how to start worldbuilding

How To Start Worldbuilding – Tips From Bestselling Authors

Knowing how to start the worldbuilding process can be tricky. With so many elements to consider, from where to put mountains and the accents of your new race of dwarves, writers can easily get lost along meandering tangents.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at easy ways to keep your focus on building what you need for your fantasy world. We’ll consider worldbuilding questions and some books that you could turn to for further guidance and support.

And if you need any more help with your worldbuilding, why not join our community?

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How To Start Worldbuilding

If you want to know how to start worldbuilding, a good place to turn is the advice of professional authors.

Bestselling fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson has over the years shared fantastic worldbuilding tips and advice. He recommends splitting the process of creating your fantasy world into two settings—physical and cultural.

This simple method gives you vital structure, allowing you to focus your considerations on specific things.

For example, when considering physical settings, all we’re thinking about is the likes of climate, mountains, rivers, oceans and so on. Once you have that base sorted, you can turn to the cultural settings, which is basically everything influenced by man, such as laws, rights, eating habits, fashion sense and the like.

In short, Sanderson’s method is by far the easiest way to start worldbuilding.

To make that process even easier, I’ve created a template that you can download for free by clicking the link below.

Click Here To Learn More About Worldbuilding (With Template)

What Does A Fantasy World Need?

This is a question that writers often ask themselves when faced with the challenge of creating a fantasy world. The temptation is there to start developing things you might never use in the story. And while that might help you understand and immerse yourself in that world a little more, time is limited and there’s a story to write.

how to start worldbuilding

Your approach to worldbuilding all depends on the stage of the creating process you introduce it. For example, some authors like Adrian Tchaikovsky, begin with the world and then fit the story into it. When I interviewed Adrian, he revealed that he often has to edit and remove a lot, and most of it is detail about the world.

My personal preference is to think of the story and characters first and then fit the world around him. Or if not first, very early on in the process. For instance, sometimes I create an ill-defined world and then let the stories and characters shape it, so the worldbuilding process remains ongoing rather than something done at the outset.

I have a detailed guide on my unique approach to creating fantasy worlds, called Natural Worldbuilding, which you can read more about here.

Like Adrian says in our podcast episode, it doesn’t matter what other people do, only what works for you. Please do check out The Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed show for more tips on how to start worldbuilding.

Ask Worldbuilding Questions

A good method that many fantasy writers adopt is the process of asking worldbuilding questions.

Using prompts like this can give you structure and focus for what is one of the biggest and toughest challenges you’ll navigate.

Let’s take a look at some examples. What you can read below are just a smattering of questions provided by the Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA):

On magic systems

  • Is there anything magic cannot do?
  • Is there a limit to magical power?
  • How do people try to evade this limit?
  • Do magic wielders pay a price for their abilities, such as studying, celibacy, or an early death?
  • Are miracles and magic distinct?

I also have some worldbuilding questions of my own that you may find useful:

Politics

  • Who are the ruling class?
  • Who governs—an elected government, a monarch, a tyrant?
  • What unites people politically, e.g. a sense of justice, or corrupted beliefs built on racism?
  • Are people politically motivated enough to act, such as protesting or rioting?

Food

  • What is the staple food item in people’s diet? If they live by rivers or the coast, fish will no doubt play a part.
  • Is food easily grown? Or does it have to be imported?
  • Are there any local delicacies or favourite foods?
  • Are there any famous dishes?

Commerce

  • What currency do people use? Or are there several types of currency?
  • What are the coins like (or their equivalent) that people use?
  • How do people earn their money? Think jobs, careers, professions (honest and dishonest)
  • What do people like to spend their money on?
  • Do people use anything in place of currency, such as paying in kind or in favours?

I highly recommend checking out the list of worldbuilding questions by the SFWA. It’s far more comprehensive than what I can include here, and written by some of the finest creators of fantasy worlds around.

Head Here For More Worldbuilding Resources

Read World Building Books

Something that’s helped me out more than anything else is reading world building books.

Now there’s a real variety of books that you can devour to help you research and learn methods and approaches to creating fantasy worlds.

Here’s a quick list of some of the best books I’ve read that specifically focus on worldbuilding:

You can also check out books about history, philosophy, psychology and sociology. I also recommend reading novels or stories set in a similar type of world to your own. This can help provoke new ideas.

Click Here For The Best Books On Worldbuilding 

Get More Advice On How To Start Worldbuilding

Below, you can find more guides and resources to help you learn how to start worldbuilding:

And don’t forget, you can also join our writing community, The Writers’ Toolshed. You’ll receive an instant invite to our two writing groups (on Discord and Facebook), plus a copy of Thoughts On Writing, a handbook on creative writing that’s helped some authors land book deals.

To join us, just click below.

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