forces that affect the weather, such as the actions of powerful wizards or gods? For example, you may have a soft magic system set in a dystopian world.
- Are there any unique weather patterns or phenomena in your world, such as storms of fire or lightning?
- How do the inhabitants of your world cope with extreme weather conditions, such as droughts or blizzards?
- How does the weather affect the economy and daily life of your world’s inhabitants, such as farming or transportation?
- Are there any cultural or religious beliefs related to the weather, such as rain dances or offerings to weather gods?
- How does the weather impact the conflict or politics of your world, such as in times of war or natural disasters?
- How has the weather changed over time in your world, and what factors have contributed to those changes?
- How do your characters perceive and react to the weather, and how does it shape their personality and experiences?
- What kinds of animals exist in your world? Are there any that are unique to your world?
- How are the animals similar or different to animals found in the real world?
- Are there any magical or supernatural or mythical creatures in your entirely new world, such as unicorns or dragons? You could draw inspiration from some stories found in our own folklore.
- How do the animals fit into the ecosystem of your world? What role do they play in the food chain?
- Are there any predators that pose a threat to the inhabitants of your world, and how do they defend themselves?
- How do the animals impact the culture or society of your world? Are they revered or feared by the inhabitants?
- Are there any creatures that are domesticated or used for transportation or labor, and how are they trained or controlled?
- Are there any animals that have special abilities or powers, such as the ability to communicate with humans or to change shape?
- How have the animals of your world evolved or adapted to their environment over time?
- How do your characters interact with the animals of your world, and how do these interactions shape the character’s personalities and experiences?
- What form of government exists in your world, such as a monarchy, democracy, or dictatorship?
- How is the government structured, and who holds power? Are there any checks and balances in place?
- How is the government perceived by the inhabitants of your world, and is it seen as legitimate or corrupt?
- Are there any unique political ideologies?
- Are there any political factions or interest groups in your world, and how do they influence the government? Do all politicans have a formal education or are they working class too?
- How do different regions, belief systems or ethnic groups in your world interact politically, and are there any conflicts or tensions?
- Are there any laws or regulations that are unique to your world, and how are they enforced? In a hard magic system, regulation could be a key feature.
- How does the government collect taxes, and what is the money used for? Are they used for public construction schemes like in real world locations?
- How does the government interact with other nations or kingdoms, and are there any alliances or wars?
- Are there any political or social movements in your world, and how are they received by the government and the public? Think about magic users and how their magical powers could sway things.
- How does the politics of your world impact the daily lives of its inhabitants, and how do they react to it? Is there a rich history of politics in their lives?
Clothing And Fashion
- What materials are commonly used for clothing in your world, such as leather, fur, or silk?
- How do the climate and geography of your world influence the style of clothing worn by its inhabitants?
- Are there any cultural or religious beliefs that affect the clothing worn by the inhabitants of your world?
- Are there any social classes or ranks that are reflected in the clothing worn by the inhabitants of your world, such as nobility or peasants?
- Are there any professions or occupations that have a distinct style of clothing, such as warriors or scholars?
- Are there any fashion trends or styles that are popular in your world, and how do they change over time?
- How is clothing made and distributed in your world, and who is responsible for its creation?
- Are there any taboos or restrictions on clothing, such as certain colors or styles being forbidden?
- How do the characters in your story use clothing to express their personality or status, and how do others react to their clothing choices?
- How does the clothing of your world impact the economy or trade, and are certain materials or styles more valuable or sought after than others?
Remember, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but they’ll provide you with a solid foundation for your world building template. And it can help if you’re writing both fantasy and science fiction.
Creating a fantasy world is tough, which I’m sure you’ve learned even after just a couple of hours of trying. While it’s immensely fun and rewarding, it’s easy to become lost in the labyrinthine task.
As well as the sheer amount of building required, another hiccup is knowing what’s worth focusing on and what exactly you need for your story.
This is where a world building template, such as the free one above, comes into play. Offering a range of simple prompts, it brings order to a chaotic process.
It focuses your mind on the foundations of what you need while giving you scope to expand. It is just a template after all and you can adjust and tweak it to fit your own needs.
