Well, it’s a new year and maybe you have some New Year’s resolutions? Like worldbuilding more frequently, or upping your worldbuilding game? And what’s better for that than changing up your writing style for your worldbuilding? Or maybe you want to make sure you’re visiting all aspects of your worldbuilding, and not getting stuck in a large-scale bird’s eye view? Well, blow me down, changing up your writing style can help with that too! So, it wasn’t until I started writing the script for this video that I realised how many things changing up your writing style can help with; motivation, word count, energising your text and shifting or refining the perception of your world, to name just a few. Now I’m totally hooked, and you will be too! Check out the video below or, if you prefer to read, you can read the script below it. What kind of writing style do you favour for your world? And how to you intend to change it up, to get the most out of your worldbuilding? Tell me in the comments below!  

Video Transcript: 5 Best Worldbuilding Writing Styles

Greetings and Salutations! I’m Janet from World Anvil and today we’re going to talk about five different writing styles you can use to up your worldbuilding game. Whatever you’re worldbuilding for, and whether you’re presenting your worldbuilding for everyone to see, or just writing your own book bible, changing up your writing style can be really helpful. Here’s a bunch of reasons why:
  • It can help you gain a different perspective on your world, as you consider it from different points of view.
  • If you’re going for a specific word count, changing up your writing style can be a great way to achieve more words.
  • A change is as good as a rest, and swapping up your style is very refreshing if you’re feeling stuck in a worldbuilding rutt.
  • It makes your worldbuilding more engaging to read, and more inspiring for both you and your audience.
  • By carefully choosing your writing style for your worldbuilding, you can manipulate your reader’s perception of the world you’re creating.
So let’s crack straight on with writing style number 1 – 3rd person omniscient…

Writing Style 1: 3rd person omniscient

Founded over a thousand years ago, the kingdom of Cormyr benefits from an enlightened monarchy, hard-working citizens and an advantageous location. Cormyr is a civilised land surrounded by mountains, forests and settlements of evil humanoids. Known for its well-trained military and its active group of government-sanctioned spell-casters, Cormyr boasts fine food, honest people, strange mysteries and abundant contacts with other parts of the world.
Extract from the DnD Campaign Setting – Forgotten Realms by Greenwood, Reynolds, Williams and Heinsoo

What is it?

Third Person omniscient is the style of worldbuilding writing you’re probably most familiar with. The setting is described in the 3rd person “He knew/ she thought” by an all-knowing voice. This narrator is omniscient – they know everything, they have insight into the thoughts and feelings of everyone, they know all of history, and they might know things that none of the characters do.

Examples:

  • Most classic RPG books, especially the Dungeons and Dragons books, are also written in this style.
  • On the literary side, everything from Pride and Prejudice to the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy is in 3rd person omniscient
  • …and it’s a hallmark of older fantasy books, like Michael Morcock’s Elric of Melnibone and Conan the Barbarian.

Pros:

  • Historically, this is the most common style, and it feels familiar to readers
  • It’s often the default style of new worldbuilders, and the path of least resistance
  • You don’t have to think “in character”, as long as your prose is consistent
  • You don’t have to consider who knows what, and are free to give the audience any information you want
  • 3rd person omniscient is often Encyclopaedic and authoritative, which reassures readers along the learning curve of a new world – it feels like reliable information

Cons

  • Can feel impersonal and dispassionate
  • There’s a tendency to make 3rd Person Omniscient narrative rather dry. It doesn’t have to be though. Even with an encyclopaedic tone you can add interest and immersion by appealing to sensory information. Check out our series on Immersive Worldbuilding for more tips on that.

Tips to get started with this writing style:

  • To get started with this kind of style, go read an encyclopedia article or five. The prose is generally quite invisible, and informative.
  • Once you’re confident with that style, dip into something like Terry Pratchett’s “The Colour of Magic” – that’s also written in 3rd person omniscient, but the style is totally different – playful, punny and whimsical.
  • Experiment with the voice of your third person omniscient narrator. You can tone them according to the genre, mood and theme you want to portray in the world.
  • Want more 3rd Person omniscient inspiration? Check out TJ’s Ves Palu in his world BRASS on World Anvil.
 

Writing Style 2: 1st person limited

Welcome, good sir, to this indispensible [sic] guide. Within these pages, I, your humble author and guide, will describe to you the great city of Whiterun, the Jewel of the North. Whiterun offers numerous diversions for the man in search of adventure, fortune and companionship, whether for a night or for a lifetime. The city is graced with not one, but two worthy taverns and there are maids and wenches aplenty.
Extract from Bethesda’s Skyrim A Gentleman’s Guide to Whiterun

What is it?

