I am in the throes of one of my favorite parts of writing: world building. It’s one of the things I love most about science fiction and fantasy writing (my second favorite thing is actually a subset of this: character building). My plate is full at the moment as I have two universes I’m building and playing in:

1. My alt-history, steampunk universe of Pimp My Airship. I am revisiting and expanding this universe because I have another short story I’ve been asked to write for an anthology that’s too early to talk much more about. Plus, I’m in the beginning stages of expanding “Pimp My Airship” into a novel length work. Ironically, one of the criticisms I heard pretty consistently about the story was that there was a lot of world-building that went into the story that then made it feel like part of a much greater piece. So obviously I was having too much fun.

2. Then there’s my Knights of Breton Court universe as I plot out the final arc of the series. Okay, admittedly, that universe keeps growing, to the point where I even my series Bible is full of flow charts and maps attempting to keep track of that universe.

3. I’m strictly at the worldbuilding stage for an apocalyptic novel project with Wrath James White. I need to be prepared for when he sends me the first pages and I see what he’s done to the planet. (no, we don’t coordinate these things: half of the fun of writing together is the game of oneupsmanship we like to play).

Admittedly, I may have a bit of a God complex. As writers, we’re gods after a fashion: we create worlds, people it, and often direct the characters actions as much as the characters take on lives of their own and do their own thing. We’re not exactly creating ex nihilo (out of nothing): with Pimp My Airship, part of the fun is turning history on its head; and with Knights, I still have the Arthurian legends to muck about with.

Our job as writers is to out-imagine our readers. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re paid to “make shit up”, thing is, we can’t just make it up as you go along. Your story will suffer if you do so. On the other hand, while doing the actual writing, there are times when you have to make it up as you go along, then once you’re done, you go back and revise so that the rules are consistent. So I have some basic issues I have to think through, a world building checklist:

-rules of magic. Actually, you make up the rules to anything, the key is that once you’ve made them up, you play within them. Magic may seem like one of those areas where you can just make it up as you go along, which means it’s one of the first areas a reader will call foul on when you blow the internal consistency.

-history. Not my strongest suit, but a place should have the feel of being lived in for a while. We’re all swept up in the story of what came before us.


-customs. We would we be without the niceties of society? Then again, I love a good tea ceremony.


-religion. Regardless of your own (a)religious beliefs, you can’t argue that faith has doesn’t have an impact on a person or society. It can be a vital backdrop to your world.


-dress. I’ll tell you right now, if you ever have any wardrobe questions, you need to have Kathy Sedia on speed dial. If there’s a piece of clothing that she hasn’t heard of, the folks on Project Runway simply haven’t designed it yet. And she’d be the first to remind you that dress tells a lot about a character and their culture.


-commerce. Business must get done. The entire set up of the Pimp My Airship world ultimate spins on the commerce system and the world it creates.

-language. Now, I’ll admit to a fantasy heresy: I couldn’t get into The Lord of the Rings. Now look, I loved The Hobbit, but I was barely 100 pages into the “hey dude, I got this ring. We need to drop it in a volcano. We can’t just fly there because we need three books worth of chase scenes to get there” plot when I got sick of the elf songs and trips down language lane. Got it. You spent lots of time putting together maps, languages, and history and you want to make sure we know you did your homework. BUT NO MORE SINGING. Then there was another song and I put down the book. Um, but you do need to know how your characters speak and how to differentiate them.

There’s a great world building checklist on the SFWA website.