And you don’t need to just limit this world building template to the fantasy genre. You can use it for science fiction worlds or even stories set in our own world.
Click Here For More Worldbuilding Resources
As a creator of fictional worlds, you may already be aware of the challenges you face, some of which we’ve discussed in this guide. A question I often get asked is whether or not it’s helpful to begin with a fantasy world building template before you even start jotting ideas down. The answer is yes and no.
First, let’s look at the positive side. If you decide to use a template or checklist then chances are you’re going to contain all of that key information in one document. In not having a point of organisation you risk noting something down and losing it or failing to remember it accurately (it happens all the time).
The flip side is that you may find yourself fettered creatively. In working from a series of prompts, there’s a chance you’ll fall into the trap of following that world building template rigidly. You may not stray far from the questions posed and that could impact your ability to come up with something new and original.
With that said, if you’re aware of this risk before you begin creating and keep it in your conscious mind, you can use these worldbuilding prompts as a foundation that you can then play around with and change.
Can I Use This As A Science Fiction World Building Template?
The answer to this is yes! Both genres are similar and require a certain amount of world building but the process is very much the same. There may, however, be more scientific considerations when using a science fiction world building template. For example, you may need to explain in greater detail technological advancements or how evolution has progressed.
Fantasy does have a scientific consideration too, but tends to lean more heavily to the magical side of things so it isn’t always necessary to explain everything in detail and define the entire world.
So in short, you can download the template above and use it for your sci fi worlds too without any issue or changes required.
DnD World Building Template
It’s fair to say that some D&D campaigns can get a little expansive. It can be too much for a Dungeon Master to keep in their heads, and sometimes if campaigns go on for a long time little details can be forgotten. And you know how it goes—there’s always one stickler for detail in the group.
Using a world building template can be a massive help when it comes to keeping track of things. If you use a live document format too, like Google Sheets or Docs, you can update in real-time with your fellow campaigners, meaning you can share the creative experience together. And you can also make sure you have a massive compendium of glorious world building data to hand whenever you need it.
Can This Be Used As A General Novel World Building Template?
The short answer is yes. Every story needs a setting and that means you need to do some level of world building. On one end of the spectrum is the fantasy genre, which is closely associated with the creation of fictional worlds.
Historical fiction will also fit around this end of the spectrum—even though the world is our own, if we’re delving thousands of years into the past it’s up to the author to create that ancient world again, they just have a few more reference points.
So, whether you’re writing a horror or a thriller, developing the setting in a novel is about creating an immersive experience for readers. A well-developed fictional world can transport readers to another place and time, allowing them to escape reality and become fully engrossed in the story. By using a world building template, authors can ensure that their fictional worlds are consistent, engaging, and unforgettable.
How Can I Make My Own World Building Template?
Creating your own world building template is a great way to organize your ideas and keep track of the details of your world. Here are a few steps you can take to make your own template:
- Decide on the format for your template. You can create a template in a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or use a spreadsheet program like Excel. You could also use a specialized worldbuilding software or apps like World Anvil, World-Maker, or Realm Works.
- Determine the categories of information that you want to include in your template. Some common categories include geography, history, cultures, races, languages, religions, politics, economy, magic, technology and more.
- Create a table or spreadsheet with the categories as columns and rows for each individual entry.
- Add subcategories within the main categories, if necessary. For example, under the “geography” category, you might include subcategories for climate, terrain, and natural resources.
- Create a key or legend for your template, to explain any abbreviations or symbols you use.
- Once you have completed your template, you can start adding information to it. As you come up with new ideas or details for your fictional world, be sure to add them to your template so that you can keep track of everything in one place.
- Customize the template to your needs. You could add images, videos, audio, or links to external resources to make it more interactive and engaging.
- Review and update your template regularly to keep it current and accurate.
Remember that a world building template is just a tool to help you organize your ideas. You don’t need to stick to it strictly so feel free to change and adapt it as you go along with your world building and writing process.
What Software Should I Use For My Worldbuilding Template?
I mentioned in the previous section to think about the format for your template. To expand upon that, it’s necessary to think about the efficiencies of actually using it.
For example, if you use a spreadsheet you may find that all of the information is presented in a neat, easy-to-use table. On the other hand, if you compile all of your data into a Google Doc for example, you may find it more time-consuming to navigate.
