By Andrea Fausbøll
Feb 17, 2022


I learned the importance of world-building the hard way. Specifically, I learned that people cannot read my mind, only what I write on paper, black and white. When asked about my fantasy world, I would sputter, trying to find the words to explain the vision in my mind. It was all there, the feelings, the smells, the vibes. I just couldn’t get it across verbally, the words did not come, and when I did manage to yammer some lousy description, it certainly didn’t sound exciting or thrilling. If someone cared enough to prod deeper into my world, cracks started showing. I would try to brush over them, but they grew, and soon I was unable to ignore them. I had to face the fact that although I thought I had it all figured out, in my head, I simply didn’t on paper. And that realization hurt. I spent a day or two in a haze, grumbling incomprehensible words, contemplating my next move.

For my WIP, world-building is essential to basically everything. I had been so focused on details, that I had neglected the surroundings, the bigger picture.

If my protagonist looked up, what would she see? Honestly, I wasn’t so sure.

So, I started studying the art of world-building and how to get it just right.

Why your world needs to be relevant to your protagonist

Now, if you do not muster to capture your characters in your world, to bring them to life and watch them interact and be shaped by their environment, your world will sound hollow and fall flat and your readers interest along with it. No one wants to read long descriptions, no matter how beautiful and enrapturing the prose. We want to feel a connection, we crave the sensation, hunt the notion. We might not always remember someone’s name, but we almost always remember how they made us feel. Did they make you feel empowered? Perhaps, small and useless?

Settings and environments evoke some of the same feelings. Have you ever walked into a house that simply gave you the creeps? Or do hospital settings always make you uncomfortable?

Contrary, your bedroom or open spaces might give you a certain peace and happiness?

Let me tell you, the devil is in the details more than in adjectives or adverbs.

And this is what you want your reader to experience when they dive into your world, you want them to connect with the surroundings, to feel what your protagonist feels.

How to give your protagonist an active relationship to your world

In ACOMAF, when Feyre arrives to the city of Velaris for the first time after her breakup with Tamlin, she is unable to take in the wonders around her. For most people, Velaris would have been breathtaking, an oasis hidden and protected from the ravages of wars, a gem of hope and faith. Yet, to Feyre it’s a reminder of everything she has gone through, the love she has lost, and more importantly, the artist inside of her that she no longer connects with. The description of Velaris is relevant only because it is in stark contrast to how Feyre is feeling and helps the reader understand the emotional state of Feyre. If Sarah J. Maas had only described the city, without relating it to Feyre, the information would have seemed out of place and perhaps boring.

The key is to give your characters an active relationship with the place or setting surrounding them, as seen in above example.

One way to do this is by returning your character to a previous setting and describing how their perception of that same setting has changed. An example of this is Feyre describing the rose garden in the first book, ACOTAR:

In ACOWAR, the third book, when Feyre returns to the Spring Court and Tamlin, her feelings of the rose garden have changed.

When you manage to weave in your characters growth (or lack hereof) through their connection or relationship with a setting, that is when you create magic.

It is easier said than done, I know.

Start by figuring out which setting appears most frequently in your book. Make an overview and in each scene with this setting make sure to incorporate one way in which your characters perception, feelings or opinion of it changes. If you manage to do this well, you will have a world which will feel dynamic and alive. You can then proceed to do this with any other setting you wish to add some context and weight to.

But you cannot describe settings if you don’t have the basic framework set.

So how do you actually world build?

In my research, I did not come across a lot of juicy guides or secrets that would crack the code of world-building. Not many books have been written on the topic and many focus on world-building specifically for video-games. Perhaps detailed guides on world-building would be pointless after all, as world-building is such a case-by-case, specific and individual endeavor to undertake.

Knowing the history, religion, culture and people of your world, will help you craft a convincing world to place your characters in. It may not be writing that you will use in your book, but rather a foundation from which your story can grow. You want to be able to describe what your character sees if she looks up, regardless of whether it is relevant for your storyline or not. Without a framework and a deeper understanding of the mechanics of your world, those cracks I mentioned earlier, will start to show. And oh boy do we dislike those.

You can also download the Tales Club world-building prompts in the link below. It will guide you through all the important things to consider when you start your world-building.

Remember, I am always here for a quick brainstorming session if that will help you kick-start your writing. Send me a message, and we will set up a time.

May the odds be ever in your favour and may your creative juices flow.

Believe in your tales, folks.
Happy world-building!

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