There are a few big stumbling blocks every storyteller faces when tackling a worldbuilding project. The first is overcoming overwhelm – and the solution is a worldbuilding checklist to quickly get to  a basic, usable setting. The second is more insidious. It’s maintaining your motivation. Fortunately, we’ve got a powerful weapon to help you hold on to your worldbuilding inspiration.

What is the most common thing that derails a worldbuilding project, after a storyteller has made a good start? Lost motivation and direction. To stick with your big creative project, you need to be in a state of “I want to go on this adventure, and I know where I’m headed.” If you find yourself thinking “Why did I want to do this, and where do I go from here?” then you’re going to lose that precious momentum. In fact, without a strong connection to your original worldbuilding inspiration, you may abandon your world completely.

How do you avoid this setback (or overcome it, if you’ve hit this particular wall)? You must understand your why.

Because once you understand your purpose, your next steps will become obvious (which helps avoid lost direction).

You’ll be unstoppable.

Why THIS idea? Dissect Your Worldbuilding Inspiration

There are a lot of reasons you might have decided to create a world. Maybe you’re creating a homebrew setting for your tabletop RPG campaign, or for your novel. But that only answers the question of why you’re building a world. To find your purpose, you need to ask yourself why you wanted to build this particular world. What was the Big Idea, and why did you find it irresistible? What made it a cool idea to you? Often, it’s one of the following elements.

  • The premise is timely. Maybe the theme or twist of this world connects to a specific current issue or recent event. Worldbuilding can be a powerful way to confront injustice, scary changes, and new problems.
  • The premise is personal. Possibly your worldbuilding inspiration for this setting relates to something that is personally meaningful to you, or allows you to explore a philosophical or ideological concept you find fascinating.
  • The premise fixes an error. This is the worldbuilding inspiration equivalent of “fix-it fiction.” There’s an existing setting that got something wrong, and you feel compelled to correct it.
  • The premise fills a gap. The big idea offers something truly new and unique. Maybe it explores beyond the edges of a canon setting. Perhaps it subverts the tropes of a genre or archetype. You’ve got an itch to explore, and no existing setting will scratch it.

Let’s get META: Capture Your Worldbuilding Inspiration

We’ve talked extensively about the World Anvil Meta elsewhere, but it really is a powerful tool to help you as a storyteller clarify your worldbuilding inspiration, purpose and intentions. There are other resources that go into this feature in greater detail, but for now, let’s take a high-level look.

What’s Your Hook?

A compelling world will have a strong premise. This is the unique twist that makes your setting different from the real world, summed up in a sentence or two. For a novel or film, that would be your elevator pitch. For a game or novel series setting, it’s your premise, or hook – meaning it hooks your audience’s attention. But it’s even more important that this big idea hooks YOU, as the storyteller, if you’re going to stick with your worldbuilding project.

For example, Fillory from The Magicians is “a dark, twisted adult version of Narnia.” If you’re familiar with Lewis’ children’s book series, you immediately have a lot of questions. That’s a good worldbuilding hook! Even if you know nothing about the protagonist or the plot, the idea of exploring that world might be enough to pique your interest – and keep you going when you get stuck.

Genre: What Style of Story?

Picking a genre helps the right audience find your work – but it can also be a way to keep yourself motivated and inspired as a creator. People are always looking for “the same, but different” in games and stories – and that includes storytellers. Genres are useful for seeing your world as “the same feeling as your favorite stories, but different in exciting and interesting ways.”

Your genre (and subgenre) says a lot about your setting in just one or two words. That makes it a powerful tool. It can invoke the familiar, beloved stories that inspired you to make this specific worldbuilding inspiration. You probably already know the main genres in commercial fiction, films and games.

These include science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller, romance, western, crime, and historical fiction. But you can also take it a step further, into sub-genres. Fantasy worldbuilding is a “big tent” that includes many flavors, from epic fantasy to urban fantasy to portal fantasy.

Theme: What’s Your Message?

Some stories have a greater point to them. They provide an avenue to explore philosophical questions, moral lessons, and lofty (or pragmatic) ideals. This is where your world’s theme comes into play. It’s the story behind the story. It’s the vehicle through which stories in your book or game setting seek deeper meaning.

A strong theme can be tremendously motivating as a worldbuilder! If you feel like your world has a greater purpose than to merely entertain, that purpose can keep you on track when you’re tempted to abandon your world.

Mood & Tone: A Worldbuilding Inspiration Vibe Check

Some creators are deeply moved by aesthetics and atmosphere. The visual style of your world, the color palette, the soundscape, all come together to create a mood and tone. But it’s more than a surface level element. Mood and tone can set many expectations for the kinds of stories that will take place in your world. Will they be whimsical, bright adventures or somber, gothic struggles?

If you return to the same books, movies and games over and over because you love soaking in the feeling of their settings, then a lovingly crafted mood and tone can make your world a place you are always eager to visit. And that’s powerful worldbuilding motivation.

Have you created your free World Anvil account yet? Take advantage of our powerful worldbuilding platform!

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Focus: What’s Next?

Okay. Let’s say you have an irresistible hook or premise. You are working in your absolute favorite genre, exploring themes that are personally meaningful to you. You’ve established a compelling atmosphere for your setting. You’ve made sure you can always refer back to your original worldbuilding inspiration to rekindle that spark of excitement.

Now what?

You have an entire world to explore. But you don’t have all the time in the world. You need to prioritize your worldbuilding. Pick three to five areas of focus, and build them out in glorious detail. Here are some common choices:

  • Government Presence
  • Rule Of Law
  • Social Services
  • Economic Strength
  • Wealth Distribution
  • Agriculture And Trade
  • Race Relations
  • Class Relations
  • Gender Relations
  • Sexual Orientation Relations
  • Military Influence
  • Religious Influence
  • Technology Influence
  • Arts And Culture Influence

I know this sounds like a lot – and it is. Too much for this blog post, in fact. So we’ll be doing a deep dive on this next.

The End of the Beginning

Through this process, you will document the worldbuilding inspiration and creative vision for your imaginary setting. Being able to refer back to it will help you in many ways as a storyteller. It will help you bust through writer’s block. When you know your overall purpose, often your direction becomes obvious. It can help you resolve story problems, because it serves as a guidepost to help you find a solution that supports your purpose and makes sense in context And it can keep you motivated, because you understand WHY you wanted to build this world in the first place. World Anvil was built to help with this! So if you haven’t already, be sure to create a free account to check it out.

We’ve covered finding your purpose, but we’ve really only touched on the question of direction. Which is another thing that gets storytellers stuck when worldbuilding. You might have guessed it means a deep-dive into choosing the focal points for your world. And that’s what we’re going to tackle next! Be sure to subscribe, so you don’t miss it!