In terms of software for worldbuilding, I always recommend Google Docs and Sheets. The main reason for this is the files are saved in the cloud. If your computer suddenly stops working mid-sentence, fear not. You can simply log back in and your work will be there.
Using Google Docs is also great for collaborative writing. You can share a link with other people and add details in which update in real-time.
Finding inspiration for the fantasy world building process can be tough. With so many elements to create, there’s a lot of research to carry out. We may not have an awful lot of time on our hands to do that research, and that’s why I created a bunch of guides that provide all the key information that you need. You can find these guides at the end of this section.
Something else you can do to get inspiration for your world building process is to read a wide range of fantasy books. You can see how authors like Adrian Tchaikovsky utilise insects to inspire his world in the Shadows of the Apt series, or how I used a dependency on magic to shape how people appear in my novel, Pariah’s Lament.
I also recommend getting out and exploring the world around you. Nature can be awe-inspiring and may give you great ideas for your settings. You could stumble upon castles or explore the sites of famous battles. Going to your local museums can provoke ideas for stories and fantasy worlds.
Worldbuilding Ideas And Guides
Below you can find links to some guides that may give you more worldbuilding ideas:
- Head here to learn about the writing community, r/worldbuilding
- A guide to medieval weapons – if you want to learn more about weaponry, this guide will help
- Medieval armor and the fantasy genre – find inspiration for your fantasy armor in this useful guide
- The lives of medieval lords – aristocratic characters like kings and knights often feature in fantasy stories. Find inspiration here.
- How were women treated in the Middle Ages? – this guide provides an interesting insight into how women have been treated throughout history, which can help inspire your story.
- The lives of peasants in the medieval period – similarly, peasants had a tough time and this guide explores that to help inspire your fantasy stories.
- A guide to medieval castles – these formidable structures dominate the fantasy genre as much as they do landscapes. Learn all about them here
- A complete guide to medieval cannons – cannons were a fierce weapon that could take out the walls of a castle. This guide explores them in-depth
- Learn more about world building in writing here – if you want to learn more about creating worlds, take a look at this in-depth guide
- Siege warfare – sieges play a big part in fantasy books, like Helms Deep. This guide explores them all here
- Roman battle tactics – the Romans were one of the most well-drilled armies of all time. Learn about it here to help inspire your tales
There are several websites that can help you with worldbuilding. Some popular options include:
- World Anvil – This is a website that provides a set of tools to help you create and organize your world, including templates, a world map maker, and a calendar creator. It also has a community aspect where you can share your world and get feedback from other worldbuilders.
- World-Maker – This world building website provides a variety of tools including a map maker, a name generator, and a world history generator. It also has a community feature that allows you to share your world with other users.
- Realm Works – This is a digital tool designed for roleplaying games. It allows you to create a world, document NPCs, plotlines, locations, and more. It also allows you to share your world with players and your Gamemaster, with a feature to keep track of players’ choices.
- Worldbuilding Magazine – This website provides articles, tutorials, and resources on worldbuilding for writers, game designers, and other creators.
- The Worldbuilding School – This site provides a wide range of resources, including tutorials, articles, and a forum to help you with all aspects of worldbuilding.
- Reddit’s r/worldbuilding – This subreddit is a community of worldbuilders that share their work, ask questions, and give feedback to others.
These are just a few examples of the many websites that can help you with worldbuilding. Keep in mind that some of these websites may require a subscription or membership to access certain features.
Here are some more guides on the process of writing fantasy that you may find useful:
- How to write fight scenes and battles
- Creating names for fantasy characters
- Some fundamental tips on writing fantasy
- A list of the best world building classes
- The best books on worldbuilding
- Head here to learn about worldbuilding culture
- Tips on how to make a fantasy knight
- What is a boring book and how to avoid writing one?
- Worldbuilding and religion
- How much worldbuilding should you do before you start writing?
- Download a free worldbuilding checklist here
- Head here to learn how to write fantasy short stories
- Magic in fantasy
- Learn more about fantasy novel writing classes online
To learn more about worldbuilding, why not check out this master’s degree? And if you have any feedback about this world building template, please get in touch!
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