First person limited is narrative from a single person, which is limited to that person’s experiences and knowledge. In worldbuilding terms, it’s the personal guided tour, though the narrator may not be explicitly named. Prose might mix in first person “I first visited Nembus Castle on the Festival of New Moon” and second person –  “you’ll want to watch your purse in the Great Bazaar, to the east of the city.”

Examples

First person limited is well represented in fiction – for example:
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Introduction to Volo’s Guide to Monsters, from the Dungeon’s a Dragons Franchise
  • The in-world book A Gentleman’s Guide to Whiterun in Bethesda’s Skyrim
  • The Life of Pi by Yan Martel

Pros

  • This is richly personal and a great way to have an engaging narrative voice
  • Gives a “boots on the ground” perspective to the world
  • Can be very engaging for players and readers
  • First person limited feels like an “in-world” voice, which is an immersive way to learn more about a new world setting
  • It’s a great way to create a submersive experience with conlangs or conslangs (*i.e. idioms, slang, swearing forms or speech tropes for your made up world)

Cons

  • First person limited can feel subjective and possibly like an unreliable narrator to your readers – you never know if they’re lying or not
  • Also, because of the limited view, there are things that can’t be known by the narrator, and if you want to convey those you’ll need to think outside the box.

Tips to get started with this writing style:

  • First person narration works best when the narrative voice has a strong personality – play around with a few, or go eavesdropping in your local cafe to get some ideas
  • Consider what you want to show about your world, and choose your narrator accordingly – a dockyard worker will know all about the ship traffic and imports, but not about the royal palace, for example.
  • Because of this, you might want to use several different first person narratives, but make sure to give them different personalities and styles to set them apart
  • You can think about the conslangs and vocabulary you can use to colour the voices even more.
  • People have preferences and biases – including those into your first person narrative is a good way to establish character
  • To show things outside your narrator’s direct experience, consider hinting at secrets, “rumours”, “tall tales” or “urban legends”.
  • If you don’t want to write a whole article in first person limited, you can intersperse quotations of it in your articles to give them more colour. Remember you can Use Keyboard Shortcuts For Quicker Text Editing!
For more inspiration on the first person limited writing style, check out Brandon Rockwell’s article Sathiid from his world Ethnis on World Anvil.

Writing Style 3: Epistolary Writing Style

Epistolary style: letters, journals and logs

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 42073.1. There has been an outbreak of an unclassified plasma plague in the Rachelis system. We’re on an emergency run to collect specimens of the deadly plague and transport them to Science Station Tango Sierra where hopefully an antidote can be produced.
Star Trek, The Next Generation

What is it?

So, epistle is just a fancy name for letters, and the epistolary style can refer more widely to any in world document, like journal entries, Captain’s logs, newspaper articles, black box recordings or lab reports.

Examples

Examples of this kind of style crop up all through literature and games. For example:
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • Carrie by Steven King
  • The Martian by Andy Wier
  • Bethesda’s Skyrim quests often involve journals or letters to give more information or provide objectives

Pros

  • Letters and documents are a good way to drop exposition into a narrative, which is why they’re used so often in video games
  • Epistolary quotations are great way to punctuate your main writing style with a bit more personality
  • Of course, you can use in-world mood, attitudes and conslangs, for your letter writers or journalists, to highlight these aspects of your worldbuilding more

Cons

  • If using multiple, different writers, you’ll need to change the narrative voice so that it doesn’t sound contrived – this can be tricky, but it’s a lot of fun!

Tips to get started with this writing style:

  • Imagine a few characters with distinctly different writing styles, and explore how they might convey information.
  • Consider choosing a dramatic situation for the POV writer to add more conflict into your worldbuilding article
  • Remember to consider the form and situation the POV writer is in – a lab report won’t be written in the same style as a love letter, an angry email of resignation, or an urgent call for help
  • Experiment to get a good balance of exposition and other information. The perfect blend will stop the documents sounding like an info-dump, but stay enough on topic that reader remains engaged.
  Looking for more inspiration? Isaac Walker frequently uses quotes from the fictional book Hadan’s Guide to Summoning in his world Macalgra, as well as quotations from other sources.  

Writing Style 4: Myths and Legends

I couldn’t resist including this as the example of myths and legends. As a kid, I had the biggest crush on this brick-headed oaf… 😀

What is it?

We’re talking about stories within stories here – that might be myths and legends, folk tales or songs. In our own world that might be Robin Hood and the Ancient Greek Gods, epic Norse ballads, and even haunted video tapes and crocodiles in the sewers.

