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Advice for writers

10 World Building Tips: Creating Your Book Setting

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Tips for World Building

As an author, crafting a vivid and immersive world is crucial to captivating readers and bringing your story to life. Whether you’re delving into fantasy realms, exploring distant planets, or reimagining historical settings, effective world building is the cornerstone of a compelling narrative. It’s only natural to seek out some world building tips!

So, just for you, here are 10 tangible tips to guide you through the world building process and ensure your book setting resonates with readers across genres!

1. Foundation and Focus

Begin by sketching the basics of your world. Define its geography, climate, and any significant landmarks. Consider the historical events that shaped your world, as well as its societal structure and governing systems.

Layer Your History

Don’t just create a single, monolithic history. Consider the perspectives of different cultures within your world. Maybe there are conflicting accounts of a major historical event, or ancient myths that shed light on the world’s origins.

Example: In your fantasy novel, there might be a legend about a war between gods that shattered the moon, causing the two moons you see in the sky today. Perhaps this myth shapes religious beliefs and cultural practices in your world.

2. Beyond the Map

Develop diverse cultures and societies within your world, each with its own customs, traditions, and values. Think about the daily lives of your characters—what do they eat, wear, and believe? Drawing inspiration from real-world cultures can help add depth and authenticity to your world.

Consider Trade and Conflict

How do the different cultures within your world interact? Is there a network of trade routes, or are there longstanding tensions that could erupt into conflict?

Example: In your science fiction story, humans might have colonized a moon rich in a valuable mineral. Different human factions and native alien species all vie for control of this resource, creating a tense political climate.

3. Let the Past Shape the Present

Flesh out the history of your world to provide context for your story. Consider significant historical events, legendary figures, and cultural milestones. This backstory will inform the motivations and actions of your characters and add layers of complexity to your narrative.

Explore the Impact of Historical Events

How have past events shaped the societies and cultures in your world? Perhaps a natural disaster led to a societal shift towards valuing sustainability, or a tyrannical ruler left a legacy of fear and oppression.

Example: In your post-apocalyptic novel, a massive solar flare knocked out most of Earth’s technology. Now, society is divided between those who revere technology as a lost god and those who have embraced a simpler way of life.

4. Show, Don’t Tell

Populate your world with memorable landmarks and settings that evoke a sense of wonder and intrigue. Whether it’s a towering castle perched atop a cliff, a bustling metropolis teeming with life, or a mysterious forest shrouded in fog, vivid descriptions can transport readers into your world and make it feel alive. Consider how the geography and architecture of your world reflect its history and culture.

Appeal to the Senses

Don’t just describe what your characters see. Use sensory details to bring your landmarks to life. What sounds fill the air? What smells linger in the atmosphere? How does the temperature or texture make your characters feel?

Example: Instead of saying a character enters a grand palace, describe the cool marble floor beneath their feet, the scent of incense burning in the air, and the echoing whispers that seem to emanate from the towering, stained-glass windows.

5. Magic or Tech?

If your world includes elements of magic or advanced technology, take the time to develop unique and internally consistent systems. Consider the rules and limitations of magic or technology in your world, as well as its impact on society and the lives of your characters.

Consider the Cost of Power

Is magic a freely available resource, or is there a price to pay for wielding it? Perhaps advanced technology requires a rare and dwindling resource, leading to social inequalities.

Example: In your world with elemental magic, fire magic might be incredibly powerful, but using it consumes the user’s life force. This limitation creates a moral dilemma for characters who must decide whether the potential benefits outweigh the cost.

6. Consider the Impact

The climate and environment of your world can have a significant impact on its inhabitants and their way of life. Think about how factors such as geography, weather patterns, and natural resources shape the societies and cultures within your world.

Let the Environment Challenge Your Characters

How do the characters in your world survive and thrive in their environment? Perhaps a harsh desert climate has forced a nomadic lifestyle, or a world with constant volcanic eruptions necessitates advanced shelters and breathing protection.

