• Claerie Kavanaugh

World-Building: What comes first, the world or the character?



World-building is such a large topic, especially because in genres like fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian, you’re building the world completely from scratch. Contemporary is slightly easier, but just because your story takes place in modern day doesn’t mean you don’t need to do any research. My romance is set in Boston, but I live in Missouri and I’ve never been. While I did make up all of the specific places in the city to avoid copyright/trademark issues, knowing the atmosphere was super important, especially for the date scenes.


So, where do you start? I usually do one of two things:


Start from the highest possible tier and work in inward (i.e. figuring out the history, culture, government structure of your world) and then deducing how those things will affect your characters


OR (And this is what I do)


Start from your characters and work outward. My novella, Queen of Thieves, is a fractured fairy tale retelling of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, but it is also kind of an origin story about the King of Thieves. Working with a retelling, I had some key I knew I needed to keep. Ali Baba had to be poor (or, at least not super rich) so he would take the gold. How did he get there? What was his occupation? Where did he live and what did the town think of him? Where was the town in relation to the cave? What was the town like? What was society like? Was it common to resort to stealing, or an anomaly?


Not all of these details made it into the book of course, but knowing them helped me fill out the atmosphere and craft a more believable world.


Prompt: Which method are you going to try and why? Let me know in the comments!


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© 2019 by Claerie 

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