Workshop Notes: From The Ground Up

Worldbuilding is…

  • … the process of constructing an imaginary world, or universe, and developing the qualities of this setting (ex. history, politics, geography, ecology, etc.).
  • … considered to be especially important for fantasy and science fiction writers, but applies to the creation of all fiction media (from historical fiction to modern crime dramas).

Physical Geography and Architecture

  • This is going to set up the rest of the planet.
    • The terrain and the climate will influence how plant and animal life have evolved over time.
    • It will influence the available resources on the planet.
    • It will help and hinder your characters.
    • It will influence the architecture and type of housing/shelter in the space.

Questions to Consider:

  • What planet does the story take place on?
  • What year is the story set?
  • What’s the climate like?
  • What’s the terrain like?
  • What natural resources are available?

The Beings of This World:

  • Based on the world’s physical geography and environment you can decide which animals and insects exist in this space.
  • You need to determine if humans, aliens, or something else inhabits this world.
    • They can play a major role in the story or make the world convincing.
    • How they interact with each other also lends the world credibility.

Questions to Consider:

  • How do they interact with their environment?
  • Have they had to adapt to a shifting landscape?
  • Do the life forms on that world get along?
  • Do they get along with lifeforms on other planets?
  • How have they had to adapt to their world?

History and Culture

  • To understand your world as it is, you need to understand how it was.
    • The past always influences the present and future.  
  • History determines culture, which dictates everyday life.  
  • History and culture can also influence style and aesthetics.
    • From architecture and clothing to music and food.  

Questions to Consider:

  • How old is the planet? Their civilization? Their species?
  • Have there been wars before?
  • What are some trials these people have experienced?
  • How does art factor into this universe?

Public Policy and Society Today

  • The past always influences the present.
    • You need to know how previous actions, influences, and biases impact current society.  
  • Public policy and current life will help you narrow down what kind of society your characters live in.
    • Dystopic
    • Apocalyptic
    • Utopic
  • Policy and society add tension.

Questions to Consider:

  • What kind of government do they have?
    • How involved are they in the lives of their citizens?
  • Do they have political enemies?
  • Do they have a collective bias against another culture?
    • Religion?
    • Political view?
    • Gender?
    • Socioeconomic class?
  • Is this bias supported through government policies?

Its Place in the Universe:

  • It’s important to know where your planet fits in the universe… literally.
    • Just because you know where they fit doesn’t mean your characters need to.
      • This mystery will add tension and encourage character development.
    • Its place can change as the story progresses.
  • It’s important to know where you world fits into the greater context of your story.
    • Although your world is always important to building your story’s credibility, it will be more important in some stories than others.
    • Some locations function more like characters than physical spaces.

Questions to Consider:

  • How integral is your world to your story?
    • Would your work be the same if it took place in another location?
    • In another time?
  • Are there other planets in this universe?
  • Has your world’s place in the universe changed?


  • Worldbuilding is needed for each important, central, pivotal location in your story, but not always for secondary locations.
  • Ask yourself how important each location is before you develop it in depth.
    • Ex. If you’re writing a sci-fi piece about a federation of planets that all play a key role in the work, map them each out. If it’s a world mentioned in passing, spend the time developing something else.