World Building (FenCon Writer's Workshop Part 1)

World building is the process of establishing the rules of the universe you create for your story. Every genre uses world building to some extent; from hardcore sword and sorcery novels, to the small town detective novel, to aliens in space. The amount of backstory to include depends on different the story universe is from our known world.


The following series comes to us from guest blogger and author Tom Howard.

Learn more about Tom by visiting his Amazon Author Page, and check out Tom's latest story in The Good Fight, an anthology of superhero vs. monster stories.


FenCon--a long-running science fiction and fantasy convention in Dallas, Texas--hosts an affiliated writers’ workshop every year, where professional writers share their own experiences with beginning writers in intensive workshops.

My own writing is at a too comfortable plateau, and I attended to learn some new skills to improve my writing. I’ve enjoyed FenCon writing workshops before and always find something to take away.

I attended the workshop with my friend and frequent collaborator, Belinda Christ. I think she has attended them all. Like me, she’s always searching for community and new tools to improve her trade.

This year, 2015, urban fantasy writer, Jaye Wells, did a four-day class for a dozen writers on critiquing each others’ work. Ms. Wells used our comments as a springboard to present sessions on structure, conflict, and the other areas writers need to learn their craft.

Part One - World Building

What is world building? Creating a sandbox for your character. Not just the setting, but the cultures, races, history, and everything that influences your character. Characters have to be products of the world; they have to be connected to it. It's not just a set with an actor in front of it; that’s a two dimensional story. Instead, make your world a character. 

World building is not just the map at the front of the book.

Research is key. That will give you ideas for where your characters came from. Build your world by origins. As you’re creating this world, think of how it diverges from the normal world.

World building is the Forest and the Trees; where the forest is macro world building and the trees are micro world building. The more specific you can be, the more grounded the reader feels in that world.

The Five Ps of World Building

  1. People
  2. Places
  3. Problems (from the structure of society)
  4. Practices
  5. Peculiarities

All are required for the sixth P: Plot. Plot is what happens when People with interesting Practices in a specific Place try to solve their Peculiar Problems. (Like this Quote? Click Here to Tweet it!)

People: Gender? Age? Race? Background? Profession? [Pete: My Character Sheet template might be helpful here]

Place: City/town/village/planet? Geography? [Pete: My General Setting and Specific Setting templates my help with this]

Problem: What’s the problem facing this person or people in this town? Is it a vampire horde? Alien? A murderer? A social issue? [Pete: My Premise Sheet template might be useful here]

Practices: What is the culture of this place or people that might influence the story? What habits or details about the characters influence the story?

Peculiarities: These are the fun details. The twists on things we expect. These details will help your story stand out and give it your unique voice.

As you brainstorm, the most important question to ask yourself is, "Wouldn’t it be weird/cool if…"

Cut out magazine pictures and ask yourself what attracts you about it? Find a music playlist that fits with your world. [Pete: Browse Pinterest for ideas!]

The ultimate goal of world building is for you, the writer, to be fascinated and excited to spend lots of time in this new world. You can create pages of background and not use it. That’s okay because it colors your world and may be important in the next book.


Tom's report from FenCon continues next week with a list of the Top Ten Plotting Pitfalls!