World Within A World

World-building is the process of constructing a completely imaginary world. It sounds crazy, like something your senile grandparent would do to escape the youths playing ball games on her wall, but it’s actually really fun and a fundamental factor of any novel (especially fantasy).

Whilst some cower before the concept of World-building, paralysed by the grandness of the wide open space that needs filling with people, plants and power-struggles, I run through that door with open arms! I love World-building maybe a little more than the actual writing itself. For a few months now I’ve been working on a world called Sulrun, where I’ve planned a number of stories dotting the timeline (though each is part of a greater overall tale). Sulrun is just like any world, there are trees and mountains, rivers and lakes, cities, towns, caves, castles, sleazy taverns; but I’ve been working on giving it a depth unrivalled by any world I’ve created before – and there are a lot.

You could say that Sulrun is the master-world, that which encompasses all the work I’ve ever done before into one (massive) landscape.

A small portion of the first draft of Sulrun.

But why build a world when we’re already living in one?

For some writers, the real world just isn’t enough. It doesn’t fit our specification for the story we want to write about. New York City 2012 might not be the best backdrop for a mighty army birthed in blood and steel rising out of a forest to enslave the poor. (Wait, that actually sounds quite exciting – anyway…) Writers can build a world to better suit the story they want to tell. That premise sounds better suited to an imaginary backwater woodland community left behind by the the greedy, power-hungry monarch at the other side of the forest, than the reality we know. Other writers might build a world simply because it’s fun, and then choose to base their tales around this world and its inhabitants.

Like writing, world-building can be a form of escapism. Let’s face it, sometimes our world isn’t that great. There are shootings, acts of terrorism, widespread poverty… unless you’re into that sort of thing (which I hope you’re not), you may want to escape for just a night, into a whole other world where absolutely anything  can exist. If you want massive mountains in the shape of slippers, or lakes that run green instead of blue, what’s stopping you? Apart from the physics, but that’s a whole other post. World-building lets you fuel your imagination and run away with it, like taking a blank sheet of paper and scribbling whatever the heck you want all over its pristine surface.


Though most of the worlds I build come from my imagination, it’s often the real world that inspires me to create the best of locations. Earth, in places, is actually really beautiful. The narrow streets of Palma rising up like walls at either side is what inspired the choking back streets of the sea-front city of Thantos. The exterior of the massive cathedral in the same city is what inspired the luxury residence of Dr. Ona. Little boats floating aimlessly along Lake Windermere inspired the little lake that Lucia spends her childhood rowing along, half-hidden by a circle of trees all around her. Those locations are amongst my favourite of all the places in Sulrun, just because the clarity and beauty of that real-life place helps to create a blinding picture of reality on the page.  So next time you’re walking through that home-town you wish you could move out of, open your eyes and take a closer look – you might find a little pocket of inspiration that you never saw before.

Lake Windermere

World-building isn’t easy, but it can be fun. This was just a little introduction to how I view and handle the process – if you have any ideas, comments or opinions, let me know below. If there are any other writers reading this who handle the process in the same, or an entirely different manner, I would love to hear your side of the story!


5 thoughts on “World Within A World

  1. I am definitely a map builder more than world builder, at least in the beginning stages. And then as the map takes on a life of its own I find that I am of course also building a world. Cities and towns come out of the aetheric mist and take root in my mind. I love a good fantasy setting and prefer them to any real world place. That makes me one of those writers and readers where the real world just does not suffice.

  2. That sounds familiar. Map-making is really important, especially to me as I’m not a very visual person so it’s good to see it all there in front of me whilst I build the world, and later, write about it.

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

    • I definitely find that drawing maps is one of the important parts of creating a new world. I’m quite a visual person so I enjoy drawing the maps and being able to “see” a writers world.

      However, it’s also easier for a reader to glance over a map of your world than it is for them to read a short story telling them what your world looks like and how it came about. Reading takes an investment of time and energy – looking at a picture doesn’t.

      If you produce a high quality map that is interesting and then hit someone with the story they have a better chance of understanding your world (and story). It’s similar to if you were thrown into a new location and expected to find your way around, you may be able to do it but it would sure be easier if someone gave you a map of the location to help you.

  3. Every time I know I have to do a bit of worldbuilding in order for my story to make sense, I dread it. It gets too complicated for me, but if I really decide to buckle down and get into it, then I remember that deep down, I do enjoy it.

    • This is exactly what I mean about different writers having completely different attitudes towards world-building. I’m guessing there are things that you really enjoy whereas I dread!

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