World-building questions

World-building is common in fantasy and science-fiction. It can create amazingly rich backgrounds for stories, but it can also cause problems of its own. Fortunately, it’s one of many topics we’ve addressed at length over on

Writers is a no-nonsense writers’ enthusiast Q&A built by users. Instead of wading through a lot of random discussion to get to the good stuff, the best answers are always voted to the top. It’s one of many sites on the Stack Exchange network that synthesize the best aspects of wikis, blogs, and forums, in a way that results in almost all questions getting great answers, often stunningly quickly.

The site covers fiction, non-fiction, editing, style issues, and, of course, world-building. Writers, editors, agents, and other writing professionals will find the site a great resource. It’s fun, it’s insightful and hopefully we can all learn a little from each other.

Here are some example questions; click through to read the questions in their entirety.

Creating a compelling story from a prebuilt world, by Borgel

I have during the last couple of years developed a fantasy world. Every now and again I get some idea of a scene or an event and I place it on the time line or write down a few pages. While the world is quite rich with events I find it difficult to come up with a interesting story to write. In the end all I am left with is a string of events focusing only on the characters with no real plot. How can I go from simply writing scenes to writing a story?

Is it a bad idea to ground a fantasy world in earthy cultures?, by FearlessWriter

I am deeply fascinated by Japanese culture and the medieval era; so naturally, when I began the development of my fantasy world it became solidly rooted in this ground. Also with the animals that inhabit this world, they are very earth like. They might not go by their names[…] In fact, Latin seems to be the undeclared language of the planet. Is it a bad idea to do this? Is it weak world building?

How does one deal with world builder’s syndrome?, by Nathan Fischer

I do quite a bit of planning for the world that the story will be set in. I know that’s not a bad thing, but I have noticed that I have a tendency to get bogged down in specific events [that will never] even show up in the story! Eventually my notes become so unwieldy, it’s hard to actually sit down and write the story while keeping it all straight. Not to mention that it’s kind of wasting time when I could be writing. Is there a helpful way to gauge when “enough is enough”? How do I put an end to this world builder’s syndrome I’ve got? Or at least keep it in check?

This post is based on content from

Neil Fein is a freelance editor who specializes in novels. If you’ve written a manuscript or are getting close to finishing, you can get in touch with him here, and even ask for a free sample edit. He rides his bicycle as much as he can, and he paints when he damn well feels like it. He also plays acoustic guitar in the bands Baroque & Hungry, and The Trouvères.


4 thoughts on “World-building questions

  1. Interesting! I think even non-fantasy authors engage in “world-building,” with the same joys and hazards. Historical fiction can never exactly replicate the world of the past, so an author creates his/her own version of that past place and time. My story takes place in a fictional town for which I have created maps with all the buildings, natural features and hangouts. The danger is the same: falling so much in love with the place that it overshadows the story.

    1. I suspect you’re right; world-building, by any other name, can suck up a lot of energy.

      Procrastination is equally a problem everywhere. However, it’s my opinion that actual, honest-to-gods world-building is considered more necessary and noble in fantasy and science-fiction circles than it is elsewhere.

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