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October 18, 2011

Worldbuilding Your Perfect Setting by Michelle Miles

Since I write fantasy stories and stories with unusual settings, I spend a good deal of time worldbuilding. Whether you’re creating an exotic city for your action/adventure or you’re making up a new fantasy realm complete with magic, worldbuilding is an important part of the story. I’m certainly no expert, but there are some tips I’ve picked up and to keep in mind when building your new world.

Set up the rules and stick to them. Ask yourself these questions: What are the exceptions? Is there magic? What are the rules of magic? Once you set up the rules, don’t break them unless you have a really compelling reason. Make sure it’s not a plot device and you’re breaking the rules because you can’t figure out how to get your characters out of a jam.

Study other cultures, past and present. By studying how other cultures live, their religion, their traditions, their exchange of goods and money, you can learn a lot about who they. How do they talk? Dress? Do they have any sacrificial rites? When do they worship? What do they worship—one god or multiple gods? If you know this, you can start building the foundation. Other things to consider: politics, military, art, marital customs, education, monetary system, sporting events.

Draw a map of your world. I think this is my favorite thing about writing fantasy. When I can envision my world, I start to draw maps. Coastlines, mountains, forests, towns, the center of the ruling king or queen. It’s great fun. I just get out my map pencils and grid lined paper and draw what I think it should look like.

Decide the history and mythology of your world. Because your world wouldn’t exist without this. We all have history and learn from it, so what history do your characters share? What is your world’s timeline in relation to the characters? Maybe you want to call them “years” or “eras” or “ages”. The most important thing is to decide what it is, and write a brief history. It sounds like a lot of work upfront, but it’ll help when you’re ready to write the story.

This is only scratching the surface of what you can do when you create a world. These are things I take into consideration when I begin a new project that involves worldbuilding.

If you’d like a list of questions to ask yourself when beginning a new universe, you can find them at SFWA’s website by clicking here: This is a lengthy, informative list that will aid in beginning your new frontier.

Another great resource is Holly Lisle’s website:

A wealth of information for writers!

Happy worldbuilding.

Michelle Miles writes contemporary, paranormal and fantasy romance. Her latest book, ONE KNIGHT ONLY, is now available from Ellora's Cave. For more infromation about her or her books, visit her website at


Kathy Ivan said...

Wow, Michelle! You certainly do go to a lot of detail for your world building. I've never actually gotten out the graph paper and drawn my world. I may have to try that sometime!

Being able to make up your own rules about what is and is not allowed in your creative world is part of the icing on the cake as a writer. You decide if there is magic. You decide if there are supernatural beings. The possibilities are limitless.

Now you've got me thinking . . . wait, no, I have to finish my current work first. :-)

Sylvia said...

This is a huge amount of detail. I love the part of about making up your own rules. I have enough trouble keeping my details correct without world building. Do you have a notebook where you keep all the notes? Very creative!

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I'm with Kathy on this Michelle. Although I have created a fictious town and usually set my stories there. I have streets, stores, etc...a whole map to use. But I never really thought of it was world building.

Good post!

Angela Hicks said...

Making your own maps is so creative. I hadn't thought of doing that.
There are so many possibilites, so many things to consider.
Great post!

Pamela Stone said...

Wow, Michelle. I am impressed. Since I write straight contemporary, I've ever built a world. I thought I was being obsessive by not being able to write a book without drawing out a floorplan of the characters' houses/apartments/sometimes towns.

Alisha said...

Wonderful post, Michelle! I love World Building! Something cool about creating your very own world with its own set of rules, laws, gods, demons, etc. Even more challenging is creating a mystical world that co-exists with the world we live in today. I love it when authors include a map with their book, as some have done on the inside and back cover. Another helpful tip is including a glossary at the beginning of the book. For very detailed worlds, this is most helpful for the readers to refer back to, especially for books in a series. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us today.

Michelle Miles said...

Hi everyone! Thanks for the comments and sorry I'm late in responding. I was stuck in a meeting all day!

Sylvia - I do have a notebook. I'm a bit OCD about that. Maybe I should talk about that in my next PP post! *making a note*

Alisha: I love having a glossary, too! And, um, I've done that, too! LOL!

Karilyn Bentley said...

Great comments Michelle! I've read the first point, but not the others. Definitely something to think on as my worlds are created. :)

Phyllis said...


Sorry for the late comment. We had family come in.

Wow indeed! I’ve written some sci-fi in the past and I am familiar with world building, but not to the extent you have brought to PP. I’ve heard of making maps, but I’ve never considered actually doing it. It might be fun.

Thanks for the websites too. I have yet another story brewing that has the paranormal aspects that will require the whole world building thing. Let’s see if I remember how…

Thank you for such valuable insight!


Unknown said...

Darn, I've been trying to get here all day and I'm so sorry for the late response, I was gone most of the day but I swear coming here crossed my mind several times and now I'm finally able to read what the talented Michelle had to write and I am so glad I made it. Wow! This is fabulous and crazy technical and detailed. Not sure I could ever do this as it certainly takes a unique individual to do this. Michelle, I've been a fan of yours but this...this is incredible. Great job.

Michelle Miles said...

Phyillis, you'll love those links. They're are awesome.

Hi Karen! Glad you made it :) And thank YOU for the kind words! Made my day :)

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