The Importance of Worldbuilding in Contemporary Novels

If you’re an avid reader and writer of fantasy books (like yours truly), you know how important worldbuilding is. Worldbuilding is the backbone of any good fantasy story; without a unique world, you have very little to run with.

Just look at Tolkien. He wrote hundreds of pages of worldbuilding, and as a result, readers know exactly how his world functions. People made video games based on his world. They made role playing games set in his world. They made movies about his world. People get into fights all the time about small nuances in his world!

But what I think some people forget (and I’m not excluded from that generality) is the fact that all stories need worldbuilding. Whether you’re writing a fantasy or literary novel, it needs to be there, in some capacity. The only difference will be how much you need, depending on genre.

Recently I decided to embark on a journey that I never thought I’d take: writing a contemporary YA book.

I read a lot of contemporary, and what I’ve found is that you can’t just rely on quirky, fun, or meaningful characters; you also need a world to put them in. I imagine several people think, “Well, it’s the real world. That’s the world.” Trust me, I thought the same thing, once. It’s why I write so much fantasy.


Even if it is set in our world, we need to be specific. Which country? Which state? Which town? Where do they like to eat? Are there any monuments? Are there any weird laws? What’s the society like? Are there dog parks, or are people petitioning for one? Is there a creepy guy with a rifle who sits out on his porch at night? Are there any unique festivals or customs?

The best stories, no matter the genre, draw you not only into the characters’ minds—they draw you into their world.

Example: In SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, we see unique details through Simon’s eyes, such as the sheet cakes his friend brings in whenever someone has a birthday (and the fact that no one can get a piece unless they’re wearing a party hat). We also see the preparation for homecoming and how their location in the south influences Simon’s class to choose “country music” as their theme.

These might feel like small things, but when you put them together in a book, they develop a world for your characters to explore. And through those characters, the reader can enjoy the world too.



Writing Process Blog Tour


So! There’s this thing going around called the Writing Process Blog Tour, and I am now part of it! This is a great opportunity to connect and share your writing process with other writers. Also, I get to promote people, so it’s win-win.


chelsey monroe This blog post sponsored by Chelsey D. Monroe, who is a Pretty Cool Person I met at the San Francisco Writers Conference this past February. Go follow her blog (linked above), or her twitter: @chelseydmonroe. You won’t regret it!


What am I working on?

Although I have a few things in the pipeworks, my focus at the moment is a YA steampunk trilogy. It’s set in an alternate Victorian England where clock towers have to regulate the fabric of time everywhere. My main character is a clock mechanic who ends up falling in love with the spirit of one of the clock towers. Shenanigans ensue.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write in different categories, but my main squeeze is fantasy. I set my stories in other worlds with some magical element, but inspired by our own world’s history. I think two things make my work different than most of what I’ve encountered: 1) diversity, and 2) tone. I’m not afraid to have a gay main character or one of different colored skin; in fact, I prefer it. Also, I grew up reading fantasy and the classics/contemporary books simultaneously, so that influenced my style to be more literary fantasy than sword and sorcery fantasy.

I also seem quite keen to write about death. Couldn’t tell you why.

Why do I write what I do?

People always tell you to write for a reason. “Write for yourself. Write for others. Write for money and fame. Write the stories you want to read.”

But so many factors go into it. People understand one another through stories. Cultures are linked through stories. Morals are defended and humanity is documented through stories. It’s my way to escape the terrors and uncertainties of this world to focus on the terrors and uncertainties of other worlds. I can showcase different people and all their diverse, strange habits. And, to be honest, it’s just fun. I am a word nerd. If I’m not writing or reading, I’m usually very bored.

How does my writing process work?

Hell if I know. It depends on each book. Usually I come to the computer armed with a notebook and a plethora of Post-It Notes, and sometimes I have to do hard core research before writing a certain story. One thing that does help across the board is making a quick, vague outline, and then filling in the details as I actually write the story. Other than that, I park my ass in the chair and type as hard and fast as I can until I have a book. (“Hey, look, I made a bridge. In like, what, 10 seconds? 11 tops.” – Atlantis)

Now that you know a little more about me (maybe), let me introduce three more authors who are talented, witty, and awesome alumni of Hollins University, who will be posting next week:


olivia berrier Olivia Berrier is often clueless and always shoeless. She left behind many footprints at Hollins University in Virginia, where she studied Creative Writing and Mathematics. After college, her bare feet have carried her through many experiences, but her life remains anchored by writing. Olivia writes fantasy fiction, sometimes with a mathematical inclination, and has been dropping stories like breadcrumbs across the Internet since 2007.

kathryn Kathryn is an aspiring writer and editor currently working at Barnes & Noble while she finishes up the draft of what will likely be her debut novel, a teen or new adult high fantasy. She fuels her writing with black tea and reminds herself why she writes by reading copious amounts of escapist fantasy.

megan rogers Megan Stolz is a writer, California girl, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and frequenter of coffee shops. She has a B.A. from Hollins University and an M.F.A. from the University of Baltimore. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband, two cats, and a well-stocked wine fridge. She RTs a lot @megan_stolz.

The Curse of the Fantasy Writer


This may or may not sound familiar:

“So! I hear that you are a writer.”

“Ah, well…yes, I suppose.”

“What do you write?”

“Oh, you know…this and that.”

“Do you write books?”


“What sort of books? What are they about?”

“Well, it’s fiction, mostly. It would be hard to explain.”

“What sort of fiction?”



Cue the slide whistle.

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