World Building

Fiction writers and even some nonfiction writers often speak of world-building as a key aspect of their craft. I rarely considered the topic until I began seriously writing fiction late last year. Worldbuilding also came home to me when I recently reread Frank Herbert’s epic novel Dune.  My copy Is 884 pages, including four appendices, a map with cartographic notes, a glossary of terms,” and an afterword by the author’s son Brian Herbert. The son gives us a clue to the world-building process of his father’s writing when he states that Frank Herbert spent four years researching world cultures, religions, geography, etc. before beginning to write. He filled several notebooks with his research.

The map, appendices, and afterword make the book sound unwieldy, but I could read it without reference to these materials. I read them after completing the novel, and I think that shows the genius of Frank Herbert as a world-builder. I encountered no footnotes or expository text explaining the world in which the action took place. Some authors refer to this concept as “show, don’t tell,” but there is a danger in merely parroting that term without understanding.

At least one source I consulted, suggested writing a description of the world where your action takes place before beginning the composition. This is for your reference and is not included in the written story.

Worldbuilding is not limited to science fiction and fantasy, though.  John McPhee, a founder of creative nonfiction, employs extensive research in his books and his lengthy New Yorker articles. His book The Pine Barrens involved several visits to the area, interviews with residents, and extensive reading about its history and geography. This is true of each one of his novels. To write the book Uncommon Carriers, he traveled across the country in the cab of an 18-wheeler run by an independent owner/operator. He describes the writing process with diagrams in his book Draft #4.

Imagine writing a story about Appalachia for an audience who has never been to Appalachia and only knows the stereotypes from popular culture. From time to time, I pick up the book Writing Appalachia. In 750 pages, a reader can encounter Cherokee stories, traditional Appalachian folk tales, and a multitude of written works spanning the beginnings of American culture through the 21st century. Most of the authors were born and raised in Appalachia, so the world-building in their poems, short stories, plays, and nonfiction works is implicit.

For more on world-building, see the videos on the subject from worldbuilding corner Reedsy also offers several videos on the topic

I would love to hear your comments on worldbuilding. Please comments in the box below, and please send your announcements to I will include them in future newsletters.

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