Having a good strategy to expand your worldbuilding is critical to avoid having different parts of your world that feel disconnected from each other. This can be a problem if you have a big world —but there’s good news too! There’s a simple method you can use, so let’s dive right in!
1. Ask yourself: “If this, then what?”
Everything has consequences, even in a fictional world. Or at least, it should! Adding links and consequences to your worldbuilding is the best way to make your world setting feel authentic and rich! So how do you create them? Well, just ask yourself: “If this, then what?”
Here’s how to do it. Take something from your world (the last thing you created, or something that’s well-established) and think about how this affects everything else. For example, if anyone in your world can just go around throwing fireballs off their fingertips, society will have evolved in a way that can survive these crazy wizards! Maybe everyone will favor fireproof materials, or there will be an extra-severe punishment for arson. Depending on your focus, you might have created a planet from scratch, which will seriously affect absolutely everything! For example, in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, brutal hurricanes blow all throughout the continent regularly. One of the consequences is that most lifeforms, from plants to intelligent life, have adapted to be able to resist this extreme weather.
So if you’re stuck expanding your world, or if you want to check your world setting makes sense? Just make sure you use “if this, then what?”!
2. Take a deep dive into a culture or country in your world
If there’s a culture or a country you really enjoy writing about… well, what are you waiting for? It’s time for a deep dive! Just pick an aspect of your culture and develop it —you could write about winter traditions, birth traditions, fashion, and many other topics! But remember that the culture or country is not alone in the world, so make sure that, for each of these things you write, you also think about how they relate to the wider world. The result will be an amazingly consistent world, which will make it feel more real!
If you want to expand on a culture but don’t know where to start, think about their environment. A culture that lives in a cold place will probably have very different traditions from one that lives in the middle of the hottest desert. Once you have that, think about their values and their beliefs. This will influence everything: from festivals to fashion! With a core set of beliefs, then it’s a matter of looking at the culture and figuring out what would be most important. If they live in a harsh environment, it’s probably a good idea to come up with survival-related traditions: how do they get food? How are their shelters built? If it’s a snowy place, then how do they protect themselves from the cold? Yep, I just used the “if this, then that” method —and so should you!
3. Flesh out a city, from a smudge to a thriving metropolis!
Most of us have cities in our worlds that are just a name on a map (or not even that). Well, why not take it and turn it into a town, a city, or a huge thriving metropolis?
First things first – think about how the location of your city impacts it! We’ve done a whole video about how geography can affect the character of a city, right here.
Next, think about cultures! A great place to start is by connecting the city with its dominant cultures. The capital city of a rich country known for its trade routes will probably be filled to the brim with people from all over the world. If that’s the case, make sure to make it as colorful as you can, mixing together aspects of every culture! On the other hand, you can expect very different things from a city that’s at a very strategic point in a highly militarized country. Expect advanced defence systems, constant patrols, and a far more serious tone, especially when it comes to following the law.
But if you want to feel like you’re doing something different, experiment with the concept of “city”! After all, a city doesn’t have to be a bunch of building on the ground. They could be inside trees, underground, floating in the sky, inside underwater bubbles, a floating technological marvel in outer space… your imagination is the limit! How you do this exactly will depend on what kind of world you have. But making a city that feels different will not only prevent you from burning out, but it will also help your readers or players to more easily differentiate between the different parts of your world.
4. Pick a new area to expand your worldbuilding
If you’re out of ideas, maybe it’s a sign that you’re ready to move on to the next active worldbuilding area! Opening up a new region in your world means that you’ll be able to use ideas that might not fit the previous one. But make sure that the new area still feels like it’s part of the same world! If you have prehistoric elves riding dinosaurs in one continent, don’t create a sci-fi space-faring civilization full of blue people in the next one! Since everything in a world is related in some way, use the “if this, then what” method to come up with connections between both areas. And this will help you decide how you should approach the new one!
Still stuck with this? Make sure you’ve created your worldbuilding meta, the scaffolding of your world!
5. Worldbuilding prompts to fill in the blanks when you expand your worldbuilding
Worldbuilding prompts are an amazing way to help you expand your worldbuilding too, since they’ll ask you to think about aspects of your world that you might not have thought about otherwise. But be sure to use them properly!
Just because a prompt asks you to write about a romantic story, doesn’t mean you have to follow it to the letter. First, make sure the prompt actually fits your world. Second, feel free to bend prompts so that they serve YOU. For example, if a romance story doesn’t fit your genre or world, this prompt could inspire you to write about a beautiful friendship instead! Or how about an unrequited love, or tragic lost love which fuelled the villain’s rage? Use the prompt as a jumping off point, and don’t be afraid to subvert or twist it to fit your own world, story or campaign.
On World Anvil we have over 100 worldbuilding prompts (and counting!), so make sure you take a look. Some have linked resources, like videos and blog posts, and many have answers from the community that you can check out as inspiration!
Or what about our official Mapvember 2021 prompts? If you haven’t already, why not incorporate those into your world?
How to expand your worldbuilding in WorldEmber 2021
WorldEmber is a worldbuilding challenge run by World Anvil every December. This post is designed to get you ready for that event by helping you focus on what you want to achieve during the month! Because WorldEmber is all about getting to that 10k wordcount (at least), having a clear idea from the get-go about how you’ll expand your worldbuilding is key. And it’s an amazing time to flesh out a new part of your pre-existing world or to build the beginnings of a new world setting from scratch.
WorldEmber 2021 Homework Task 1: The Pledge Document 2021
Every week of November, we’ll give you a homework task so you can prepare and start WorldEmber with a BANG! This week is about creating the Pledge Document: create a generic article on your world and use it to track your preparation!
- Create a generic article in World Anvil – it can be in a pre-existing world or a brand new one!
- Start the document is with “I pledge to write 10,000 words of worldbuilding during December!” (Or, why not go for 25K or 50K, if you want to!) Check out the participation graphics here!
- Then create and expand a section called: “My goal during WorldEmber 2021 is XXXX because XXXX:”. Then tell us how you’re going to achieve that goal and expand your worldbuilding this December! You might use some of the strategies in this post, such as:
- expanding on the meta section (in a new world) with “if this then what?”
- to flesh out a new active worldbuilding area (in which case, detail this with a mini-meta)
- to develop a new or preexisting culture in your world further
- to flesh out a new or prexisting city in close detail
- to complete a series of prompts (in that case, pick 10-15 prompts)
- …or something else!
And that’s it! During WorldEmber, make sure to use the “if this, then what” method we talked about in this post, and feel free to scroll through our worldbuilding prompts for ideas! And if you want to show off your WorldEmber goal, we’ve prepared some participation graphics for you! Download them here!
Make sure to share your Pledge Document as a comment to this post! We’ll be sharing our favourite on the community live stream!
Oh, and if you have questions about the challenge, check out the WorldEmber 2021 official page here. If you STILL have questions, you can throw those in the comments too!