Saturday 19 January 2019

Building A Believable World

Writers spend a great deal of time developing their characters to make them feel real to the reader. Interviewing and mapping out their life choices to define them. With all that effort the environment these characters live in in is an afterthought.

But we all live in that world, right? We all know a car from a bus. We all know what we mean when we say “I’m going out for a coffee.”  But we’ll turn the channel or put the book aside because what we know to be real isn’t how the writer has shown it.

Placing your reader is vital. The story won’t work if you confuse them. It’s more imperative when you’re dealing with the fantastical, the dystopian and technological. You’re dealing with things your reader hasn’t encountered. So how do you get them to visualise what’s in your head?

Writing a long-winded description isn't the key. Tolkien may well be regarded as the start of Western Fantasy but readers don’t have the patience for paragraphs of exposition and information anymore, they want action, plot, intrigue. Don’t put them to sleep at the cost of your story.

Decide what is important about a story’s world.

Readers are amazingly clever people, they’re really good at filling in blanks. If the planet has two moons but much of the rest looks like Malta you have a starting point.  

Ask questions.

Like you’d interrogate your character, interrogate your towns and cities. Why is there a world on the back of this turtle? (Warning. Some questions lead you in circles.) What happens if there’s no fuel, what are the implications?


I’ve never been off planet but that didn’t stop me writing about another world in When The Skies Open. I’ve not been inside a mountain, but when I wrote The Blacksmith’s Arms I found articles and books that would give me the information I needed to imagine how it might be.


Just as too much worldbuilding can kill your pace not enough will cause confusion. Because readers paste over the gaps of description and add their own they will be lost if your worldbuilding has flaws.

Ed McDonald, author of Fantasy Series The Raven’s Mark, summed up the delicate balance of worldbuilding in a recent Tweet.

All the effort helps you too. The more time you spend exploring your world the more real it will become and the easier it is to imagine.

Writing Day School: East Riding Theatre 01482 874050 

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For writers wanting to go deeper into worldbuilding join Shellie Horst at East Riding Theatre in Beverley on 2nd Feb 2019. Tickets and more information on her Sci-fi and Fantasy Worldbuilding Day School is available here.

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