Example: In your fantasy world, a race of lizard-like humanoids has adapted to living in a vast, scorching desert. They have developed specialized clothing to retain water and built underground cities to escape the climate.

7. Include Intriguing Characters and Factions

Populate your world with a diverse cast of characters and factions, each with their own goals, motivations, and conflicts. Consider how these characters and factions interact with each other and with the world around them, and how their actions drive the plot forward. In a political thriller, for example, you might introduce rival factions vying for control of a fictional city, each with its own agenda and methods.

Consider Alliances and Rivalries

Don’t just create characters and factions in isolation. Think about how they might form alliances or find themselves locked in conflict. Perhaps two factions with differing ideologies are forced to work together against a common enemy.

Example: In your steampunk fantasy novel, a guild of technologically-advanced dwarves might form an uneasy alliance with a group of nomadic sky pirates to combat a tyrannical emperor who seeks to control the world’s limited aether resource.

8. Weave Themes and Symbolism into Your World

Infuse your world with deeper meaning by incorporating themes and symbolism that resonate with readers. Consider universal themes such as love, power, redemption, and sacrifice, and explore how they manifest in your world and the lives of your characters.

Let the Setting Reflect the Themes

Think about how the physical world you’ve created reflects the deeper themes of your story. A harsh, unforgiving landscape might symbolize the struggle for survival, while a world shrouded in perpetual twilight could represent a society grappling with loss and uncertainty.

Example: In your dystopian novel set in a polluted and overcrowded city, towering megastructures could symbolize the stifling control of a totalitarian government, while pockets of hidden greenery could represent hope and rebellion.

9. Immerse Your Readers

Instead of overwhelming readers with lengthy exposition, strive to reveal details about your world through immersive storytelling. Show how characters interact with their environment, incorporate sensory details to evoke atmosphere, and let the setting unfold naturally as the story progresses.

Use Dialogue to Reveal the World

Dialogue can be a powerful tool for world building. Let your characters talk about their customs, traditions, and history. Pay attention to the language they use and the slang they might employ.

Example: Instead of explaining a complex system of bartering in your fantasy world, have your characters engage in a marketplace negotiation. Through their dialogue, readers can glean information about the value of different goods and the social hierarchy within the market.

10. Refine Your World

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek feedback from beta readers, writing groups, or trusted colleagues as you develop your book setting. Fresh perspectives can help you identify blind spots, strengthen weak areas, and refine your world building techniques. Iterate on your world building based on feedback, continually striving to make your setting more immersive and compelling.

Consider Different Reader Perspectives

Don’t just seek feedback from people who share your tastes—get feedback from readers who enjoy different genres or who come from different backgrounds! This will help you ensure your world building is clear and engaging for a wider audience.

Example: If you’re writing a science fiction novel, share your world building with someone who enjoys fantasy. Their perspective might help you identify elements that seem too familiar or that could be made more unique and interesting.

At Atmosphere Press, we understand the importance of world building in creating a captivating story. Our team of experienced editors and publishing professionals is dedicated to helping authors bring their vision to life, providing personalized support at every stage of the publishing process. Whether you’re seeking guidance on refining your world building techniques or preparing to share your finished manuscript with the world, Atmosphere Press is here to help you succeed.

By following these world building tips, you’ll be well-equipped to create a rich and immersive book setting that captivates readers and leaves them eagerly anticipating your next literary journey.

Happy writing!

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Erin K. Larson-Burnett, Production Manager at Atmosphere Press (submit your manuscript here!), is a born-and-raised Southerner currently living in Katy, Texas, with her husband and their small domestic zoo. She is an avid ink drinker who lives and breathes books—during the day, she works remotely with authors around the world, honing and perfecting books published through Atmosphere Press. By night, she crafts her own stories…or at least tries to. The Bear & the Rose is her debut novel.

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