The Art of Worldbuilding, Part I

by Stephen Nelson

Reading a short story or novel pulls the reader into the world which the authour has made for the characters. That is the beauty of imagination. To make a person believe they are in the world of the characters. Worldbuilding can be as small as a room or a boat on the ocean. Other stories and novels can be set in a fictional city or even on a planet.

Each genre has its aspects of worldbuilding. An historical novel regardless of its subgenre like mystery or romance has to have some accuracy in its description of society, fashion and events unless it is an alternative history novel or short story.

Whether a novel is a standalone, or one of many in a series, the novel’s world must be created. The set could be set in an existing town or city or an invented location using bits and pieces of a current place. An authour might create a complete world from their imagination, like J.K. Rowlings, Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings.

I must confess. I am a Planner. I plan as much as possible before putting pen to paper or striking a computer keyboard to write a short story or novel.

I will do a second Worldbuilding post for science fiction and fantasy writing, but a novel can have locations and settings which are from the authour’s imagination. I like to think the following should be considered before writing any genre.


I like to call it, the “lay of the land”. Sending characters on a quest or trip to find a person or an object is affected by the geography they cross. Obstacles like mountains, volcanoes soon to erupt, raging rivers, oceans to cross provides drama and conflict in a novel or short story.


A character’s social class, where they live in the community and income might influence how they react to an event. The late 1800s social norms are far different than present day. Research is necessary to write accurate details.

What a wealthy family does for a living, where they live and for entertainment wouldn’t be the same as a poor family.


Fashions and fads change. Different countries have different fashions. A person wearing bell bottoms and platform shoes would stand out in a Regency romance novel. The fashion of the people has to be from the era which the novel is set.


People speak differently, depending on where they are from. Idioms and slang words might identify the nationality or at least the region to which the character has connection. Two different words in English can mean the same object if one is from North America and the other is from the United Kingdom.


When writing an historical novel or story, you have to make sure the inventions of the day are accurate. As examples, do not have a telephone or telegraph in a novel set before they were invented.


When a real event happens, research the actual weather that occurred to make the event more authentic.


You can develop and build your new world for your novel as detailed as you want. After all, it is your novel.

© Stephen Nelson 2020