Q & A: Sculpting Your Fictional World

I’ve been working on a world recently (that I’m simultaneously using as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting while trying to get it ready to write a novel placed in it for NaNoWriMo this year), but since I’m rather busy, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to it. What are the most important points to focus on to make it really feel ‘real’?


World Building. It’s engaging yet sometimes intimidating from the start. But very difficult for me to give advice seeing that I know very little of the focus of your story.

It’s very easy to inflate your view of things during world building (afterall, this is crafting an entire world). We focus so much on the big picture that we can forget that worlds are built of details. And these details are what give a world life.

However, one doesn’t have to have all the details in place before they begin to write a story or even run a campaign. Sometimes, there should be gray areas and wiggle room left on purpose. This gives your characters/PCs room to breathe and discover your world as you explore. If you have too rigidly crafted down to every last detail, there is a lot of spontaneity that you can lose during the writing process. The world will feel less vivid and more boxed in.

So the first thing I suggest is that you examine what kind of story/campaign you want to tell and choose the most important details of the world that you feel MUST be nailed down. Is there a lot of travel in your story? If so, you may want to focus on general geography and climate of the area of travel. Are there special cities, locations or landmarks to include? On the flipside, maybe there isn’t a lot of travel, but it focuses more on the atmosphere and “terrain” of one city in particular. Even a city can have different “climates” within it – the right side of the tracks, the wrong side of the tracks, falling off the tracks… you get the picture.

Often, defining one aspect of a world will lead to hints about another.

For example, ask yourself how the climate and terrain affects the culture, history and legends of the people who live there. Do they eat differently, dress differently, adapt a different sort of fighting technique, or speak differently because of where they live? Or, in reverse, if you have an idea of the type of cultures, history or legends you would like to write about already, that may clue you into the climate and geography of the surrounding areas. The more linked the details of your world, the more cohesive it will feel.

Again, take it in bite-sized chunks. If your characters are only going to see certain areas of your world during the story, you don’t have to have a whole continent on the other side of the world fleshed out. If you happen to need that continent later, it will reveal itself to you in time — those sorts of things often develop themselves as you go along.

I apologize if this seems very general. If you have some specifics about your story that you would like to share as it relates to world building, I’d be more than happy to brainstorm with you. Feel free to send another question!