Worldbuilding: How to Create a Believable World for Your Fiction Characters

When you hear the term “worldbuilding,” what comes to mind?

For some, it might be George Lucas’ classic Star Wars universe; for others, perhaps it’s the sprawling, gritty world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the not-so-distant future of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, or the richly detailed Middle-earth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

An author creating his story’s world has the power to develop it in every way. What will the world look like? How different is it from our own? What new and interesting creatures will inhabit it? What will the people be like? What about the cities and landscape?

Considering these elements is crucial to creating an interesting, engaging and believable world — in any genre, not just fantasy or science fiction.

Before you write your next story, make sure to give your characters’ world the attention it deserves. Consider worldbuilding one of your first priorities.

Why do I need to build a world?

Simply put, your characters need a place to live, work and play! Every one of your favorite books, movies and TV shows involves building a world, even if it looks a lot like our own.

Would the story of the two young lovers from very different backgrounds have been as gripping if it hadn’t been set aboard the Titanic? Part of what makes a story work so well is the world where it takes place. We all knew the inevitable conclusion to Rose and Jack’s story, and this helped us connect with the tale and its characters.

In many ways, the world you build for your tale will be a character in itself: it will have its own look, feel, sound and smell.

It’s the favorite coffee house where your protagonist gets his coffee and morning gossip. It’s the mall where your hero buys her clothes. It’s the planet where the rare mineral is harvested. It’s the place you create to let your characters do what they’re in the story to do.

How does worldbuilding improve my story?

Just like every facet of each character might not make it into your story, the same is true for their world — but it’s still important for you to know and understand these details. The more intricately and intimately you know your story’s world, the richer your writing will be.

The coffee shop where your protagonist stops each morning becomes more interesting when the reader picks up on details of the décor or the fact that the barista is a former mafia hitman. Just because you don’t tell your reader that the dark-roast coffee beans are kept on the second shelf down, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know it.

Taking this level of care with your worldbuilding will carry into your writing and make your story more believable.

Bench in a purple park, text about creating a believable world

The secret to worldbuilding: consider all aspects

Go beyond just outlining the setting your characters live and work in. Think about the laws that govern the world, the way the government works, the world’s history, geography, technology and mythology. Create your world, and then push yourself to go deeper.

The Harry Potter books are a great example: J.K. Rowling created an entire magical world, set within our own, each with its own government and laws. She pulled elements from classic mythology, such as a phoenix and centaurs, and invented myths of her own, like the story of the Elder Wand. Her characters’ history matches up with our own in some ways, such as a magical war raging alongside World War II, but differs in others, with an entire book devoted to the history of Quidditch.

Crucially, muggle technology, like electricity, does not work properly in magical environments. Rowling’s decision affects her characters in many ways, the least of which is that all their school research requires dusty library books instead of Google.

Tips for creative worldbuilding

Struggling to create a world for your characters? Try some of these strategies for worldbuilding:

1. Read about other authors’ worlds.

The tiniest element of another writer’s creating could inspire your world. Take note of how the writer shows, rather than tells, elements of her world.

2. Watch and analyze movies.

Worldbuilding isn’t just for books. Try Tombstone, Blade Runner, Waterworld or How to Train Your Dragon.

What did the movie-makers do to make the world come alive? Pay attention to the details that add life and depth to the story.

3. Mix and match different worlds.

Take two ideas from different places, put them together and add your own twist to create a whole new world. This is especially helpful if you don’t know how to get started.

4. Draw a map of your story’s world.

It doesn’t have to be fancy; a quick sketch will do. Then add more detail to flesh it out and help you visualize what you’re creating.

5. Think about the history of the world.

What kinds of people live there? Are they like you and me? What makes them different?

6. Consider what kinds of flora and fauna live in your world.

Tame animals? Wild, unexplored forests or other landscapes?

7. Outline your world’s background.

What kind of technology does your world have? What is the government like — or is there one? What is the culture like? Do its inhabitants have fads and styles?

Remember that worldbuilding isn’t the whole story

It’s easy to lose yourself in creating a world and want to tell the readers everything about it.

Unfortunately, as fascinating as you find your world, the reader will quickly get to the point where they don’t care: they want the story.

Your world is not the central character of your story. While it may take centerstage at times, ask yourself whether each highlight helps move the story along.

Does it develop the characters in some way? Or is it something you want to add because you worked so hard to develop it? If it’s the latter — leave it out.

Learn more about worldbuilding with these resources

For more advice and examples of great worldbuilding, check out these books and blog posts:

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This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Vitalii Bashkatov/ Shutterstock 

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How to Make a Book Cover: If You’re Self-Publishing, Here Are Your Options

After spending weeks, months or maybe even years perfecting the words in your book, you’re probably ready to toss it online and cross your fingers you’ll receive rave reviews.

But before you jump on the self-publishing bandwagon, take some time to make sure your book cover is amazing.

