Worldbuilding + How I Use Writing To Escape

The first story I ever put on paper was about Frankenstein and his lack of friends. I was seven and had a very empathetic reaction to a story about a lonely, misunderstood outsider. As an adult, I’m still drawn to the underdog, probably because living with an illness is one form of hell the proverbial dark horse could relate to.

But, every good story, whether it be about Frankenstein or a hospital patient, needs a world to exist in. It can appear like a chicken or the egg problem; which comes first, the world or the character? I have the arc of the story in my head, the first page and a half of my story set up, but I need to know where my characters are in order to put detail on the page.

It can appear like a chicken or the egg problem; which comes first, the world or the character? I have the arc of the story in my head, the first page and a half of my story set up, but I need to know where my characters live. That should impact their past, how they move through the pages, and ultimately, the decisions they make. So, today I’m going to build a world and share all the links I use with you. We’re also going to talk a bit about how I’ve been using the story to deal with illness.


Sometimes, it’s easiest to start with questions. Patricia C. Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions is a great place to start. Wrede’s write up is hosted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, so it’s also a trustworthy source. The list breaks down things you need for “Alternate Earth” or “Not Earth At All,” and considers the density of planets, what their gravity would be like, how continents are laid out, etc. My suggestion: go slow. Google is your friend. And, if you’re not writing about a fantastical world, the same questions can prod you to think about details on Earth.

Wrede’s questions are so helpful. I have had different feelings about the different world (which, yes, is on a different planet), but now I have some kind of direction to go in. To make it simpler for myself, I copied down the questions onto a Drive document and started typing my answers. The questions should lead you to narrow down research topics. For instance, there’s so much more I can add to my planetary environment, like different continents, farming, and human impact on the planet. The questions act as a guideline you can use to add detail to your story. It’s an all around good place to start, I think, in order to get a comfortable feel of the world your characters (and one day your readers) will live in.

Serious publications are always a good idea in my book. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about grief, romance, basketball, or aliens: every fictional genre can be matched to a journal, site, or magazine. If you’re passionate enough to write fiction about it, you probably can already name some of these organizations. Also, don’t assume the only good resources are 20 pages long. Case in point: NASA’s “Design A Planet” flash activity. While it may be built for kids, this fast run through tells me within the span of minutes which of my planetary creations could actually exist. Popular Mechanic, this blow-my-mind Chrome Experiment, and Pinterest – wait, what! Pinterest?

It’s the answer to everything, right? Visuals can anchor you in this epic whirlwind of creation. Adding and changing details about your world alters your character in every way. If you want to add a polar escape, your antagonist hopefully packed more than a simple tunic. I need Pinterest and groups like HEY, Writers! to help give my choices a visual aspect I can study.

My story will follow two characters and the choices they make.

That’s a lie. It’s all about independence, I think. “They” always say, write what you know, so I’m writing about the thing I feel I’ve been denied by my body.

Being sick is not a choice I made. I spend many nights being spoon fed by my husband because my tremors prevent me from feeding myself. That wasn’t a checkbox on a form I signed. My medications topped $2,000 this year, and it’s only getting worse. So, sometimes, I have off days and I’m not very cheery. But, typing out my little scenes and adding details to clothing and appearance helps get me out of my headspace. During flares, I like to imagine how the two characters would act, their body language, if they listen to music and what kind – the more I know about them, the better I can imagine how a scene would play out.

Writing has enabled me to look at things now for detail; how would the wind sound during a storm on this new planet? How would all the people react to it? What would the market sound like? Smell like? The only way you get those answers is to listen to what’s already around you. I’m not saying I accept my illness, but it has caused me to slow down and look at details when I can do very little else. Instead of staying in my gray headspace, I channel what energy I have into this world within my reality.

“People talk about escapism as if it’s a bad thing… Once you’ve escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn’t have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality.”

Spoonies, what mechanism do you use to cope? Is there an art form or project that helped you? Writers, I’m curious what resources you use to get your story off the ground?

Monday is almost here, but I think it will turn out to be a great week!



Author: Tiffany Fay

I'm Tiffany! I blog about illness, crafting, and share lots of tutorials. And photos of my cats

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