Examples

  • Examples include Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, in which myths and songs are thickly woven with the narrative.
  • Tolkein’s Tom Bombadil is a great example of a persistently singing character. And he really gets on my tits, but lots of people seem to love him
  • Rowling’s Harry Potter uses these frequently, and she even released the Tales of Beedle Bard, a whole collection of in-world tales

Pros

  • Legends and Songs are a great way to introduce historical, religious and cultural elements into your worldbuilding.
  • They offer a change to the writing style of a worldbuilding article and keep the reader’s interest.
  • They can bring other themes or genres into a world, or strengthen pre-existing ones – for example, themes of love, magic, death, or more.   (check out my “6 questions to ask” for more about worldbuilding with themes and genres).
  • They can be a great way to “info-dump” – perfect for foreshadowing and delivering information in an entertaining way
  • They can add humor or light relief to an otherwise heavy scene

Cons

  • These can feel gratuitous if they’re not well linked in to the theme of the worldbuilding article
  • They can be a bit tricky to get right

Tips to get started with this writing style:

  • You can tie these stories in to major themes in your world to enhance them
  • If you’re writing a plot based in your world, you can use stories or songs to foreshadow major events or introduce mythical characters
  • Writing about deities or demons? Why not include an origin myth, or a devotional hymn for contect?
  • Try using a funny song as light relief after a heavy scene or in a serious worldbuilding article to break things up and keep the interest – for example, a satirical song about a political figure
  • You don’t need to be musical to write song lyrics! Give it a regular or repeating rhythm to make it feel more song-like, throw in a rhyme scheme or add a chorus line or two.
Need more inspiration? Check out Koray’s “Primer on the Moths of Yamoto” from his world Aqualon on World Anvil, which includes both legends and a recorded song embedded in the article.    

Writing Style 5: Narrative Prose

Her fists a blur as they deflect an incoming hail of arrows, a half-elf springs over a barricade and throws herself into the massed ranks of hobgoblins on the other side. She whirls among them, knocking their blows aside and sending them reeling, until at last she stands alone.
Extract from Players Handbook, Dungeons and Dragons 5e

What is it?

  • Narrative prose, at its most basic level, is stories – it is characters interactive with conflict, and often includes dialogue
  • It can be written in first, second or third person, in past or present tense.
  • In terms of worldbuilding, it might be incorporated as flash fiction or short stories embedded as quotations within the main text

Examples

  • Almost all fiction is narrative prose of some form or other!
  • Narrative prose is often used at the beginning of RPG book chapters, e.g. the DnD 5e player’s’ Handbook, as examples of play

Pros

  • It’s a great way to introduce concepts in an attention-grabbing and succinct way, before explaining them further
  • It’s good for introducing interest and Drama Into Your worldbuilding articles, especially if the article feels a bit dry or technical
  • You can get a more personal perspective by swapping tense and person – e.g. 3rd person omniscient past to first person present.
  • It could be used to highlight conflict or drama in certain areas of Your World

Cons

  • Narrative prose can be tricky for a novice, because it requires more experience and writing technique to pull it off

Tips to get started with this writing style:

  • To get started, pick what you want to showcase, then choose a character and scenario which highlight t
  • Try to write high-impact bursts, and choose topics directly related to the article you’re writing.
  • Use the active voice and active verbs, sensory writing, character quirks, distinctive dialogue and clear conflict to make the narrative seem alive.
  • Unless you’re setting out to write a full short story, my advice is that shorter is better for these kinds of flashes. One to two hundred words is probably enough.
  • You can also continue the flash story in excerpts throughout the article, or even in its own separate prose article as a short story.
  • Use the World Anvil quotation function to visually separate these narrative bursts from the main body of text.
  • There’s lots of unusual punctuation and grammar rules involved when writing dialogue –  make sure you check them out so you’re not caught afoul of them and stay consistent

Examples

From the community: Vertixico’s Luductus article in his world Skeigham on World Anvil.   

Wrap up

So to wrap up:
  • 3rd person omniscient – is like an encyclopaedia article about your world.
  • 1st person limited is like a guided tour from a character or characters in your world.
  • Epistolary style is in-world documentation – letters, journals and publications written in your world.
  • Myths and legends are in-world stories, legends or songs
  • Narrative prose is flash fiction set in your world – expect characters, conflict and dialogue.
Combine any or all of these together in your world building articles to manipulate the mood, emotion and level of engagement of your readers. But maybe you want to test your mettle? Write a sentence for each style and post it in the comments below, and check out what others have done too! If you’re new to World Anvil, head over to www.worldanvil.com to get started. All right, are you ready? It’s time to grab your hammer, and GO WORLDBUILD!