When writing fantasy, science fiction, or other speculative fiction, there are a number of important aspects to consider. Today we are going to look at some more: Realistic hang-outs, a name for your world, food, alternate realities, time/era, transportation, morality, and architecture–as well as some overall considerations for writing in these genres. This post is part of a series on world building for speculative fiction and you will find links to the other posts at the end of this one.
Realistic hang-outs: When world-building, create a few places where the readers really feel “at home,” where they can imagine hanging out there for real–places like restaurants, bars or taverns, schools, bus stations, malls, arcades, etc. Give the readers a sense of place and it will make their experience with your story vivid and alive.
You will need to think of a name for your world–one that is fitting. You can use real words or make up a name. If you’re stuck, think of the attributes of the world or culture.
Food can be a really important part of world-building. Food is an important part of culture and involves rituals, power, place, and more. It can tell your reader about a character’s taste and upbringing. Who pays for the food (or chooses the type of food) can develop power dynamics. Developing food and eating customs can also give your world a unique flavour!
The construction of an alternate reality is a kind of world-building found in dystopian, speculative and science fiction. By creating an alternate reality, you develop an alternative version of our own Earth. You imagine how things could be different and you think about what these differences would mean for humanity. Ask “what if?” questions–in fact, base your story’s premise on a “what if?” question, and build the individual elements of your world on it. For example, you might ask, “What if a particular, important historical event had never happened?” or “What if we had evolved in a different way?”
Time/era: Placing your world in the past allows you to employ hindsight. Stories set in the present have a sense of immediacy and can be more easily related to by the reader. These stories usually portray an alternate version of today’s world or a parallel or magical world that is hidden within our own. Stories set in the future can serve as a warning of what could come to be in the future if the world doesn’t change the path it is on.
Transportation: How do people get from one point to another? The strength of a country is evidenced by the type of transportation they have access to. Trade and commerce depend to a large extent on how fast the product can get to the customer.
Morality: Your universe has a moral code. So do your characters. Is that moral code in line with the rest of society or different? Does it change over time? Your theme should be related to the development of the morality in the story … and the story will often end with a “moral.”
Architecture: How does your world look? Is it a lush green jungle or a concrete jungle? Are the buildings skyscrapers or mud huts? What is the terrain like and how does the architecture reflect that? How does the world look? Smell? Feel?
Remember that all these things need to serve the story, not the other way round. Keep your theme and premise in mind at all times. If something looks like it is taking over, or taking you down a rabbit trail, pare back that aspect’s importance or even remove it and replace it with something that fits better.
Remember to show, don’t just tell. You don’t want your readers to feel like they are being spoon-fed a bunch of facts, details and history. Rather, build your world through characterization, description and plot development.
There must be some unique aspect to your world that presents a challenge to the hero(es) that the reader wouldn’t face in real life. You want to take the reader on an adventure that couldn’t exist in our normal, everyday world.
Make sure that every aspect of your world has a parallel (though it may appear very different) in real life. This keeps your story allegorical, and makes it feel very real. This way, you can explore issues that are related to real life.
Make every element of the story important to the characters—and every aspect of the world needs to affect the story’s plot somehow. This way, your readers won’t feel like they’re reading an encyclopedia.
Just like any other kind of story genre: you’re better off showing the details of the world through action and dialogue than talking about it through big chunks of description and telling.
Do not rely on stereotypes. No culture is monolithic, and skin colour or gender or general traditions don’t determine who people really are. Stereotypes are lazy … and frequently harmful.
A fully known world is a boring world. Mystery, along with conflict, attracts readers and keeps them hooked. So leave lots of questions and uncertainty. Leave your readers hanging, looking forward to having you reveal more.
Build worlds that you love, that interest you. Worlds that create themes that fascinate you. Play with appealing images and ideas. If you can’t get excited about your world, that world will fall flat.
Check out all the posts in this series on writing speculative fiction:
Mapping and World Creation (with a focus on Science Fiction and Fantasy)
The Hero’s Journey
Utopian or Dystopian Story Writing
World Building Through Mapping
More Aspects of World Building–Part 1 (conflict, political systems, technology, magic, values, small details, economic system, cultural groups)
More Aspects of World Building–Part 2 (realistic hangouts, world naming, food, alternate realities, time/era, transportation, morality, architecture, overall considerations)
Characterization in World Building
Links to Some Great Posts on World Building
Tips for Writing Super-Hero Stories