Why You Need World Building, Even if You Aren’t Writing Fantasy

Y’all, I’m so excited to be talking about writing again here on the blog. When I originally decided to stop talking about writing and craft, I didn’t realize how many ideas I had to share. And more importantly, this is such a fun topic, I couldn’t wait any longer. Today, we’re talking about why you need world building, even if you aren’t writing fantasy or sci-fi.

Why You Need World Building, Even if You Aren't Writing Fantasty

World-building is this idea of, well, building a world to go with your story. Especially in fantasy or science fiction novels, where you have to rebuild everything. Because these genres (more so than others) tend to bend what we consider reality, they have to establish specific rules on what is acceptable in the world.

Does your fantasy novel have dragons or wizards (note: I don’t read fantasy, so take all these examples with a grain of salt). In world-building, if you do it well, your readers will accept this “alternative reality.”

While we typically associate these genres (along with a few others) to “world-building,” I have news for you. You still need to world build if you’re writing others genres. Mystery, romance, chick-lit. You have to do at least a little world building on all of those.

You Need World Building, Even if You Aren't Writing Fantasy. Yes, even if you aren't writing fantasy. Click To Tweet

If you’re new here, I write mystery novels under a pen name, and I’m constantly trying to build a world. It’s a little different because my books take place in present day Washington D.C. But that begs the question, how much of my story is relevant to what’s actually happening in Washington D.C. right now?

Not much.

When you write novels that are somewhat anchored into our reality, the world building you do is more subtle. No need to establish whether or not people can fly or read minds, but you have to ask yourself what to expect?

In my first book, the main character references a terrorist attack that happened in 2013, so clearly we’re in a parallel universe, at least. Many of the locations I reference in my books that are in D.C. are places that are actually there. Because my main character is an FBI agent, I have a map of D.C. that includes high-crime areas.

The Washington D.C. in my books is very similar to the Washington D.C. in real life, but there are some differences, too. There’s a different president, that I know. Political leaders that pop up in the third and fourth books of the series are clearly made up.

World building, even if you write mystery novels, allows you to set lines on what you borrow from your non-fiction life and what you make up.

But Where do I begin?

Well, you can start in a lot of different ways. I store a lot of data in Evernote, and I actually made a template when I realized I needed to keep all this information straight. When balancing real-life and made-up life, I’ve always found it best to write these things down (but I write everything down).

Maybe you can go old-style and build things out with a bulletin board (I do that, too). Make note of what references you make to the real world, so you can tie your story down to a specific time.

If you aren’t focusing on science fiction or fantasy, I have good news for you: your world building will not be as big or as intensive, but you’ll also need to make sure what you do build is solid and stays on point while you build your series.

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