How to Worldbuild: Neil Gaiman says that fiction is all lies. That’s why I wrote this article about why you should LIE in your book.
He is absolutely right about that. Those are invented places, people, names, and events. Even if they were based on real things, they become lies when they are in your book because it’s YOUR version of reality. It’s your interpretation. It will never be as it was in real life.
How will people relate to lies? To a completely invented thing?
This is what he says: a moment of reality can make the biggest lie seem true.
Everything there is made up but it FEELS real.
This is the key to worldbuilding.
And worldbuilding seems like this massive word. It sounds like a lot of work, you’re creating a whole new world from scratch, all the rules, all the people, the landscape, everything else.
However, that’s not really the case for your story.
You won’t spend pages and pages, and pages describing stuff. You don’t need to know absolutely everything from that world.
You just need to know what you will show. Bits and pieces that when connected together throughout the story will feel like a complete world. It will feel like you know it all but you actually don’t.
And you can go discovering it while the story advances as well. You don’t need everything upfront.
How to Worldbuild: But how to give credibility to your world so it feels real even though it’s all made up?
Neil Gaiman tells us that we have to understand the rules of our world and make our character follow them.
The magic has to make sense in its own way.
Once you get that, you don’t need to show anything else. No one hundred pages of description, no detailed essay about your world races.
The only thing you need is some rules. And that your character follows those rules.
For example, if you defined that in your world everyone will be able to fly, you have to follow that until the end. Imagine if they can fly until chapter 5, but they stop being able to do that in chapter 10.
It will RUIN your worldbuilding.
Try to think about some rules of our society.
I will help:
1- Don’t cross the red light in traffic;
2- It’s normal to sleep at night if you have to get up early in the following day;
3- Don’t eat trash (literally, from the garbage bin). It’s bad for your health;
Think about some rules for your world. Some crucial rules, that they can’t break, otherwise it will stop making sense. For example:
1- They can’t use magic outside of school (oh, hey, hello, Harry Potter), otherwise they might hurt people, and it would be simply a mess;
2- Percy can breathe underwater. (Uh, Percy Jackson, anyone?)
3- In Treasure Planet, from Disney, they can travel the universe in ships. How? I don’t know, I know that they can and they did it until the end, so it felt magical and well-developed.
How to Worldbuild in 5 Easy Steps:
1 – Personal experience, places, things: you are a great source of inspiration! You know some amazing places that you love, you’ve seen some cool gadgets that you could use, pay attention to yourself and your surroundings;
2- Mix things up. This is a favorite from Neil Gaiman. And also Pokemon: almost every Pokemon is an amazing mix of two real Earth animals. Actually, A LOT of fantasy monsters are. You can mix common objects, settings, and places. A ship that flies, a steampunk clock.
3- You won’t write a page of pure description. Show it little by little. Focus on small special things. For example, in Harry Potter, when they use magic to do chores like cleaning the dishes! Man, who doesn’t want that? Or when they eat sweets that have a special spell. The one that makes you sick so you can skip classes. This is a detail that appears in the story. It’s not pages of description. But it feels real, it feels magical, you wish it was true. Let your characters experience it in the story. Don’t tell your reader, show them the difference.
4- Focus on what makes your object special. Everyone knows what a cat looks like. How is this cat special in your world? If it isn’t special, how does it differ from the rest of your world? Weird is good! Embrace weird.
5- Research people and places, so you will see what it’s like. Youtube is great for that!
“I think that the joy of world
building in fiction is honestly the
joy of getting to play God. Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass
So, enjoy it! Do you understand better how to world build now?