When people browse books, whether physical or electronic, the cover is often the first piece of information they see. If your cover looks amateur or out of line with your book’s genre, readers will likely move onto the next option without a second thought.

How does a wordsmith cultivate the images and graphic design skills needed to turn a blank cover into a captivating collage — especially while trying to keep your self-publishing costs as low as possible? When it comes to how to make a book cover, what’s the best approach?

Whether you’re ready to call in an expert or DIY your cover, here are some inexpensive options for creating a book cover.

Hire a professional designer

Not thrilled about the idea of creating your own cover? These options may cost more, but can help ensure a polished final product… which could mean more book sales.

1. Ask for referrals

Referrals from other self-published writers, writing groups (online or in-person) and writer friends are a great way to find good designers at reasonable prices. If you’re not sure where to start, Facebook groups for writers can be a great resource.

If you already work with designers in a professional capacity, consider asking if they’re interested in working on your book cover; those trusted sources can also provide you with referrals for other designers.

2. BookDesignTemplates.com

Book designer Joel Friedman offers professional-looking, customizable templates for as low as $199. Friedman is well-known and respected in the self-publishing world because he offers so much helpful advice on his site, TheBookDesigner.com, and he’s been doing it for years.

He explains why self-published books often look self-published, and suggests five great fonts for book covers. We’ve added him to the “hire a professional” section because he offers made-for-you book cover templates, but this site is also a fabulous resource if you decide to make your book cover yourself.

2. 99designs

This site can design not only your book cover, but also your author logo, character merchandise and anything else you can dream up.

Start by creating a design contest for your project. Write a “design brief” explaining what you’re looking for, and 99 Designs will present your specifications and budget to its marketplace.

Designers then respond to your brief with their ideas. After a time period where you get to review designs, you select a winner, request any edits, and that designer earns the money you’ve budgeted for the project. You retain full copyright ownership of the final design you select.

Book covers on 99designs start at $299, and ebook covers start at $199.

One potential bonus for using a site like 99designs: If you discover a designer whose work you love, you can continue working with that designer on future products.

3. Fiverr

Fiverr offers the chance to get a professional book cover for just $5. The site lets you review designers’ portfolios and see ratings left by other clients before committing to a designer.

Some people swear by Fiverr, while others have ended up frustrated. In one case, ebook writing team Frankie Johnnie had to work through 20 design iterations (at $5 a pop) before settling on a design that resonated.

However, the duo still recommends using Fiverr as a basic cover designer and a way to test out cover design options. “For as little as $5 bucks, you can roll the dice…” Frankie says in a tell-all on James H. Mayfield’s blog.

The DIY option: How to make a book cover yourself

If you’re not too keen on hiring a professional and would rather tackle design duties yourself, here are a few resources to help you along the way.

4. Use Microsoft Word

Believe it or not, you can actually design an entire book cover using only Microsoft Word.

The Creative Penn offers an incredible DIY book cover design tutorial by Derek Murphy. His tutorial notes how important it is to select the right picture (“Simple is better,” he says) as well as the importance of balancing colors.

The tutorial also discusses where to find images, whether you’re taking photos yourself, sourcing stock images or using other online sources such as Etsy and DeviantArt. Then, it walks readers through the step-by-step details of designing a captivating cover.

5. DIYBookCovers.com

Derek Murphy’s own site offers customizable templates so self-published writers can easily design their own book covers.

You don’t need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for special design software to create a cover that will make people snap up copies of your book. Murphy offers a training video that teaches how to design a great book cover in 30 minutes or less.

He also offers a free, online cover creator tool, along with video tutorials to help you make the most of it.

6. Pixlr

Pixlr offers a variety of photo editing apps. “Pixlr Editor” offers opportunities to use layers, replace colors and transform objects. Another popular option is “Pixlr Express,” which offers quick fixes and personal touches with a simpler interface.

The site helps you create and touch up gorgeous images, as the “Made with Pixlr” gallery shows. While some of Pixlr’s tools are free, if you want to use the desktop version of Pixlr, you may have to pay a fee.

7. GIMP

GIMP, a free program you can use for photo retouching, creating and composing images, stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program.”

While many tools allow you to create and edit within your web browser, you’ll have to download this software before you get started. GIMP can be used with GNU/Linux and UNIX, as well as Windows, Mac and other systems.

8. Canva

This design software is super popular with non-designers because it makes it easy to create professional-looking designs. While some design elements will cost you, many of Canva’s templates and features are free.

Canva’s drag-and-drop setup makes it easy to create your simple book cover. It features millions of images (including stock photos, vectors and illustrations) as well as photo filters, free icons and shapes, and hundreds of fonts.

If you’re not sure where to start, visit Canva’s free Design Schoolwhere you can learn even more about design, as well as a book cover-specific tutorial.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Unsplash

The post How to Make a Book Cover: If You’re Self-Publishing, Here Are Your Options appeared first on The Write Life.