On Worldbuilding

It seems like a lot of writers who do world building as part of their planning process go to meticulous detail about the topography and geography of all their locales. In fact, years ago when I was reading a lot of high (and not so high) fantasy and all its wonderfully detailed maps,  I used to think, “I will never be able to write fantasy because there is no way I can be this precise about my locations”.

My worlds are in my head and not being very mathematical-minded I just can’t seem to put it down in the less abstract form of a map or diagram. If I was to draw a map of my locations or world it may look a little bit like this:


Not terribly technical or interesting. A first grader probably could do this.

When I build my worlds I have a schematic view of what it looks like and it’s while I am describing it that it takes shape. My world, simply put, is made up of words.

I have a feeling that if I ever get published, there will be a mob of angry readers telling me off because my world is full of incongruences.  I can hear it already:

“X could not be three days away because earlier you wrote that Y was only 4 days away and that is a mathematical and geographic impossibility.”

Funny how readers of fantasy can be so concrete. When I read fantasy I pay very little attention to location besides the function it serves or how beautifully it is described. If you asked me to expand on the locations of any of my favorite fantasy books, I could not tell you much. My focus as a reader is the characters and their interaction with each other and/or their environment, not the environment itself. So, when I write I tend to also put the emphasis on the characters.

When it comes to the geography of it all I am a little like my fifth graders; I have a general sense of direction but a clear view of only the immediate landscape. What does that say about me as a writer? Comments welcomed 🙂

Image from “On Worldbuilding” by IIona Andrews


  1. I think that as you’re just starting out with a new fantasy novel, it’s easy to think that you can never make your world as rich as some of the epic fantasies that are already out there. The key is to remember that those authors literally had years to pull their worlds together; it didn’t happen in the first draft.

    That being said, I still worry that my fantasy worlds are going to end up about as deep as a puddle. A shallow puddle.


    1. I am sure your worlds will look amazing. I worry about what readers will think. To me my worlds sound fantastic (I am in the process right now of creating one and I am so excited about it.) but I have to wonder about the readers. When I discuss books with other readers I am always surprised to find out the things they noticed that never even registered in my brain. I guess only time will tell. Good luck with yours.


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