Setting The Stage: How To Begin Worldbuilding

When I had to break into Pym Technologies to steal the Yellowjacket suit, I made sure I knew the layout of the building beforehand. Where were the guards? Where did the security system operate? How could I use my ant-riding skills in the most awesome way possible? (All right, maybe not that last one. But you’ve got to admit, it was pretty awesome.)


Similarly, it can be very helpful for you to know about the setting of your novel before you begin to write it. You might be setting it in a place that already exists-London, Brazil, the Sahara Desert, you name it. Or you might set it in a different universe entirely. The possibilities are practically endless.

But how do you begin to build a fictional world, one that really makes sense?

There’s no right or wrong way to start the process of worldbuilding. However, I’m here to offer some pointers on getting started.

If your setting already exists, then research can be a huge help. Especially if your story takes place in a historical time period, then it’s a good idea to make sure the facts are correct. Look in books, look online, even talk to experts if you can. And who knows? You may uncover cool facts that inspire whole new stories. That’s the wonderful thing about research.

If you’re creating a setting from scratch, you may think you don’t need to do research, or any planning at all. But surprisingly, you probably do. Even in completely fictional worlds, the details still need to make sense with one another. Contradicting facts will lead to many headaches later on in your writing. So take some time to create the structure of your world. The small details are important too - tiny facts can have immeasurable power.


The setting of a story will have an impact on its characters. Their backstory, their beliefs, their language...all of that will be affected by the world around them. Sometimes, the process of building and researching a world will help you learn more about your character. Other times, you might learn more about your world by developing your character first. Again, there’s no right or wrong way. It took me a long time to learn how to use my Ant-Man suit, but eventually, I found a method that worked for me, and the same goes for writing.

Don’t forget about the mundane or basic truths of worldbuilding, either. What currency is used? How do people obtain food and shelter? What about plumbing and sewage?

Here are some topics you might want to think about.

  1. Geography, weather, and climate. What is the physical location of your story like? How does it affect those who live there?
  2. Basic needs-food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. How are they obtained?
  3. Trade, economics, and money. Do these have an effect on your world? How does everyone get the goods and services they want/need?
  4. Religion. What religions exist in this world, if any? How do they affect daily life?
  5. Government. Is someone in charge? Does it vary depending on where you go?
  6. Technology. How advanced is the world? What tools have they created to serve their daily needs?
  7. History. Have there been wars? Times of peace? Changes in government, advances in technology, social breakthroughs? Where has society come from and where does it seem to be headed?

One more important truth about worldbuilding is that it can seem never-ending. When my alter ego is developing her world, she normally ends up with more questions at the end of the day than at the beginning. It feels as if each new discovery - how the government functions, where the water comes from, what types of animals exist - just opens up another issue to be solved.

That’s perfectly all right.

The process of building a world from scratch isn’t easy, and the process of writing about a world that already exists isn’t easy either.

But I know you can do it. Writing is a marathon, and it takes a lot of stamina. Even when the end doesn’t seem to be in sight, keep running.


Write on!

~ Ant-Man

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