by Twilight Dragon
(Adelaide, South Australia)

Question: My friend and I are currently world-building for our collaborative piece, but we are having difficulties with the man-made geography. We have the agricultural and mining hubs and the capital city down, and a decent forest, but now we still have half a country to fill and little idea of what to do with it.

What aspects are we missing?

Answer: Don't feel you need to fill a country completely before you write your story.

While knowing a lot about your a story world can open up story possibilities and add a feel of authenticity, it is far more important to focus on the characters and what is meaningful to them -- their growth, and the obstacles and opportunities they will actually experience during the course of the story. Unless your characters are actually going to visit every part of the story world (which I don't recommend because it sounds pointlessly dull) then you don't need to fully design it.

Presumably, your main character doesn't need to know every aspect of the world's geography. Some parts he/she will be quite familiar with. Other bits he may have a rough understanding of. And there may be areas of which he knows nothing. During the course of the story, the reader and the main character together may come to discover a little more, but not everything. You may find that you need to alter your story world to suit the story that emerges in the writing. Also, a little remaining mystery is fine. It might even leave the door open for a sequel.

You may need to know some things as writers which the main character doesn't, so you understand why things happen the way they do. But not even J.R.R. Tolkein, the patron saint of world-builders, knew everything about Middle Earth. The east was a big blank because it was not important to the stories.

If you feel you need to flesh things out, to make the world seem more solid, you may want to consider culture as well as geography (acknowledging that the two are often related), especially the culture your main character is immersed in.

Anthropologists, for example, have identified a number of "human universals" - aspects that are part of every culture, though they differ from culture to culture. (See

Again, don't feel you need to address every aspect. Focus on the ones that will matter in your story, the ones that will affect the main character's journey.

Comments for Worldbuilding

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Jul 10, 2015
Okay, maybe I needed to be a little more specific...
by: Twilight Dragon

Okay, yes, I understand your viewpoint there, but it really is an issue for us.

The story is based in a smallish (approx. the size of Northern Ireland, I think)country called Neirro, which is under threat from an invading empire. The government is of no help whatsoever, as it's being undermined by a manipulative corporation. So basically, the only hope is a small resistance group based within the forest I mentioned. Thing is, they have the WHOLE country to protect, so it's not as though any area gets forsaken (why leave 1/2-3-5ths of the country to be invaded anyway?). That, and the characters each have their own backstories that range throughout said country (one's from the mining hub, one's from the capital, one's from a neighbouring country, two are from the forest itself, etc), so it's not like they were irrelevant in the past, either. Some backstories we don't even know where to PLACE their setting, because we don't know where exactly to put them (where's a circus likely to set up, for instance?). And if we just copy over more of what we already have, then yes, it does get boring. What exactly are we supposed to do here?

Jul 10, 2015
by: Glen

Even if your characters are trying to protect the whole country, there will still only be a few places where the events in the novel take place. That's true whether your story world is as small as a farmyard or big as a galaxy. The key locations should be detailed enough to feel authentic. Places where no events take place can be less defined.

If your story world starts to feel small, expand it or your concept of it. For instance, Northern Ireland contains 100s of towns, villages, hamlets, communities, estates, abandoned places, etc. You don't have 100 characters (at least, I hope you don't because that would be too unwieldy). Plus your story world has an empire, other countries, unexplored or uninhabited regions, islands, etc. Change the scale of your map, and you'll see you have lots of room.

You can assume that all the places you name are just a few pins on your map. In between and around, there's much that isn't named that you only flesh out if you need it.

P.S. Circuses travel. They can visit all manner of unnamed communities in a year - anywhere there are enough people to pay.

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