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Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Importance of Worldbuilding in Fiction

Building imaginary worlds takes patience and careful attention to detail.

I recently read a great book on the craft of writing called Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole. The book was so chock full of great information I had to read it in bits and pieces, taking in all the concepts and examples from other books, and highlighting different sections I wanted to refer to at a later time.

I’ve been revising my own YA manuscript in fits and starts, and this book introduced me to another great concept that I’m clearly lacking in with my own work. “Worldbuilding,” or, the process of constructing an imaginary world, is a term often used when discussing works of science fiction or fantasy.

At the same time I was reading Writing Irresistible Kidlit, I was also immersed in a fast-paced YA novel called Panic by Lauren Oliver. When I first began reading Panic I described it to someone as dystopian before realizing that no, it is actually a contemporary realistic novel. But the descriptions of the town the kids live in is so vividly painted through Worldbuilding that it has a dystopian feel to it.

For example, the passage below describes just one part of Carp, New York, where Panic takes place. Readers can easily get a sense of how depressed and desolate the town feels, especially to its younger residents:

It was impossible to sleep past five a.m. once the garbage truck came rattling by on Meth Row. Impossible to nap, too, during the day, when the lunch crowd made a rush on Dot’s Diner, and waiters hauled garbage in and out, and emptied grease traps, and rattled the Dumpsters past Dodge’s window and into Meth Row for collection.

As a reader, I easily found myself walking through the desolate town of Carp while reading passages such as the one above, so desperate to escape my surroundings I would choose to play a dangerous high-stakes game of survival for the chance to win $67,000.

In Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Kole discusses the importance of balancing Worldbuilding so that it provides the reader with the ability to suspend disbelief while also avoiding the dreaded info dump. As I read about Worldbuilding, it hit me that in my own novel, told from the point of view of a ghost, there is so much about the “in between” world that I haven’t taken the time to build properly. For example, when someone is a ghost, if they can’t physically touch other things or people, are there other senses heightened? What does the passage of time feel like? How can spirits recognize other spirits? These are things I’ve briefly touched upon in my work in progress but there are clearly areas where I could expand and provide more description.

By the time I’d finished reading the chapter I was thinking about how I could improve upon the Worldbuilding in my own work, which typically isn’t fantasy or science fiction but does sometimes have a touch of paranormal. I can’t wait to tackle my revisions now with fresh eyes.

What books have you read that do a great job of Worldbuilding?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a Blog Tour Manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Visit her website at


  1. Renee--This is probably not the kind of suggestion you want, but I just finished "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury. It's NOT sci-fi (although it has some "magical" elements) and has a gem on just about every paragraph.

    Good luck with your WIP. When it's finished and published, I want to read it.

  2. Thanks for reviewing this book. IT'S always great to hear whether or not someone found s book useful.

  3. @Sioux--I checked out Dandelion Wine and it actually sounds like a perfect example of what this post is about! I read an excerpt from the first chapter and can see what you mean about all the gems.

    @Margo--I expected the usual "how to" when I picked up Writing Irresistible Kidlit (things like how to write a query letter, outlining your book, a look at the marketplace, etc.) but instead felt like I had taken a semester of MFA classes by the time I had finished. And I still haven't even gone back and done all the exercises in each chapter yet! I was pleasantly surprised!


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