5 Tips for (Microcosm) World-Building

While I am rushing to complete the first draft of my second work, Withered World, I am also carving out time to allow the little nuggets for my next story to germinate.

I think I have jumped fully into Fantasy (or speculative fiction) writing mode and this is a really odd place to be, particularly as a former academic. I avoided writing this genre for such a long time, mostly because instructors told me that Fantasy wasn’t a respectable genre. But I don’t think I can avoid it any longer. I grew up reading Fantasy, devouring Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, Madeleine L’Engle, Charles de Lint and more. And I still love picking up stories written in this genre today. As much of an academic as I have been and still am today. I am also and always will be, on some level, a speculative fiction writer. This sounds like an AA confession. Hello, my name is Sara and I’m a speculative fiction writer!

Anyway…I do think that there are some decided differences between preparing to write something from the speculative fiction world as opposed to straight fiction and right now I’m really focused on the tiny details that reveal a character through a different lens. As I delve further into my imagination (and thus further from reality), I’m picking up on all of these little things I am using to create a rich and lustrous fantasy world. These are nitty-gritty details that evolve a culture as opposed to placing locations on a map. I thought I would share these little tidbits with you in the hopes that they will be of use in your own world-building projects.


  1. Parables and Sayings
    This new story is going to be the most fantasy-esque work I’ve produced in a very long time. We will be journeying far outside the realm of the modern world into a world of my own creation. One such thing I have been turning around in my head are parables or sayings (clichés in their world I suppose — on par with “Don’t cry over spilled milk” and the like) that these characters spout off to each other. I’ve really enjoyed turning over new ideas for this in my head.
  2. Religion
    It’s been a very long time since I last created a new religion (How many people can say they’ve created a religion?). But my background in classical literature and my love of mythology really plays into this and come in very handy. Of course, everything in this new story revolves around the wind, so I am researching various mythological takes on the wind and sort of piecing together a new idea. Ideas for religion are ripe for the taking all around us. Look at L. Ron Hubbard. He “invented” a religion that became an actual thing. #Lifegoals anyone?
  3. Clothing
    I think clothing has come further into focus in the speculative fiction realm. It has always been an important detail, but I think that once stories began to make the leap from book to screen in earnest, writers began to reevaluate how people really began thinking about what sort of dress adopted by a person or a group of individuals. I also think we are seeing a bit of a change in how these figures dress. As our stories get decidedly darker, the raiment gets grittier. In some ways, gone are the days of artful, luxurious swaths of fabric worn by kings and queens.
  4. Names
    There’s something in a name—its sound, its meaning—that reveals a lot about a culture. Names of characters in the fantasy genre tend to follow a particular pattern. They don’t feel like a name that a real person would have. The trouble is, once you name one character this way, you end up having to do the same for the rest of the characters in your story. My main character in this new story has two names. One is her everyday, given name. The other is her battle name. I’m not sure where this idea came from. But I’m sticking with it. The problem? Now everyone who she associates with who is a member of the battalion will have to have two names as well. More work for me…
  5. Symbols
    I can’t say whether purposefully implanting symbols in my stories is a result of my time as an English major analyzing literature or not. Regardless, I regularly take the time to brainstorm objects and other things that come through in the story with a particular meaning or purpose. Admittedly, sometimes these things happen organically. But I do enjoy thinking of them on my own too. Purposefully placing symbols can really help to enrich your writing and the world that your characters occupy.

2 thoughts on “5 Tips for (Microcosm) World-Building

  1. Great article! You’ve hit on two areas that plague me as Fantasy and Sci-fi writer; naming and parables and sayings. I agonize over these, so I don’t pay as much attention to them as I should. Thanks for the reminder. I needed that.

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