Posted in worldbuilding, writing

Worldbuilding Introduction

Originally posted Jun 10, 2019. Updated as of Feb 21, 2020. 

I realized when I was going back through my posts and organizing for my next worldbuilding post that one of the things I hadn’t done was include a list of covered topics. You can now find that below the original post.


Worldbuilding is a huge part of writing genres like fantasy and science fiction. It’s also a large part of games, both tabletop and video. Whether it’s a sprawling other-worldly planet like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, or something as simple as a hidden layer of magic in a real city, worldbuilding is the key to your fictional setting.

If you ask ‘what is worldbuilding’ the answer is pretty simple and straightforward. Worldbuilding is building any fictional setting regardless of size. That makes it a core component of fantasy and sci-fi. It pops up plenty in other genres too, usually in smaller doses.

Depending on how deep you go, worldbuilding can be expansive and large enough to cover entire tomes on its own. How much you need can be dependent on both how much you want to explore your world, and the requirements of your story. Aside from what the world looks like physically, there are also cultural aspects to consider and cover. Daily life is another aspect that can be affected–your characters won’t have to run an errand specifically to get gas if they’re traveling around by horse, but they will have a lot more daily chore requirements.

Because of the amount that can go into worldbuilding, I’m kicking off an ongoing series. Today I’m starting by looking at the different ways of building a world.

There are a lot of ways of building a world. Random Generation is one way and can be useful to provide a basic structure. Generators can be found for everything from city layouts to political maps. Although this takes out a lot of the work of coming up with names and the picky details, it is random so it can and will contradict itself in some places, which is something to be on the lookout for. If continuity isn’t a concern but time is, random generation is extremely useful.

Questionnaires are another method. The internet is full of question lists to help you figure out what your world is doing and give you an idea of things you may have overlooked. These can get extremely detailed and are really thought provoking in some cases (have you ever thought about what happens to the waste your fictional people produce?), but answering those questions can also be time consuming, both on writing the answers down and on researching examples to see how it works in the real-world. If you need fully-customized answers and have the time to make sure everything works nicely together, this is a fantastic method for building a detailed world.

Expansion is my favorite method, and sort of a middle-ground between generation and questionnaires. By starting with one level (be that a kingdom or a tiny shop somewhere) and building on the general idea, you end up ‘nesting’ locations. The tiny shop is located in this little town, which is located in this region, which is part of this kingdom and so on and so forth. Name each level as you go through it (Sam’s Shop of Contraband Sales for example), and work out the general idea of what it’s for and what it does before moving up or down the level as needed. This gives you a general overview of the world as a whole. It’s less time-consuming than questionnaires while maintaining continuity, but it’s not as detailed.

Of course, there’s also nothing to stop you from blending all three methods together. If you need an idea to start, a randomly generated town or city can give you a good base for expansion. If you have a general overview of the world but need more details, filling out a questionnaire or two is a good way to go.

Worldbuilding Topics

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Letters

As people grow and change, sometimes they wish they could be more like their younger self–be that because they miss the wonder they had in the world, or because they’ve lost their faith in people. Other times we wish we could get word from the future that things turn out all right. A popular way of expressing those wishes is in writing a letter to yourself–either past or future.

As an exercise: do just that. Write a letter to your character. Either to tell them about the things coming up in the future, or to remind them of the good stuff they came from. Perhaps you want to apologize to them for all the things they go through in the course of the story, or explain how you really feel about them.

Alternately, you can have your character complete the exercise. Think about things like if they’d want to write to their younger self, or to their future one. When writing to their younger self, consider the things they struggled to get through. When writing to the future version, what qualities do they admire in themselves currently?

Posted in General

Romance and Subplots

It’s Valentine’s Day, a celebration of all things love and romantic. Which is why I’m taking the opportunity to touch on a topic that we all know: Romance as a plot. More specifically, romance as a subplot.

Romance itself is a fantastic plot and it’s a popular one. That’s largely because it follows a fairly simple path. Couple meets. Couple’s relationship is threatened. Couple gets a happy ending. The exact how, and why and where varies from story to story. That however, makes it a beautiful subplot, especially for character development. Why? Because the biggest part of a romance plot is character development.

So what makes a successful romance?

Balance is a huge thing. Whether it’s your main plot or a subplot, romance is based on the characters and how they work together. That means they both have to bring something to the relationship–maybe he’s calm where she’s hot-headed. Maybe she’s cheerful where her girlfriend is gloomy. They both bring something that the other one needs to the table.

They also, however, need something in common. Maybe their family values are the same, maybe they both want the same things in life. Commonality makes it easier for your couple to start looking at each other with any sort of affection.

Obstacles can make or break the romance. There has to be some reason why your characters don’t just get together right from the first meeting. If there wasn’t something in the way, there wouldn’t be a story there. They’d just be together. The reason they’re not getting together can be varied. Anything from forbidden love, to emotional trauma to prior circumstances is fair game.

A notation here: your obstacle needs to make sense. If it’s simply a case of misunderstanding that could be resolved in two lines of dialogue, it’s not making sense, it’s a poor plot device. If however, your misunderstanding is caused by one or both deliberately being lied to and kept from one another by outside parties, that makes sense. It might be painfully obvious that they deserve and belong together, but until that obstacle is resolved, they’re barred from each other, thus it needs to be able to hold weight on its own.

Change is the final element here. I mentioned that the biggest part of a romance plot is the character development, and this is where that comes in. Your obstacle should keep them from getting together right away, but it should also force them to change, and more importantly, to change in a way that makes the obstacle null and void. That often means one or both characters is willing to make a sacrifice to be with the other: Romeo and Juliet is an extreme example, but it is one: both of them were willing to run away from their families to be together.

Together, the balance, the obstacles and the change make a romance plot engaging, and because the core element of it is the change they make, it makes a fantastic subplot because it plays into character arcs. Because that obstacle keeps them apart initially, you can also use that obstacle as a complication for your main plot goal–or, alternatively, make the main goal part of the obstacle keeping them apart.

That doesn’t, however, mean your heroine automatically fits with the antagonist’s daughter just because they both have the same goal of taking down the antagonist and the antagonist will do anything to keep his daughter away from the heroine. It could very easily mean that your heroine’s plucky sidekick who gets both the antagonist’s daughter and the heroine to work together is the one that belongs with the antagonist’s daughter because she’s come from a similar background with a super-villain for a parent.

As a subplot, it helps to remember that the external conflicts your couple faces together will force them together. That might mean some of the complications they face in resolving the main plot are only properly resolved when the two of them have spent some time together on the solution.