Lesson 3

Build the world of your novel

(Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld,’ illustration by Paul Kidby)

After defining your characters, it's time to start building your world. This step is one of the most fun stages of writing, as you get to delve into research and let your imagination run riot.

The first question to ask yourself is whether your novel is set in:

  • the real world
  • an older world
  • or a different world

Real world

For those writing in the real world, it’s going to be a quicker process as much of the groundwork is already done. You’ll be building the microcosms around each of your characters. Their abodes, their workplaces, their environments, and so on. You may find that there is still a good amount of research involved if you’re writing about real-world subjects, technology, or places you’ve never visited or don’t know too well.

Older world

For authors writing about an older world, your process will be heavily focused on research. Writing historical fiction, as the name suggests, is where you blend facts and historical license. What I recommend is building a framework of facts, and whatever you cannot find information on, or wish to change (if you’re writing alternative history), you can fictionalize.

Different world

And lastly, for those of you writing about an entirely different world, it’s up to you. This path requires the most imagination. There is still a little bit of research to be expected, for example, if you’re writing a medieval world and need to know how castles work, but not as much as with real or older worlds.

The next step is to write down all your ideas, notes and research – letting your imagination run free and rampant as you did with your character biographies. Once all the ideas are out, then you can start paring back. This kind of process is all about deepening your own understanding as well as enriching your novel.

Whatever you come up with, remember that a world needs to be believable, just like characters. At the very least, it needs to be believable in its own context. That can be achieved by adding detail and variety – which we will dive into in the next lesson.

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