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The psychology of world building

Use these tips and exercises to make any story come to life on the page.

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Layer 5: The setting or landscape

Finally, we turn our attention to the story’s grander universe. Here is where you establish the landscape for your story. If you’re writing high fantasy, this is where you map out the different kingdoms. In a space opera, you do the same thing, only with planets and star systems. For historical fiction, this step is especially important since you need to understand the history of that landscape and make sure your story fits around the historical events of that time. You don’t want to set your story in a town only to discover that during the time period of your story, the town did not yet exist.

For contemporary fiction set in a familiar environment, this layer is not nearly as crucial, but you still need to fact-check the geography. For example, if your story is set in New York City and your characters must travel from one point to another, you need to make sure they are not driving the wrong way on a one-way street or switching subways in a place where the lines don’t connect.

This landscape layer is one I recommend focusing on when you reach the revision stage. Whether you’re writing speculative fiction or a story rooted in reality, let that world take shape organically as you write your manuscript. Make notes to yourself as you draft so when you come back during revision, you can fact-check or research certain details. Whatever you do, though, don’t let your story’s landscape distract you from what matters most: finishing your manuscript.



As you can see, your story’s world is so much more than a beautiful backdrop. When you adopt this ecological approach in your writing, not only will you anchor your story around your characters, but the world of your story will become more vibrant and engaging. 

Gabriela Pereira is the instigator of and author of DIY MFA (WD Books).