Do you want to entice your readers with a well-developed, creative world and an abundance of lore to dive into?
Whether you write sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, or any other genre, great world-building always stands out and draws readers in.
The art of creating a world that is concise, engaging, and rich can be daunting. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know where to start!
From coming up with a concept, thinking about the setting and inhabitants, brainstorming ideas for scenes and plot twists, all the way through editing, writing a novel or a story can be a lot of work.
If you’re not sure where to start writing the lore for your next story, check out this short, handy guide I put together using advice from top-selling authors!
1. How Far Will You Go? – Defining The Scope Of Your Lore
The very first question you’ll need to ask yourself is how far will you go?
That means – how much do your setting and lore skew the physics, cultures, and creatures of Earth?
As the author, you get to pick what parts of lore will feel familiar to your readers. You can base your world on ours, or make up an entirely different realm – it’s up to you.
You create an alternate reality if you only slightly nudge the world’s development in the other direction. But with an imaginary world, your creativity is your only limit.
However, your job as an author will be to convince your readers that every detail, event, and location makes sense in your story’s universe.
From Alternate Realities To Imaginary Worlds
You don’t have to make up details of your world and lore out of thin air. Ground your world in reality – and you’ll have a solid base to work with.
Dystopian universes and speculative and science fiction worlds often begin as real human societies where something played out very differently.
Sometimes, a nuclear catastrophe drives people to live underground, and other times, books become forbidden by law. The new rules influence the way your world and story develop, but the setting is still somewhat lifelike and familiar to the reader.
Whether that includes the species of your world, languages, cultures, countries, or even lifelike descriptions of existing locations, or just some of those elements, is entirely up to you. This world-building approach creates an alternate reality.
Most literature based alternate realities rely on our existing world, but asks the question “what if?”
If you aspire to create a brand-new, lore-rich world with unique cultures, geography, history, and even physics, species, or forms of power – you’re after an imaginary world.
Writing this form of fiction is harder and requires meticulous attention to detail – but it’s totally worth it.
Most fantasy genres take place in imaginary worlds with complex world-building. However, that doesn’t make the stories removed from our real lives. In fact, authors often use fictitious elements to express the problems humanity faces.
Whichever you choose, your readers will appreciate a concise world where details don’t stand out or defy the logic of your lore.
2. Find a Starting Point For Writing Your Lore – Top Down or Bottom Up
Did you know that J. R. R. Tolkien started building Middle-earth by first creating the languages of the elves? He started writing the world-famous fantasy from a detail – and built upon and around it.
You can approach building your fantasy world like Tolkien – bottom-up, or take a more generalist approach and start world-building from broad concepts and narrowing down as you go.
The Top-Down Method
Let’s start with the generalist approach to lore writing. World-building from the top down means you create the big, important concepts first, and then work on specific details as they strike you.
For example, you may start creating your world by outlining the main rules of physics and magic (or other sorts of power), creating the deities or holders of power who are in control, and making the map of main countries and cultures.
After nailing down these broad concepts, you can add details and particularities as you write – or as inspiration strikes.
This is a safer approach that will ensure your lore makes sense, but it also requires a more analytical approach. Just make sure you keep track of all the details so nothing falls out of line!
The Bottom-Up Method
As I mentioned above, one of the most important worlds in fantasy was created around a single, central detail – a language of a particular species.
While you don’t need to create a language yourself, you can follow Tolkien’s approach and use this specialist, bottom-up method when world-building.
In essence, you start with tiny details and expand them with other logical follow-up details until you reach a greater whole. For example, you may start with describing the home of your protagonist, the dominant political system, or the unique kind of fruit that grows in your land – anything can be a good starting point.
3. Tips on Writing Great Lore
Ask the Right Questions
It’s easy to overlook significant details when world-building. That’s why many authors recommend answering sets of world-building questions that will prompt you to think about important aspects of lore that you might otherwise overlook.
These questions cover everything from social and political organization, the inhabitants’ cultures, customs, values, and beliefs, the rules of tech and magic, the world’s landscapes, wildlife, and climate, and much more.
Create Characters You Can Root For
Make it easy for your readers to connect and empathize with your characters. Going with a humanoid species for your protagonists is a good bet.
The physical shape of your creature doesn’t matter that much. Remember Aesop’s fables – it’s the characters’ joys, rationalizations, sorrows, and flaws that create characters we can root for.
Find Inspiration Everywhere
There are so many ways to get creative and make your story come alive. Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere!
You may flesh out your fictional world by adapting or drawing parallels with real-life locations and events that surround you.
From landmarks like buildings in a city center or pivotal events such as wars between countries, stories you heard as a child, to historical personalities or that unusual person you saw when people-watching the other day. Literally, anything around you can inspire new ideas!
Do Your Research
If you base your novel on a real place, historical event, or person, you need to do your research well.
If you want your writing to be authentic, then it needs access to the knowledge of the specific place, time, or event you’re describing.
Doing this properly requires getting familiar with what makes that location unique and seeing how those findings can resonate in other stories or settings. It also lets you make connections between places for readers who may not already know much about them.
It is important to study and explore any way you can to achieve a deeper understanding of the place or time. It’s also worth looking at literature from that era, watching documentaries on TV or YouTube, and visiting historical sites and museums.
Go beyond just reading about it! Understand the logic of why things happen at particular locations, then take those details to create an engaging story that captivates readers from start to finish!
Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
Last but not least, as Newton famously proclaimed, you can only see further than others if you stand on the shoulders of giants.
He was not alone in that idea – the legendary Picasso also said that “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
There’s truth to that. If you, for example, analyze much of the famous works of epic fantasy (and beyond the genre, really), you’ll see that many great authors draw inspiration from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should outright copy your favorite author’s work. However, you can use their expertise to become a better writer.
Next time you pick up a brilliant author’s book, try to analyze what exactly makes their stories concise, their sentences captivating, and their worlds breath-taking.
You may even try a few writing exercises, where you write a story that’s set in their universe or rewriting a chapter from your favorite book from memory.
4. Wrap Up
World-building is a difficult task for any author.
There are so many ways to approach writing lore, but the goal is always to make your world feel alive and interesting by adding intricate details and carefully planned out history, locations, and cultures.
Whether you focus on big-scale politics, monster hunters, or simply describe how people dress, what they eat and do for fun – there’s no right or wrong way to go about it!
The more effort you put into figuring out these things ahead of time will help make sure that your story feels immersive and captivating from start to finish. So, go write!