The Publishing Process, Writing Advice

Writer’s Tips: Building Ordinary Worlds

Some writers seem to have a knack for world building, Ellen Renner does it to perfection in Tribute, her world is textural , you can feel it, smell it, sense it. Philip Reeve and Sarah Macintyre are masters at it – in Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space they use words and pictures to create crazy worlds that are completely, somehow, incredibly, believable.

How? How do they do that?

Elizabeth Wein, a brilliant world builder herself,  does a great workshop that encourages us to play – no spoilers for her session (which I thoroughly recommend) but play truly is at its heart. I learned a lot when I took part in that workshop but I needed to translate it into something practical that would work for me. My stories tend to occupy ordinary worlds where something extraordinary is going on. How do you recreate that convincingly? Well, here’s what I do:


Get on Right Move or Zoopla and find a property your characters might live in – from country houses to two-up-two-downs, you can nose about inside, check out the floor plans, imagine your character’s life indoors:


Use Google satellite images to see where your characters go – print off maps so you can doctor them but still be confident you aren’t muddling things in your readers minds:


In map form you can find areas that fit your rough idea of your world and fill in the details yourself – this hospital complex might make a good under ground bunker:


Once you have the skeleton you can build your world in your mind, furnish your homes, understand your streets.  The world you have in your mind will bleed into your book – small details will colour your world and if you are confident in it, your reader will be confident too.

I hope.

That’s my plan anyway. When I stop looking at castles I want to live in.

You can take part in Elizabeth Wein’s World Building Workshop for SCBWI  In Edinburgh on 9th May 2015 But places are limited so do hurry!

7 thoughts on “Writer’s Tips: Building Ordinary Worlds”

  1. Great to hear about how you build your worlds.I have done a similar thing with old maps, for historical worlds. I however am currently writing a story that takes places in a very small space, but am I quite stumped because I want to make it historically accurate, but am struggling to find information. You’ve made me realise I need to put a cry out to see if I can find an expert in the field. Thank you.

  2. Good idea Bekki – and yes it is a shame – I really loved the workshop when I did it but a bit far for you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s