The Challenge of Worldbuilding

One of the projects I have brewing on my backburner is a fantasy novel. I have a clear idea of what the story should be like and outlined the barebones of a plot in a notebook. I’ve also done a few character sketches. What stumps me is building the world that will serve as the backdrop to the story and its characters.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in worldbuilding because I’m not. The closest I’ve come to creating a world is when I helped a couple of friends develop a multi-user dungeon (MUD) roleplaying game.

But I know from a reader’s perspective that worldbuilding is a very important process in developing a sci-fi or fantasy story. Like I said earlier, the world where the story is set serves as the backdrop to the story and its characters. The world shapes the characters and influences the direction the story would take.

The world is also one of the hooks that keep a reader immersed in the story. This made-up world must tickle and stretch the reader’s imagination, allowing them to escape into this fairyland, alternate history, parallel timeline, or far-distant planet with relative ease.

At the same time, this world has to be believable. Some physical laws must still apply. For instance, if people could walk on water in this world, there has to be an explanation why they have this ability. If tribes sacrifice virgins to volcanoes in this world, then there has to be a reason why they do so. After all, there is a limit to how far and how long you can suspend a reader’s disbelief.

Well-structured worlds are essential to any fantasy story. Really, can you imagine Harry Potter without Hogwarts? Would Middle Earth be the same without the Shire and Mordor? Would Westeros be the conflict-ridden realm that it is if its lands were not divided among so many families looking out for their own?

Worldbuilding is going to be a tough challenge. Thankfully, I found Patricia C. Wrede‘s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions. Stephanie Cottrell Bryant’s Magical World Builder looks to be an interesting resource, too. I’m going to check them out. You should, too, if you’re thinking of building your own fantasy world.

Have you ever built your own fantasy world? Please share how you built it in the comments.


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Anna Sibal-Gonzaga is a freelance writer based in the Philippines. She likes reading books and watching movies and TV shows in the sci-fi, fantasy and historical genres. She is also a casual gamer and an all-around nerd.

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