5 World Building Aspects You Might be Forgetting

5 World Building Aspects You Might be Forgetting | Good world building makes a fictional world feel real and lived in. You don't need to tell the reader everything. You just need to make them feel like you've thought of everything. Read the full post at jackalediting.com

Good world building makes a fictional world feel real and lived in. If the world building can fall apart when a reader starts asking questions like “Why don’t they just band together to overthrow the dictator?” and “Why is this character living in poverty when they can do magic?”, the world does not feel real and lived in, it feels fragile and shallow.

Below are some of the aspects of world building that I’ve found to be lacking in some books I’ve read, and as a result, it feels like the world is—you guess it—not real or lived in.

This isn’t to say that you need to spell these aspects of the world out to readers. The point is that if you don’t give these things consideration, you may be opening your world up to lacking authenticity and believability, which can detract from a reader’s enjoyment of the story. You don’t need to tell the reader everything. You just need to make them feel like you’ve thought of everything.

1. Power Structures

Who holds power in your world and how do they keep it?

The second part of this question is the one that can often be overlooked in world building, but without it conflict can feel unintentionally fragile and unrealistic. When the world is run by an authoritarian government, for example, what’s stopping the people from rising up to overthrow it? When the world is run by evil corporations, what’s stopping people from refusing to invest their money? If those in power can theoretically be overthrown easily, then they don’t really have power. When your world treats them like they have power anyway, conflicts relating to this power structure can lack depth.

Power structures aren’t just about who makes the rules in a society. Think about social power as well. Are there power divides between classes, between sexes, between species? Why, and how is power held in these groups?

Power structures can also be used to direct your characters. Who do your characters fear and who has the power to help them?

2. Settlement Placement

Dotting settlements around randomly can make very little sense, detracting from the world feeling real and lived in.

In reality, we tend to settle where we have access to resources, either directly or through trade, and where conditions are livable. Isolated cities in inaccessible or adverse locations should exist for a reason and the sustainability of them should be addressed in some way. It’s difficult to suspend disbelief for a city that no one would choose to live in and has no access to a steady supply of food and water.

It’s also important to consider how the location–its climate, geography, topography, position, etc.–might influence the culture of the settlement. Do they hate strangers because they’re isolated? Do they worship fire because they live in extreme cold?

3. Economy

Similar to power structures, the world can seem fragile without a sense of how the economy works and how it’s enforced. While you don’t necessarily need to invent currency and put price tags on everything, you should create a sense of what necessities (shelter, food, water) are worth and how much income people get, especially if poverty and/or wealth help shape any of your characters or conflicts. It’s not the cost of things that’s important, it’s understanding why some people are rich and some people are poor that’s important, or conflicts about wealth classes can lack depth.

Something else to consider is the maintenance of infrastructure that typically isn’t privately owned, like roads, jails, hospitals, etc. Is the maintenance of these the responsibility of whatever government or authority is in place? If so, how do they manage the costs? Do they force labour, collect taxes, compensate people in other ways?

4. Resource Acquisition

I’ve talked about this a little already, but it’s important to consider what resources a settlement needs and how they acquire them. People won’t stay in a place long if it doesn’t have access to resources and they have the means to go somewhere that does. So make sure you’ve thought about whether they can get all the food, water, wood, ore, wool, leather, etc. that they need. This may mean you need to ensure they have a friendly neighbour they can trade with. This may also mean that you have some settlements dedicated to acquiring and trading a specific resource. If it seems unlikely to the reader that people would not long be able to survive in a particular place in the world but do anyway, this will make the world feel less real and lived in.

5. Scale and Distance

How big is your world? How long does it take to travel between locations? How long does it take for messages to travel between places? If a king dies in location A, how long will it take for people at location B to find out? If war is declared on location B, how long will they have to prepare before location A’s troops arrive? It’s important to consider this because (and I think we all know what I’m talking about here) when messages or people travel quicker than what seems reasonable and the plot is affected as a result, readers may not be willing to accept this because it detracts from the realism of the world.

 

What aspects of world building do you think are most important?

5 World Building Aspects You Might be Forgetting | Good world building makes a fictional world feel real and lived in. You don't need to tell the reader everything. You just need to make them feel like you've thought of everything. Read the full post at jackalediting.com

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