A Brief Primer to World Building

By Fae Rowen

Bear with me as I share a short set-up I wrote earlier this week:

I looked out my window this morning, as I always do while drinking my usual protein shake.
In the heavier than usual wind, the prayer flags flapped loudly. 
Through the narrow gaps of brightly-colored material I see a profusion of blooming tropical flowers. 
Behind them, a mermaid sits on her rock. Surrounded by water. Unconcerned by the wind. Blowing through her conch shell. 

Beyond her, an angel stands, arms wide, watching the tiny decedents of millenia-dead dinosaurs perform their morning sun salutations, ignoring the war machines whirring overhead.

Here are the other pictures, from outside my kitchen window, that I took before writing that introduction. The important thing to remember is that I shared the setting from my own POV which, being a science fiction writer, can be rather skewed at times. Just ask my friends.

Yes, I write speculative fiction, also known as science fiction. My friends who write in other genres used to tell me, "I could never write science fiction. You have to do all that world building." Guess what? All writers have to world build for their stories. Even writers of contemporary fiction.

Think about it for a moment. If you're writing contemporary YA romance, you probably set some scenes in school and in at least one of your character's homes. You have to world build to convey the sense of those settings and what's important to your characters in the settings. 

It's important to do your world building through your characters' POVs, otherwise it could seem like a giant info dump. And beware of "author intrusion." That's when you share too much information because, as an author, you have an agenda about what you want the reader to know. Unfortunately, your characters don't share your agenda, and your readers will see through your attempt to force feed them every time. If you know about deep POV, this is the perfect place to use the technique.

Here are the basics of what authors need to give develop when they're world building:

  1. Physical settings
  2. Social rules
  3. Politics
  4. Religion/Belief system
No author shares everything they know about the world—whether it's historical, contemporary, or future—anymore than a writer would share every bit of research they've done for a book. Choose the details that are necessary to tease out the most important of your character's traits. Or the setting. Or the social fabric. Or anything else that's a critical part of the set-up of your story. 

And don't forget that you don't just world build in the first three chapters. Further into your story, you'll be able to add new details that make sense and are necessary to either the plot, character, or romance arcs. Well done, these "reveals" (sometimes known as "Easter eggs") can surprise and satisfy the reader in ways that make them your reader for life.

Since it's the beginning of the month, I don't want to overwhelm you with an info dump and steal everyone else's thunder. Here are a couple of links to other articles I've written about world building when you're ready to delve into the subject more:

World Building Techniques, with excerpts from my winter release, Keeping Athena, this post contains two links to specific articles about World Building techniques.

Do you have questions for Fae about a world building issue you're dealing with in your WIP? Want to share one of your world building tips? That's what the comments are for.


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love.
When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen


  1. That's interesting that you include so many social structures in your 4 worldbuilding aspects. I think speculative / sci-fi writers think more about it because they have to construct it, but it also plays a big role in contemporary fiction as well.


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