We’ve talked a lot about prepping your novel over the last couple of weeks. We’ve hit two of the most important factors: characters and plot. But world-building isn’t something you should forget! This is our last Preptober post and it’s something that I think is one of the most fun aspects of planning a novel! World-building is a huge part of particularly fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian stories, but if you write in another genre don’t worry! Some of these tips may be able to help you, too. Setting is going to be important no matter where or when your story takes place.
Of course, I couldn’t talk about world-building without mentioning one of my very favorite world-building resources: Writing Lara Ferarri. Lara is on Instagram constantly with world-building and other writing tips. She even does world-building and character lives on Wednesdays! She is a true cheerleader for blossoming writers. Her website is also filled to the brim with resources and downloads. If after the NaNo crazy wears down you’re interested in really immersing yourself in building better worlds (for YA fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian specifically, but not exclusively), Lara also offers a full Rock Your World course.
Now, onto my top world-building prepping tips.
What Does World-building Include?
The short answer: everything. Seriously.
Here are just a few things that your world-building might include:
- People and Culture
- Magic Systems
Now, that’s a short list that covers a lot of ground. All of these things can be broken down into even more categories. People and culture can also include things like history and race and society structure and holidays—the list goes on for ages.
Think about one of your favorite fantasy novels and all the unique things about the world and what makes it somewhere you’d like to visit. What does the setting look like? What food do the characters eat? What do they wear? What traditions do they have? There are all things that those writers thought about and that you can think about, too.
Where Should I Start?
Great question! Because it really can be daunting. Believe me, I know. When it comes to where to start, the best advice I can give you is where you are most excited to start. Now, that may sound like a cop-out to you, but I swear I’m not kidding. The part of your world (no matter what genre you’re writing in) that is going to be the most exciting to your readers is the one that’s most exciting to you.
Have you always wanted to write about magic? Or an underwater society? Or crazy political intrigue? All of those and more are a part of your world-building and they allow you to craft your story.
The next thing you have to ask yourself is what is important to your story. Not every aspect of world-building is going to be essential for your novel. Sure, they’re nice things to know, but spending hours thinking about your city’s sewer system is a waste of time if the sewers aren’t actually an important part of your story.
Your landscape is probably pretty important, especially if it’s unique in some way or if your characters are traveling during your story. Your magic system is incredibly important if your world has magic. The structure of your government might be important if you have some political scandal in your plot.
The most important things about your world are then going to also influence the things that you might not think about at first. If you have an underwater society, your characters probably eat a lot of fish and live in weird bubbles. They probably have special diving suits they use to go outside and worship a sea god.
Start bigger and get smaller with your world-building. And keep in mind that a lot of these details are going to be ones that you keep in your arsenal until you need them. You never know when you might need a description of the different occupations in your world, but it’s not something you just want to dump on your reader unnecessarily.
Making your World a Character in your Story
It might seem like a strange way of looking at it, but a very well-constructed world can sometimes seem like a character in your story. Settings can show personality, emotions, and change just like people can. Your world has its own history and its own story, and it can (and probably will) influence your characters and your plot.
There are ways to reflect that with descriptions, but first I want you to try something to make your setting have a little bit of a deeper meaning:
List out some of the themes in your story and write down ways that your world may or may not reflect that theme.
Here’s an example: Say your main character is struggling with abandonment. Maybe the wasteland they find themselves in really shows just how empty and alone they are. Or maybe they find themselves in a city, where they are no one and even though they’re surrounded by people, they’ve never felt more alone. Two very different settings can both symbolize the same thing depending on your world and how you write it.
So now you have a world that really means something to your story, but how do you start to make it come alive and really have a role in your story? One way of doing this is to engage the senses. Take a second to brainstorm your settings and write down whatever comes to mind when you think about what it might smell, sound, or taste like. You can do this with sight, too, but that one’s kind of a given. Maybe try seeing some of the smaller details, though. Not just the broad overview.
Using our wasteland example from above: Maybe it sounds like an unending wind. Maybe it smells and tastes like ash. Maybe it looks like nothing could ever live there, but if you look closer, you notice special plants that only grow there or small animals that crawl around in the dust looking for bugs. Maybe there are nomads who live out there and wear special clothes and have their own culture that includes a secret language. The possibilities are endless. (And now I kinda want to write about a wasteland 😂)
These are all the kinds of details that can pop up in your story and make your world feel alive. Try not to get too bogged down, though. I know it’s a lot. Some of your details might also come to you organically as you’re writing and that is 100% okay. Especially since there is no way you can think of everything!
This is just a brief overview on how to get started on your world-building because we want to make sure you don’t skip over it when you’re prepping for NaNo! Even though we’re here to have fun with these stories, your setting and other aspects of your world can make your story more exciting to write! Watching all the pieces come together is one of the best parts of being a writer. And knowing that you worked hard to craft a unique world is something you should be proud of.
Find us during NaNo and tell us about your worlds! We love hearing about our world-conquering writers.
Want to join the fun?
We hope you found this guide helpful! We want you to go into NaNoWriMo this year ready to kick your story’s butt. But that’s not the only reason we’re here.
Community is one thing that drives us forward every day in the writing world. Sure, we want to write books and get them published, but we will never be able to accomplish that without a few people keeping us sane. The Mighty Pens is a fantastic place to meet new writing friends, tackle NaNoWriMo, and support a good cause along the way. Join in on the fun here!
Come visit us on social media, too! We’ll be talking about some great things over the coming weeks on Twitter and Instagram. And if you’re interested in connecting with more people during Preptober check out hashtags like #preptober and #preptober2020 to see what other writers just like you are up to.