A Practical Guide To World-Building

by Adria Quiñones

FullSizeRenderHenry Neff, author/illustrator of The Tapestry series of contemporary MG fantasy novels and our guide to world-building, began the October Professional Series lecture with an intriguing fact: J.R.R. Tolkien created the languages of Middle Earth before he imagined the world. “The invention of languages is the foundation,” Tolkien wrote. “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.”


Setting: The Forgotten Element

Originally Published: June 2012

by Emily Goodman

“Setting is like the forgotten child in writing,” said Michele Burke, editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House Children’s Books, at the January 2012 Professional Lecture.

It’s much less talked about than voice or character. Yet, Burke said, “mining your setting can help tell your story.”

She defined setting as “the world your characters inhabit” and added, “There’s an emotional heft to places.” While ‘world-building’ is usually understood as necessary for fantasy writing, Burke said it’s important for any book set in an unfamiliar world, including historical fiction. In picture books, much of the setting is conveyed through the illustrations.


Playing God: World-Building with Connie Hsu

Originally Published: May 11, 2010

by Emily Goodman

Connie Hsu, assistant editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, discussed the perils and responsibilities of world-building at the March 16 professional lecture, entitled “How You Get to Play God and Learn to Use Your Powers Responsibly.”

The lecture was devised, Hsu said, because Little, Brown receives many fantasy manuscripts and the editors frequently find these manuscripts need stronger “world-building.” This skill, she emphasized, isn’t only used in fantasy: every fiction manuscript, including historical fiction and contemporary realistic fiction, builds its own world, and it must be believable. “You’re asking readers to forget what they know is real and trust you instead,” Hsu explained.

“The three steps to building a believable world,” Hsu said, “are creating the setting, the rules, and the reality.” (more…)