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Five Tips for Making a Living World

Guest Blogger: Karina Fabian

MindOverAllOne of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten in my Mind Over trilogy was that my world Kanaan was one of the best worlds-as-character the reader had seen since Dune. The best part for me was knowing that the world had hardly become a character yet. The review was for the second book, Mind Over Psyche, but it’s in the third book, Mind Over All, that Kanaan actually becomes a character – interacting with the heroine, even having tantrums – yet the reader saw the influence. I enjoy worldbuilding, and it was gratifying to see it succeed.

Worldbuilding is both easy and complex in fantasy. Easy because we have no limits – if you can imagine it, you can create it. Yet, difficult because fiction, unlike reality, has to make some kind of sense. It can’t just be a random assemblage of ideas, or you toss the reader out of the story, and the purpose of the world is to support and drive the story. Here are some suggestions for a strong, believable world:

  1. Consult an expert. I spoke with my astronomy professor in college about the possibility of crashing planets, and he helped me sketch out some ideas. I never got deep into the math of it, but I learned enough to understand the interaction and influence. You don’t have to be in college or friends with a planetary scientist or biologist, but you can get the information you need by calling the local university, reading books, watching videos or even Googling. I’d suggest using at least two resources in your fact-finding and making sure they are credible and not just someone’s blog about something they once heard.
  2. Worldbuilding is more than scenery and weather. Consider the animals that inhabit it, even the bugs, the vegetation from weeds to feed, and the politics, culture and daily living of the people. Involve all your senses – is the air humid? Fresh? Smelling of decay or wildflowers or impending rain? Whatever you do, unless you are writing in 3rd person omniscient, see the world through your character’s eyes: be amazed at what amazed him, annoyed at what annoys him. Let your reader connect to the world as she connects to your character.
  3. Every aspect of your world has consequences. Find out what they are. Two moons means changes to the tide, to the amount of light in the night sky, even to how people feel about the dark. If you have magic, what are the consequences of people manipulating it? Would it affect the climate, environment, the people around the user? Are there theories that being around magic can affect your health, the way some people think cell phones cause cancer? Whatever the consequences, make sure they have a logic that works on your world.
  4. Let your world be a character in its own right. Kanaan has a kind of animal sentience, and in Mind Over All, we see that as it struggles to save itself, even though it means killing its inhabitants. Even if your world is not independently thinking, it can have a personality as far as your characters are concerned. We talk about Mother Nature, explain the weather via chaos theory, name hurricanes. Let your world be active and living.
  5. Have fun. What’s the point of writing fantasy if you can’t have fun with your world? Get past the usual elves and vampires and make up your own creatures, or give the old standbys a twist to make them unique. On Kannan, the “unicorns” have wings more like flying squirrels and they coast rather than fly.

Your world can be a setting as plain as a Kansas wheat field – from a distance – or it can be a complex character, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. It’s up to you and what supports your story. However, no matter how much depth you give it, be sure it helps carry your story and your characters. Make it a place people believe in.


Karina Fabian headshot Aug 2013Karina Fabian is an award-winning fantasy, science fiction, and horror author, whose books make people laugh, cry, and think. Check out her latest at http://fabianspace.com

Note: Karina will be presenting webinars on multiple aspects of writing, including worldbuilding and character development. Her August webinar, Worldbuilding Basics is on sale for $15. Learn more at http://karinafabian.com/lectures-and-workshops/scheduled-webinars/.


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