Worldbuilding without the laziness

worldbuildingWorldbuilding is an important part of the craft of writing fantasy. According to Google, it is defined as follows:

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The term “worldbuilding” was first used in the Edinburgh Review in December 1820 and appeared in A.S.

Inspired by some questions from my niece about how to tackle worldbuilding in fantasy, I thought I’d share some of the things I’d learned over the years building my world, mainly from doing the wrong things.

Things you don’t want

Patchwork Cultures

 Cultures or people existing side-by-side yet with no apparent interactions. Wars, racial intermixing and cultural exchanges should all take place when people live cheek by jowl. The melting pot is not a modern phenomenon.

The original conception of my world when I was quite young was full of cultures with real-world counterparts I found interesting, all lumped together with no rhyme or reason: 1001 Arabian Nights next to 12th-century England, next to 14th century Japan, next to stone-age Africa. Each of these places should have been influenced by its neighbours, rather than being plucked wholesale from the real world (where they are all influenced by their historical neighbours).

Bizarro Terrain Climate

Warm deserts next to cold forests, rivers that go nowhere, cities in the middle of continents with no apparent water source. This is a pet-peeve with fantasy worlds, particularly evident on maps that were not well thought out.

I was certainly guilty of this in my youth, as the original maps for my world had rivers that both started and terminated at the ocean (rather than flowing naturally in the quickest route from high ground to the ocean) and Arabian-style desert next to a northern European temperature forest. I also had hot deserts at too high a latitude and mountain ranges in bizarre places.

Things you do want


 Consistent rules in your fictional world are a must. If you establish that magic works in a particular way, then you must be consistent with that. Exceptions must be significant enough to warrant the attention that the reader will place on them.

For instance, if you establish that magic in your world is able to create fire and ice, yet cannot heal a person nor bring them back to life, and you then introduce a magician who can do absolutely that, you damn well better have a good explanation for it, one that is not a cop out and of plot significance.


Important for ongoing series, or in multiple works set in the same world. Mention important persons, places and events as name drops at first, so that when they become significant in later works, they don’t seem to come out of nowhere.

For example knowing that your characters are going to visit the land of “Borf” in a later work, you add a reference to “Borf” in dialogue in a way that the casual reader might skip over. Then when a reader sees the place in the later work, they will be able to remember it from its first mention, creating a better sense of the world a real, living place rather than a stitched together concoction of plot-important places and characters.

Further Reading

The 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding