Friday, February 3, 2023

Worldbuilding 101 for Writers: Do you know the history of your story world?

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

When you hear the term worldbuilding, what comes to your mind? It’s probably some epic fantasy like Lord of the Rings or a legendary space opera like Star Wars or Star Trek, right? With all those freaky aliens or hard to pronounce names and unnecessarily long titles (i.e. Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons … yikes.).

Well, here’s an interesting fact: Worldbuilding isn’t just for speculative fiction. Granted, that’s where you hear about it most, and in most speculative fiction the world plays an integral role in the actual story. But a foundational understanding of how to build a fictional world will serve every author, even the ones who don’t intentionally include too many consonants in a character’s name!

So for the next few months, we’re going to be talking about the basics of worldbuilding and what elements you need to create a believable fictional world in which to place your story. 

Now, since I am wired for speculative, that’s probably the majority of examples I will use. And, to be fair, most of the time the focus in a speculative story needs to be on the world. It’s a requirement of the genre. But I believe there’s enough here that those who don’t write speculative will find plenty to use!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a handy acronym this time around. The last series I did on character development was PC CHILIDOG, which was silly but memorable. Maybe y’all will be able to help me find a name for this series! Until then, we’ll just call it Worldbuilding 101.

So, here we go: The first point I want to talk about in the basics of building a fictional world is that your world needs existing history. 

Unless you're beginning with a world recently created by a Higher Power, your world will have history. It should. If you've got a bustling metropolis in the middle of a barren wasteland, how did it get there? It didn't just happen. 

Like in reality, the great cities and structures we know didn’t just appear overnight. Someone had to design them, build them, decorate them, etc. That’s how we know so much about the ancient, now-extinct civilizations. Think of the pyramids. Think of the Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala. The cave paintings littered across Europe. All of that points to civilizations that existed before history was recorded. 

As a Christian, one of my favorite parts of reading the Bible is to identify the historical people and places in the different stories. So much of Scripture has been proven true over the years, and, though it’s not a history book, it has always been a trustworthy source of historical information. 

For your fictional world, make sure it has a history. 

Where did the people come from? How did their civilization begin? How old is your civilization? If you’ve got a country that’s 50 years old, it won’t be as developed as a country that’s 300 years old. Think of America in the 1800s versus America now. 

Was your current civilization built on the ruins of an older civilization? Or did it grow organically? 

What if your people don’t know their history? That’s a fun story option. If you’ve got a technologically advanced people who don’t know where they came from, that would be a neat concept to track down. 

In the Lord of the Rings books, there’s thousands and thousands of years of recorded history that the characters draw from. It’s similar in series like Game of Thrones, and it’s getting to be that way in the Star Wars novels (not quite the movies yet). But then you’ve got The Shannara series by Terry Brooks that is set in a post-apocalyptic, future version of our own world. 

One of the challenges of worldbuilding is that it’s not meant to be the main story, nor is it meant to be your main character. Even if your readers never understand how deep your world goes, you—as the author—need to know, because it informs your characters’ behaviors. 

So, whether you’re writing an epic fantasy with detailed maps and magical cultures, or you’re writing a mystery thriller set in the 1940s, you need to make sure you know the history you’re building on.

Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at


  1. I know quite a bit about my fantasy world's history, but in my current novel, the people who live there are just finding out that a very significant part of their history has been hidden from them to protect them. Because they don't find out until now, they won't be prepared for a coming attack from another race.

  2. Great food for thought A.C., looking forward to the entire series. : )

  3. Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks was one of the first I read on writing. I think he said something about being known as the guy who bumped off Chewbacca in a novel. Looking forward to your series on worldbuilding. Even in stories set in our world, we have to know the details about our characters and what experiences in their world impacted who they are, what they do, and why.

  4. This is fabulous! I’m in the process of world building and will be following your series closely.

    I enjoy all you write A.C.