Friday, May 5, 2023

Worldbuilding 101 for Writers: Climate and Geography

A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

What’s the most stunning landscape you’ve ever witnessed? Are you a mountain climber? A beach comber? An ancient history buff who marvels at the Mayan temple ruins tucked away in the jungles of Guatemala?

Are you cold-blooded and love soaking up the sun? Are you always hot and need a place where snow is common? Do you prefer humidity so thick you could cut it with a knife? 

The type of world you live in affects just about everything in your life, and it has a huge influence on the culture and peoples who live there as well. 

So far in this Worldbuilding 101 series, we’ve talked about Existing History, People and Social Circles, and Language and Communication. (see links below for previous posts) Those are all cultural concepts that should be informing the civilizations populating your storyworld. But what about the world itself? The type of world your people live in has just as much influence on them as their history and language. Today we’re going to talk about Climate and Geography in your storyworld. 

The People

If you set your story in a mountain village, the people living there will have specific physical and cultural characteristics. The same is true if your story is set on an island near the equator. 

Areas of the world that get more sun tend to have darker skinned populations. That’s a fact. So if you’re planning to have an equatorial island full of pale-skinned, white-haired people, you need to have a convincing reason for it. 

Of course, there are always exceptions. People move around a lot, so it’s absolutely possible for someone whose ancestors began in a tropical climate to immigrate to a country far in the north where there is less UV radiation.

Home Construction

The location of your story’s setting in correlation with the planet’s equator has a direct effect on the skin tone of your people. If the place where your people are living is warm, they aren’t going to be wearing fluffy parkas and multiple layers (unless they’re sick and afraid that feeling cold will result in death, which is what happens in some cultures). 

If your people live in a jungle, they will most likely live in well-ventilated huts. If your people live in an icy tundra where there are no building supplies, they’ll build igloos out of ice blocks. 

It’s important to consider the types of construction materials that are available to the people you’re writing about. Even if you’re writing a contemporary novel, this matters a lot. Homes in New England are usually quite old, so they are built differently than homes in the rest of America. Homes in California are built to withstand earthquakes, while homes in the Central Plains are built to withstand enormous winds. The construction is hugely dependent on the geography and climate of the place where the home is located. 

Food and Diet

Another enormously important factor related to climate and geography is the kind of foods your people eat. We may get into this in more detail in next month’s post, but you need to think about it. 

If your storyworld takes place on barren tundra, your people aren’t going to know what coconut or pineapple taste like. If your story happens in a remote part of the Central Plains, it’s going to be more difficult to find a sushi restaurant to eat at. 

Again, there are always exceptions. But if you don’t have a reasonable explanation for why your Pacific Islander character loves eating lutefisk, your readers are going to check out. 

Health and Hygiene

Finally, you also need to consider some of the lifestyle habits of the people in your storyworld when it comes to the climate and geography of their homes.

A desert-wandering Bedouin is going to have many different lifestyle choices than an indigenous Kekchi person from the jungle of Guatemala. Likewise a Samoan person will treat their health and hygiene differently than an Inuit person. 

They have different concerns. They have different problems because their climates are so completely different. Some deal with disease-carrying insects. Some deal with the threat of frostbite. Others deal with the potential for heat stroke and dehydration.

You aren’t going to wear a parka in the Sahara. Likewise, you probably won’t wear a bikini in the Arctic. Unless there’s something else going on, certain climates demand specific clothing to keep people safe and healthy. But in general, as long as you can give your readers a believable reason for why your story is different, it works. You just have to think it through.

If you haven’t taken the time to consider your story’s natural environments and how they affect your characters, you should. This is an essential part of creating a storyworld that your readers can experience and enjoy (or dread), and it’s something every author has to do, regardless if you’re writing contemporary romance or interplanetary science fiction. 

How are you demonstrating climate and geography in the story you’re currently telling? What’s one way you can show your readers that you’ve done your homework?


Don't Miss the Other Posts in this Series!

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. Thank you, A.C. Williams. I'm the beach lover who bundles up when the weather is under 70 degrees.

  2. Great teaching! Makes me want to stop editing my novel and build a new story world for the next book!