World Domina…*ahem* Building

Welcome to another edition of my blog. Today I have the privilege of handing over the reins to writer, Natalie Westgate. Enjoy.


Hello fellow citizens of Stevetopia!  I’m here infiltrating Steve’s blog this week to talk to you a little about world building.  Now, I don’t mean literally building a new world – we’re not going to colonise the moon.  Sorry!  Although from my architectural background I have often wondered about building models of some of the cities in my current work in progress, Pink Mist.

But for now lets put the LEGOs down and focus on how we’re going to get from a blank page, to a world that’s not only functional but draws the reader in and makes them want to keep reading.

World building is something that’s very close my heart right now.  I had created a world for Pink Mist but, as I was working on chapter 7, I had a different world idea come to me.  Now, this new idea meant rebuilding the entire world from scratch, which in turn meant re-writing everything I had so far. It sounds like a big job, but creating a new world from scratch is a lot of fun and it’s definitely something you want to get right.

So first things first, we need to decide if our novel is to be set in the past, present of future.  If you’re writing historical fiction then most of your world is already built for you, if you’re writing non-fiction then stop reading this now and get on with your research 😉

Let’s say we’re going to set our novel in present day.  So now we’re faced with the choice of shaping the world via our characters – keeping the world accurate to modern day, with changes only because our characters exist in it, such as in the Sookie Stackhouse series or Steve’s novel, Crimes Against Magic – or, shaping the world from scratch and then putting our characters in it – such as in The Hunger Games with the districts and way of life there.

Lets follow the latter route and create our world from scratch.  This presents a lot of things to think about, the first of which is to keep in mind that our world needs to be bigger than the immediate surroundings of the protagonist.  For example, in our new world the protagonist could live in a city, we can call it Stevetopia, that is surrounded by a giant bubble.  Our protagonist may never have ventured outside of this bubble, but we need to know what’s out there and if it caused the bubble to be built or not.  This will add depth and draw the reader in by eluding to, or even flat out explaining, why things are as they are.  If you do it right, the reader will feel that they are living in your world and not just reading about it.

Turning our attention back inside the bubble for now, we need to think about things like government.  Is there one?  If so, is it the only one or is there another part of the government outside of the bubble?  This brings on the question of communication – how do people communicate in our new world, is it by phone and computer, or writing on paper or even telepathy?

From communication we can look at transport.  How do people get around inside the bubble?  By car?  If the bubble is completely sealing them in, then how would exhaust fumes be ventilated?  Which brings us on to fresh air – how is it being produced or circulated in the bubble?  Are there vents?  If so, do these vents pose weak spots that could let something evil into the city?  Or are the people outside of the bubble more worried that something evil might come out?  This will also link back to government, if there are guards at the vents for one (or both) of these purposes.

Now we need to think about how our citizens are going to get food and water.  I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’ve read a few books where half way through I’ve suddenly realised the main characters have gone through weeks or fights and running, yet no one has seemed to ever stop and eat anything!  Unless your world involves beings that don’t sustain themselves by normal means, then you will need to mention the occasional meal.  This is a great way to draw a reader in, by enticing them with exotic foods, or talking about dishes they would recognise by a different name.

The subject of food also brings on the question of how do they get rid of waste?  In a bubble-free world this wouldn’t be too much of an issue to consider, but with the restrictions Stevetopia faces how would our city tackle this problem?  Even now in our world we’re seeing that landfills are getting full, so would they bury their rubbish?  Burn it?  Or do they recycle everything and never throw anything away?  This alone could spark a whole new dimension to the story and characters we meet along the way 🙂

Which brings us on to clothes – what do these living conditions mean for the clothes of the citizens?  Have they been stuck with the clothing style from when the bubble was formed (due to “recycling” their clothes through generations, or lack of designers to think of new styles)?  Or are they more fashion forward because people have had to be creative with what materials they have at their disposal?

Those are a lot of questions so far!  But all the while, you need to keep in mind that some of your world building will happen because of your characters’ interactions with it.  There needs to be obstacles for them to overcome but don’t make it impossibly difficult or you could back your novel into a corner.

Now, this isn’t to say that you have to go this deep for writing a short story.  Obviously you can if you want to but most things that you plan out won’t even come into play when writing short fiction.  In a recent short story of mine, The Guard, I knew it was set in a dystopian future and gave a few clues to that end but didn’t go too much in depth.  The reader is left to fill in some of the blanks themselves (which is always good).

