How to world build: World to Story & Story to World

This is first in a series about how to world build.  To be exact, various ways you can world build.  This post covers two different approaches on world building that appear to be opposites:  world to story – creating your world and then finding the story – and story to world – creating your story and then discovering the world in which it takes place.

I start with a world.  Really, I do.  I think and think and think about this world, the climate, the culture, the characters.  Only then do I find this world’s story.  Every world has a story hidden somewhere; my job it to find it.  Often I will ask “Why?”  Why does this culture dislike art?  Or “What does this cause?”  What does the frigid mountain climate cause?  Mostly I just learn more about the world.  At some point I will find the story.

Look at these pictures.  Mountains.  Sea.  Woods.  Prairie.  Each is a world.  Pick your favorite, or whichever stands out to you most, and stare at it.  What caused this scene, or is completely of nature?  What is beyond the picture frame?  Who comes here?  Where do they live?  You can follow the people if you wish.  Or you can follow the scenery beyond the picture frame until you see history in the making.  There is your story.


Now, let’s go story to world.

Grab your favorite plot generator (feel free to tell us about it in a comment)  or use mine:  It’s on, a site for Christian science-fiction writers (and that’s all you’ll get until I get around to making a Useful Site post).  I love this generator because it is so complete – it even includes a theme – and yet doesn’t tell you your entire story.

Generate four plots, and like the pictures, choose one that interests you or grabs your mind.  Sit back and think a little bit – just a little bit – about this plot.  How does it start?  Do you see any immediate twists?  What type of characters do you need for this story?

Now think about the setting – the world – in light of that.  Does it start in the outdoors a hundred miles from nowhere or in crowded slums?  Examine each part of your.  Are some of the plot points only made possible because of setting?  Do parts of the plots gives clues to the world and culture?  You will generate a number of isolated elements this way.  In the end you will have to weave them together.

Both techniques have downsides.  World to story doesn’t guarantee a captivating plot, or even a plot at all.  But then, you could always save the unused worlds for unused plots.   Story to world may leave your world feeling a little empty.  However, you could fix that by spending a lot more time on the world.  In the end it’s a matter of what you’re willing to work on.  Either way, you let either the world or the plot come to your mind naturally, and then work to find the counterpart.

Second in the Series: In-Out & Out-In
Third in the Series: Useful Sites

How do you world build?


About Kathrine Roid

I'm an science fiction and fantasy author living in Texas with an undead parakeet and teleporting cat. Think about that for a moment.

Posted on January 3, 2011, in Creative Writing Prompts, On Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. story to world for me 🙂

  2. Abby aka PrincessoftheKing

    I’m definitely a world to story person… which is probably why I have plot issues. 🙂 My current story is more of a characters to world to story, though. I developed my charries first, and out of that came a world and a story.

    Nice post! I really like what you said about the pictures, and asking who might have passed through, or what might have happened there.

  3. I start with a random scene that is stuck in my head, and then work from there… well, that’s what I’ve been trying, anyways… ♥ your blog! Keep postin!

  4. ~
    Probably so, Abby. 😕 Thanks! I really enjoyed picking the photos out. Funny thing, though. I decided to test each photo, trying to see how easy it was for me to find a story. I stopped very quickly. I didn’t want my muse running off with any of the ideas I found!

    *rolls on the floor laughing* Drags, I should never have told you about gibberish emails. One thing: use the same gibberish email every time, and I won’t have to keep approving your comments, and your gravatar won’t change. I changed your email this time to your previous one so that your gravatar stayed the same, BTW.

    Glad you like my blog. 🙂 A new post is in the works for today.

  5. Hey again, Katir! I always do story, and then world for me, like PoTK. It just… works better for me, I guess. It can be difficult for me to stare at a picture to come up with a story idea. First, I normally come up with the character or the plot idea. And then, maybe I do the world. It’s just how I do things. 🙂

  6. Oops, I mean I do it like Louise. *blush* *is a little scatterbrained today*

  7. Yeah, I’m not the only one! And I am a bit weird 🙂 Kat can testify to that MWAHAHAHAHA!

  8. Lol, do you know Katir IRL? 😀

  9. ~
    Elly, scatterbrained is OK. As you see, I’ve let Louisa loose, and she’s self-admittedly more than scatterbrained. No, I don’t know her in real life. We live in different countries! We’ve just been close cyber friends the last six months.

    Louisa, how many times do I have to tell you? Your villain is NOT an evil/mad/etc overlord/scientist/etc.

  10. I’m generally a character and story to world person. I occasionally start out with a world but it usually comes last.
    I really enjoy multiple dimensions/worlds. Not planets, though.

  11. Aww. But that’s interesting! And when can I read stuff?
    And like Kat said, we don’t know each other IFL, since she lives in America, and I live in Canada 🙂 We met online in Julno.
    KAT SEND ME THE STORIES (RR and the KR SERIES)!!!!!!!!!!!!

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