One of the most thrilling parts about being a writer is creating a world from scratch. But, like most endeavors, it's not always easily accomplished. Luckily, YA author Lucy Saxon is here to help! With the recent release of her debut novel, Take Back the Skies, the first in her epic six-book series, Lucy knows a thing or two about worldbuilding. And be sure to take notes, because these tips will come in handy.
1. Make sure you set your limits and laws, and stick to them. This particularly applies to worlds with magic, but really with any fantasy world you need to make sure that things are consistent. If you’ve said something works a certain way, make sure you keep it up through the entire story. To use magic as an example, don’t have a character say ‘magic can’t be used to create food’ and then have them conjuring a pizza three chapters later. That can lead into dangerous deus ex machina territory before you’ve even realised.
2. Decide what kind of world you want to create. Is it our own world but centuries into the past or future? A world set hidden within our own? Or a completely different fantasy world, totally of your own creation? The first two are usually easier as you can draw from things that actually exist, describe how they’ve changed – or how they haven’t. With totally separate fantasy worlds (such as my own world of Tellus) I tend to find it’s easier for the reader to get sucked in if the world has some sort of basis in something they can recognise. Whether you remind them of a Middle Earth style landscape, or 21st Century America, or whatever you wish your world to look like; give them parallels to work with so as to imagine the world easily and in more detail. Particularly if your book or series requires you to set the scene very quickly so you can move on with the action. You don’t want your readers imagining a vague blur for scenery until you get the chance to fill in the blanks!
3. Following on from that, get the detail in early! There’s a fine line between necessary description and info-dumping, but remember that until you describe your character’s surroundings your readers are working with a completely blank mental canvas.
4. There’s no such thing as too much detail (at least where you’re concerned). Even if all that detail doesn’t end up in the book/series, it doesn’t hurt for your notes to be as intricate as possible when coming up with your world, right down to the most popular hairstyle in the area! The more you think about your world and the communities and cultures in it, the more detailed a picture you’ll build in your head of them, and so even when just describing a crowd scene or a minor character you can get that much more depth to it, and have your community be a little more cohesive. Write endless pages of bullet points about your world, even if you only use a fraction of them. You never know what might come up.
5. Stick to your geography. If it takes your characters three days to travel from one place to another, don’t have it take seven on the return journey (unless, of course, something disastrous happens). If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself putting important buildings or landmarks in wherever they end up most convenient for the plot, without really thinking about them in correlation to everything else. Draw a map if it helps you to visualize, but make sure things stay where you put them. You might not think it matters whether the pub is to the left or right of the bakery, but your readers will notice, and any sort of disparity like that can break their concentration.
6. Have confidence in your world. If you can’t pin it down enough to envision it in all its glory, how do you expect your reader to? Immerse yourself within the world you’ve created, spend hours daydreaming about it, write down the little offhand comments and observations that come to you while you’re on the train or walking the dog. Love your world as much as you want your readers to, and believe in it.
7. Have fun with your world. Experiment a little, see what fits and what doesn’t. Enjoy the creation process, and it’ll make your world feel a little more lived-in. Be bold with your choices if you want to; it is, after all, your world. No one else can tell you what to do with it.
Of course, each writer varies, so no doubt you will develop your own methods of world building. But I hope this helps get you started!
- Lucy Saxon
Feel inspired and ready to go create a whole new world? Then write on! And for more writing tips, YA authors and books, visit our Everything YA page.