Obviously when world building your genre of choice will come into play.  For a dystopian theme we could say Stevetopia is in the bubble because the world was getting too cold, so the bubble was built to protect the citizens of that city and other cities have done the same.  For a horror theme, Stevetopia might be in the bubble to protect them from a zombie apocalypse that is going on outside.  Both of these scenarios will change the way you build your world and which areas are more important than others.

The two biggest things I haven’t yet touched on are housing and weather.  Every world has weather and it can dramatically change a scene.  Fighting in the snow means you have cold and ice to contend with, versus fighting in burning hot sunshine would bring on dehydration, maybe sluggish movements or muscle cramping.  In a bubble how would Stevetopia be effected by weather?  Is it simulated or do they just never have any differing conditions?  Weather and housing are always linked: you don’t need sturdy brick houses in a world where weather is always a nice temperature and there are never any adverse conditions.  But you wouldn’t be building reed-houses if your world had a season of devastating hail storms.

This is in no way an extensive list as we haven’t even talked about wildlife or plants and trees, both of which have a dramatic effect on a world by either being there or not.  But hopefully it’s a good starting point to get your world building off to a running start.  The more questions you pose yourself, the more complete your world building can be.

Ultimately, the one piece of advice I hope stays with everyone is this: don’t treat your work as precious.  What I mean by that is, don’t hold onto a “good idea” if it isn’t working, and don’t be afraid to get a red pen and edit your world building notes just the same as you would a manuscript.

I went back and forth a lot over the the “new idea” I had for the world for Pink Mist, revising and rehashing for a long time.  It’s now somewhere so much more complex than my original thought but is all the better for it – it’s something believable instead of a shell that a reader could poke holes in.  Eventually though, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t right for this novel.  It was a “good idea”, but just not a good idea for Pink Mist.  So I’ve set my newly built world aside, for now, and it will be the foundation for a new, as yet unnamed series 🙂

So, I guess that’s it from me!  I want to thank you all for letting me ramble on about world building, and to thank Steve for letting me hijack his blog for today.  Feel free to come by and visit me at, to see the shenanigans of me and my still unnamed protagonist.  But, she is an assassin so perhaps anonymity isn’t such a bad thing 😉

Posted on August 30, 2012, in Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    World building can indeed be fascinating, and is something that those writing any kind of fantasy or SF need to pay a great deal of attention to.

    A couple of the aspects you haven’t yet touched on – and who can go into everything in a single blog post? – are religion and … I want to say culture as being inclusive, rather than enumerate things like music, dance, manners, art, and weapons.

    Weapons, for instance, will tell you interesting things about a culture/set of cultures. In Europe, with the types of warfare that became the norm from… well, maybe the bronze age? to the 1600s when Europeans seriously started coming to North America, the personal weapon of choice was the sword. You’d back it up with a dagger/knife of some sort, and for distance you’d (until gunpowder) use a bow or crossbow.
    In North America, on the other hand, the natives didn’t use swords. Spears or lances, knives, and bows were the weapons. South America had the bola instead of/in addition to the bow, and in many of the Polynesian islands, the personal weapons would be a knife and an obsidian/shark tooth studded club-slash-sword, because there wasn’t metal, but they had the sword mentality.

    Also, with “Stevetopia”, you might have the interesting effect of anybody who somehow got into the bubble would feel constant claustrophobia, while someone leaving it might have agoraphobia, in the “fear of open spaces” definition, not fear of crowds. This has been used in interesting ways in a variety of fiction before now; Goldfinger from Bond supposedly had it – used it as an excuse for his way of cheating at cards. In “Balance of Trade” by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, the main character, raised in a small space ship, has real trouble with it.

    Then there is the genetic question; how big is Stevetopia? How big is their gene pool? Are they running into inbreeding problems? What are they, and how are they influenced by what sealed them in their bubble?

    Just a few more things to help spur the imagination of the world builders. 🙂

  2. Oh wow, quite extensive to be honest and one thing I love about this is some of the other bits you’ve added that gets the writer in others to jump up with new idea’s to help bulk it up.

    For example Stevetopia could have a whole flora ecosystem to keep the air going where the killing or destruction of a plant carries either a prison term or a death sentence. It also opens up other area’s such as with limited space how do they recycle organic items like unused food etc. There’s also what do they do with the dead? Do they get mulched to help grow new foods? Are they all veggie as that would be the only real way to sustain a sizable population?

    Its a fascinating concept and perhaps might be a fun project to do where those interested could help build a world together for a writing project or challenge.

    Thanks for it Steve and Natalie, its fascinating.

  3. World building can be an endless endeavour, but a fun one. I’m always interested in the laws of the world. What’s allowed and what’s not. How do citizens get in trouble. This tells me so much about the world’s priorities. Thanks for the insightful post, Natalie and Steve.

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