Worldbuilding Tips: Where to Get Ideas

Many people ask me where I get my ideas. That’s always a tough question to answer, but today I’ll share some tips on where I get ideas for worldbuilding. I hope these help you to create alien creatures, futuristic technology, magic spells, new cultures, and all the trappings of building a world.

Build on Common Tropes

I wrote this post a while back about being unoriginal when creating fantasy creatures. There’s a reason that so many fantasy stories feature dragons and dwarves and goblins. And yet, the dragons and dwarves and goblins are different in every story, every world, every sub-genre. There are as many ways to add unique elements to the old standby of “large fire-breathing dragon” as there are people to write the stories. Don’t discount the old traditional classics as a great jumping-off point for original ideas.

Build on Real Things

In this post, I discuss two examples of stories that use real animals as fantasy races. Like the previous point, there’s a lot of value in starting with something familiar and then adding your own creativity to it. Whether you’re creating a race of armor-wearing polar bears, or a dystopian sci-fi world where dolphin and whales have advanced beyond humans, there’s a ton of inspiration in the real world all around.

Build on Real Words

In this post, I give tips to sci-fi writers about how to write about advanced technology or write convincing technobabble. Again, I emphasize starting with something real or familiar. And by “real or familiar,” I don’t mean that it has to exist right now. That’s the point of sci-fi, after all. But by starting with something already established as your base, you can then take the idea in a new and fresh direction.

For example, a lot of science fiction stories employ wormholes. But the wormholes that pop up in Star Trek function very differently from the wormholes in Stargate. And in the show The Librarians, they also employ the occasional wormhole – which again, function in a way that’s unique to that world (and the term “wormhole” is used less frequently than the more “scientific” term of Einstein Rosen Bridge.) And yes, I know all three of these examples came from TV shows, not books, but you get the idea. Worldbuilding is worldbuilding, regardless of the format.

Study your Genre

This should probably be the most important point. Yes, crossovers and genre-blending stories are all the rage, but despite hot new trends, the traditional genres still hold power for a reason. People who like epic fantasy will expect to see a world with some sort of knights and dragons, prophecies and wizards, and great sweeping battles. Read other books in the genre that you’re writing – not to copy their ideas, but to get an understanding of common elements that fans will be expecting and excited about.

For example, right now I am writing in the dieselpunk genre. My stories are historical, but with a strong fantasy element and a pulp adventure feel. I’ve read a few dieselpunk stories, and currently I’m reading some classic pulp novels to get a feel for the kind of world I’m trying to create.

I hope these world-building ideas help you to create amazing new worlds!


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