Blog Entry #21: Writing Advice-Worldbuilding #3: Believability

Gathering the many pieces of your world together is very fun and exciting. Especially if you are trying to create a massive, sprawling fantasy world for your epic. You learn about new concepts, religions, kingdoms, weapons, etc. Keeping all this information organized and sorting it into its proper place is just one part of the worldbuilding concept, though. To truly make sure that your world is interesting and real is to make it believable. 

Now, achieving believability can be done in a variety of ways. Usually you want to start by picking a time period for your novel, but what if you’re completely making up a new world? How do you decide what technology exists in the setting of the novel? How do you decide what sort of government should exist? What sort of religion matches up with your technology? How many different races are in your world, and what are the various levels of government, religion, and technology? If there is magick, how old is it? Is magick allowed or is it religious superstition? How many different kingdoms exist in your world? How do people travel? Can you get from one continent to the next swiftly, or is travel a huge pain?

This is where you need to start thinking about how the different pieces fit into each other. When you’re creating a science fiction novel, you don’t have to make everyone come from Earth. When you’re writing fantasy, you don’t have to make your time period match up exactly with an existing time period. Sometimes authors do this just to cement the idea of believability into their readers early, like George R. R. Martin matching Westeros with medieval times. The problems that can come out of this, though, are when you allow lazy misconceptions roll over into your fantasy realm because of the excuse that it ‘fits the time period.’ Does it? You created this world; it’s not real. You can do whatever you want.

Once you gain an idea of what fits and what doesn’t in your world you can continue to build off of that. In fact, for many people establishing the time period might make the entire worldbuilding a little easier. You can filter out your ideas and build a nice backbone for what can and can’t exist. In one project I’ve been working on for a few years, there are several different continents but three main kingdoms that all war against one another. One is a technologically advance meritocracy, one is a religion-fueled kingdom ruled by the equivalent of the Catholic church, and one is a former tribal nation that went through a period of rule by Philosopher Kings but is now a trickle-down meritocracy in the fashion of the first kingdom. Magick is real in this world, but it is rare, and there is much in this age that could be called ‘steampunk.’ Since I know how the world is going to be, I can craft the ideas that will keep it believable. I know what works for each kingdom and warring fashion, and I establish what technology can exist and what can’t. 

If you decide to make your world have very little to do with pre-existing time periods on Earth, things can get a tad trickier. You might have to constantly ask yourself important ‘Why’ questions, and let your editor know that there are certain things that need to be watched out for on the side of believability.

So, to create a fantastic sci-fi or fantasy world, make sure you establish early on in your worldbuilding the kind of world you are making. Create hard and fast rules…and then break them. Force the reader to understand the things that absolutely must exist in your world, and then throw curveballs. This is how to make your world highly interesting, to craft a story wherein your world is absolutely believable and then build the ups and downs of the story around that. This way you can create a truly grand, sweeping story that people will talk about for years.