Open any book on writing fantasy or science fiction and you’ll find a section on world building.
Four cases in point:
- Bova, Ben. The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, OH, 1994.
Bova writes a section on “Background in Science Fiction” in which he discusses the uses of background (back story and world building elements), offers a complete short story as an example, and then practical suggestions on how to apply the techniques he’s discussed in the context of the story. Bova makes reference to the greats of SF (Bradbury, Niven) as well as to literary works to round out his advice.
- Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, OH, 1990. The Writer’s Digest Genre Writing Series.
Card also has a chapter on “World Creation” which he summarizes thusly:
How to build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world that readers will want to share with you.
Kinda speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
- Killian, Crawford. Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Self-Counsel Press: Bellingham, WA, 1998. Self-Counsel Writing Series.
Killian writes a chapter on “Creating Your Fictional World,” including the following topics: A symbolic reason; A sense of what is natural; Parallel worlds; and Fantasy worlds.
- Gerrold, David. Worlds of Wonder: How to write science fiction and fantasy. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, OH, 2001.
Gerrold’s book contains several chapters on world building: Setting the stage; To build a world; Detailing the world; Building aliens; Believability; and Fantasy worlds.
Once again, every book on writing SF or Fantasy will include a section on world building in one form or another. The more you read about it, the more you learn and the better you get at this whole world-building thing.
Books specifically about world building
I’m going to start with a book by fellow Canadian Authors Association member, Sandra Stewart. She offers workshops in world building based on this publication. Go check out her site for more information, or to get a copy of her World-building Workshop Workbook.
Sandra’s philosophy is to build from the micro to the macro and she gets into all the details from arts and entertainment, through calendar, to war and wizards. She covers common pitfalls too.
Three more from Writer’s Digest:
- Gillet, Stephen L., Ed. Ben Bova. World-building: A writer’s guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, OH, 1996. Science Fiction Writing Series.
If you’re interested in creating planets and star systems, this is the book for you. In fact, I’d recommend the whole of the Science Fiction Writing Series, which delves in-depth into Space Travel and Time Travel among other subjects.
- Ochoa, George and Jeffrey Osier. The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, OH, 1993.
Ochoa and Osier cover some topics, like space stations, spaceships, civilizations, and other technological jumping-off points that some of the other writers don’t treat in quite the same way.
- The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, OH, 1998.
Contributors include Terry Brooks and Sherrilyn Kenyon. As detailed as the above references are regarding the creating of a science fiction world/universe, this book is just as thorough with respect to the creation of a fantasy world. It covers law and commerce, costume, myths and legends, and castles among other topics. It’s a great starting point for research.
- Scott, Melissa. Conceiving the Heavens: Creating the science fiction novel. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH, 1997.
Though this book might more appropriately belong in the books on writing SF and Fantasy (above), Scott fills more than half of it, pp 27-120, with various aspects of world building. Like Stewart’s World-Building Workshop Workbook, I’d recommend Scott’s book because it offers a woman’s perspective on the techniques of world-building. Further, Scott was Harvard-educated, which makes her perspective even more unique. Her apology, “A brief defense of Science fiction, or why does someone who went to Harvard write this stuff anyway?” is both a humorous and insightful look at how SF is really a way to deal with our essential discomfort about change.
If I’d wanted to go tub-diving in my basement storage, I could have come up with half a dozen more books to recommend, but it takes something really special to make me dare the Rubbermaid jungle 🙂 Yes, I’m a book-addict. Ask my husband, and if you do, have a beer ready for him to cry into!
Do you have any books on or containing sections of world-building that you’d recommend? Share in the comments so everyone can benefit!
As a friend of mine says … heading for Bedfordshire.