Writing Problems: Filling Out the World

The genre of storytelling I seem to have settling into the most firmly is middle grade fantasy. The novel I sent out is in that category, as is the one I’m currently editing and the one stewing in my head. Even many of the short stories I write, while probably better suited for an older audience (I’m assuming, I haven’t found that audience yet) fall into the fantasy category.

Fairy in Irises by Dora Wheeler
Fairy in Irises by Dora Wheeler

It makes sense. I’ve loved the genre, ever since I was a kid with Narnia books and through adolescence where I devoured Pern and Forgotten Realms books. So, it makes perfect sense that I would pick this as my niche.

Unfortunately, I have a problem, a pretty devastating one for a fantasy writer — world building. When it comes to building up the history of my world, the locations, places, even the shape, I’m just no good at it. Partly, this is because I find the whole process a little…boring. (Please don’t throw rocks at me.)

In reading and writing I’ve always cared the most about the characters, where they’re going, what they’re doing, how they grow, which I stand by as one of the most important parts of the story anyway. But sometimes, it’s like my characters are moving with a bubble wrapped around them, and everything outside that bubble is completely blank until my character passes through. I can’t picture the shape of things, fail to imagine the placement of, or distance between, locations, whether their only mentioned or actually visited by my characters. And I forget to people the world with characters aside from them, from important leaders to members of a crowd, and even manage to leave out more varied creatures (if there’s going to be a pet baby dragon, or an annoyed pixie, there’s got to be a few other beasts, right?)

It’s harder for me, so I don’t get as much joy out of it, and so, kind of, I ignore it. But I can’t. I need to learn to fill in all the blank spots, to have answers if someone asked me what happens in a different place other than where my characters are fighting their battles. Because, if I really know that world, maybe there’s more I can draw from it to make my characters, and their journey, even better.

I’m working on it now with the novel I’m editing, figuring out the creatures and the shape of the land just outside her perspective. Maybe doing this can help me with the rewrites — if I don’t get bored of it first.



Is there an important part of writing or crafting a story that you find tedious? Or one that you simply struggle with, no matter what you try?

10 thoughts on “Writing Problems: Filling Out the World

  1. That sounds like a good problem to have, actually… world-building has never been an issue for me, but I find character development really challenging. The most tedious part of the process (for me) is fleshing out a conversation.

    • I’m not too terrible at conversations, probably because I have quite a lot of fun with it. Generally I’m okay at character development, but if I get stuck on something, I get STUCK. I had one problem with a main character that I have spent actual years trying to fix, and it still crops up.

  2. This is so me. My first attempt at novel writing was sci fi and world building was just so hard. Characters are also what I do well. Now I’ve switched to realistic YA and world building is so much easier. I don’t make it up I research it. Now I just need to move to writing in a setting I actually know about and writing will be 2x easier haha. Happy writing!

    • Oddly enough, I find realistic stuff hard. This is probably all in my head, but I feel like my default “voice” fits better in a fantasy setting over a realistic setting (even though realistic issues come up on the fantasies). There does seem to be less of an expectation for the author to know everything about a town in a realistic setting versus a fantasy setting, though.

      • The YA novels I’m currently working on have been a beast to write, far worse than I ever imagined. I set them in a place I’ve visited but don’t know intimately, so I had to do mega-research into setting and mega-mega research into dialect. Then more research into historical context. Then EVEN more research into current events for the past five years. That’s what made the first one so much harder than the second haha.I know this city better than my home town! And with all the current event research I felt like a quasi journalist! But it was necessary to write the most authentic, fair, and honest book I could. Hopefully I got close to the mark! Seriously though, the next stuff I write, I’m setting it in my home town haha.

        • Oof. I think that’s where I have a problem, too: research. It’s necessary in any kind of setting, and I have a tendency to put it off or not go as in depth as I really should. Though I have one novel right now where I can’t figure out the whole plot, and doing research before writing anything is actually helping it to better form in my head.

          Do you have someone who lives in that town that could read your novel to check for authenticity? That could help you feel more confident about it.

          • Haha yes, that’s what I’m doing. Now it’s been through several :) Yeah, and in terms of going in depth…what I’ve done is tweak it and add a bit more with each revision, kind of researching in stages if you will. Then I have to make sure that I don’t try to show off too much and put too much detail lolol

  3. I have the same problem…I feel like I never flesh the world out enough. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I just feel inadequate to the task :b Then I learn how much backstory George R. R. Martin puts in Game of Thrones and I want to crawl under a rock.

    • George R. R. Martin is a freak, if we keep comparing ourselves to him we’ll kill ourselves.

      I guess we’ve gotta just keep calling each other out when we’re slacking ;)

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