• Sofia Sawyer

How I Approach World-Building

When it comes to writing, I often find myself gravitating towards building out new worlds. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to it other than I enjoy the creativity and imagination it requires.

Some worlds are variations of places that exist. For example, the town in Secrets of Serendipity is a mash-up of a few small Southern towns I’ve visited over the years. Also,  the camp in Blaire, the Beast, and the Rebellion was inspired by my trip to Edinburgh Castle in 2015. Because I’d already visited these places, it made it easier to reimagine them.


Building a Fictional World


Then there are the whoppers of all world-building, such as the town I developed for Saving the Winchester Inn (my new Christmas romance). This was the most intricate town I’ve built to date, and I quickly learned it takes a LOT more than thinking up a town name and slapping together a few roads and shops. When building out this town, there were additional things I had to consider. For example:

  • Town history

  • The town’s economy

  • Challenges the town faces

  • The population

  • Climate and geography

  • The infrastructure (i.e., how to lay out the roads; what buildings go where and why)

  • How the town fits in with surrounding areas (i.e., distance from neighboring towns; how it functions with surrounding landscapes)

  • What businesses make the most sense

  • Partnerships and rivalries with neighboring towns

Considering all of these elements are essential to making a fictional town believable. I wanted readers to feel like if they traveled outside of Asheville, NC towards the mountains, that this would be a town they’d love to stop in for a bite to eat or to shop. I wanted the town to feel connected to the real world.

Besides the countless notes I made to keep my facts straight, I also drew up this map (forgive my terrible artwork). I found having a physical map like this was helpful when I was writing different scenes. Referencing this took out the guesswork when I described how Lia and Logan would walk downtown and stop in various stores. Or where their favorite hang out was located. Or even what the center of town looked like that brought the community all together.





Pros and Cons of World-Building


I’ll get the cons out of the way and just say it’s time-consuming. If a writer is eager to jump in and get their story going when inspiration strikes, doing the extra step of world-building may not be ideal. Or if a writer is more of a pantser (aka someone who doesn’t plan their story before writing), then trying to remember these details may lead inconsistencies, thus creating more work when it’s time for editing and rewrites.


As for the pros, I find world-building to be fun. It helps me consider how these worlds shape my characters and their experiences. And, to be honest, I kind of like building places I could only dream of discovering in real life someday. Creating these places and diving in deep while writing almost acts as an escape for me. Sure, it’s a lot of work while fleshing it out initially,  but it’s a stress-reliever for me once I get my imagination going. Guess we all have our methods for beating stress!


Upcoming Worlds


In my upcoming stories, I’ll likely have a mix of real and fictional places. In my current work in process (WIP), Tangled Up in You, I created a whole new island off the coast of Scotland. It was a lot of fun doing research on other islands to learn things like weather patterns, ways to access it, ideas for the economy, the geography, and more. All this insight helped shape a convincing island village.


As for an upcoming WIP, I’ll base the setting on the place I currently reside: Charleston, SC. The only other story I’ve written that’s based on a real place is No Place to Hide. Although I’ve visited Portland, ME before, I didn’t have the same intimate knowledge of that area as I do Charleston. It’ll be interesting to see how much easier/harder it will be to incorporate my town into the story.


As a reader, what do you prefer: stories with real or fictional places? For my writer friends: do you like to develop a place or base it on something existing?

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