Resources for Settings and World Building, Part 1 (Penny Rader)

We’ve had several great posts this month about how our members create their story settings and build their story worlds. I thought I’d share some of the resources I’ve come across.

Writer’s Guide to Places by Don Prues was recommended during one of last summer’s RWA national conference workshops.

This book features all fifty states, ten Canadian provinces, and fifty-one North American cities. It provides information such as basics that shape your character (state motto, major industries, prevalent religions, ethnic makeup, etc.), significant events your character might think about, facts your character might know, food & drink, myths & misconceptions, interesting places to set a scene, places where your character might live, etc. (Warning: Many of the reviews on Amazon say this book has errors and out-of-date info, so while it may be useful as a starting point, you will definitely need to do deeper research.)

The Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blog has a section titled Travel with Us.

The posts give info about why visit this place, favorite places to eat, what is this place known for that is not stereotypical, general population, must see/can’t miss, etc. They plan to have a new post each month.

I found a wonderful array of articles online about creating settings and world-building. I hope you’ll find them helpful:

The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life (Anne Marble)

“Avoid huge lumps of description…Make description an active part of the story…Describe what your characters would notice…Use strong, active, concrete writing words…Use all the senses…Don't let description hang you up during a first draft…”

Blueprints: Building a Home for Your Characters (Elizabeth Chayne)

“The immediate advantage about drawing a house plan for your characters is that it can give you a fairly concrete idea of what sort of house your hero lives in. Of course, it's never going to be the same as actually standing in a real house, but if you don't have a substantial bank account to buy a real-life model, house plans are the next best option.”

Character and Setting Interactions (Alicia Rasley)

“…a quick exercise to help you explore your protagonist's relationship with the setting.”

Collect Settings, the More Unusual the Better (Angela Booth)

“Create a ‘Settings’ section of your writers' journal. Pretend you’re a location scout for a movie. For the next two weeks, wherever you go, write a short entry in your journal describing the key points of your location.”

Creating a Realistic Fantasy World (Penny Ehrenkranz)

“Creating your fantasy world means building a world based upon reality and making sure that your reader knows the rules of that world. Your characters must remain true to those rules throughout your story. For your readers to accept and continue reading your story, they have to believe in your world and accept what is happening to your characters.”

Creating a Setting (Taylor Lindstrom)

“Creating a setting is easier than creating a character. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t require some serious thought and attention.”

Creating Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds (Michael James Liljenberg)

Covers creating your story world’s theology/spirituality, physics, weather, geography, astronomy, zoology, and anthropology.

Developing the Fictional World through Mapping (Holly Lisle)

“Most of the books I've written have started with a map. Not with an idea, or a character, or a theme. With a hand-drawn map, doodled out first while I was sitting and keeping someone else company, or while I was on break, or when I couldn't think of what to write and had no ideas to speak of and knew that if I drew a map something would come to me.”

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions (Patricia Wrede)

Topics: The world; Physical & historical features; Magic & magicians; Peoples & customs; Social organization; Commerce, trade, & public life; Daily life.

Four Ways to Bring Setting to Life (Moira Allen)

“Reveal setting through motion… Reveal setting through a character's level of experience… Reveal setting through the mood of your character... Reveal setting through the senses…”

Historical Fiction Settings: Details to Make Your Story World Real (Jennifer Jensen)

“Your reader should be able to tell when and where the story is set from the details you give. More than that, your story should not be able to happen anywhere or anytime else.”

Houses are People Too: The Structure of a Literary Device (Geoff Hart)

“…houses can be as real as any other character in a story. To see how that works, consider the concept of house from three distinct, but strongly interrelated viewpoints: the concrete and physical, the psychological, and the purely symbolic.”

How Do You Research Settings (Joyce Good Henderson)

“Watch people, places, and their interactions with the environment…Walk through a scene as if you are the character…Take your characters to a restaurant…contact the local Chamber of Commerce…Be as accurate as possible...”

The Importance of Setting in Fiction Writing (Joyce Good Henderson)

“Setting gives framework for the hero and heroine to interact… creates mood and influences behavior… defines character… adds to conflict… evokes emotional response… adds to the sensuality of the scene… foreshadows and moves the plot along… involves inside and outside, transitions and movement…”

Kathy Carmichael Talks about On-Location Research

“We drove the city, visited shops, restaurants, stores, and the local newspaper. We looked for good locations to commit a murder, dump a dead body, and so on. If you’ve never stood on an embankment, looking down at a river, and wondered how you’d get a heavy dead body down that hill, then you may not realize quite how invigorating it is.”

Location, Location, Location (Jim C. Hines)

“We're writing stories, not doctorate-level dissertations. ... I've found it helpful to focus on two things: details and differences.”

Part 2 will continue on May 31. I'd love to hear if you've found any of these resources helpful. Please share any resources you think would be helpful to another writer.


Mary Ricksen said...

Great Links!!! Thanks so much for all your time.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for stopping by, Mary! I hope you found some of them helpful. :D

Maeve said...

What a helpful listing, Penny. Thank you so much for taking the time to plot all of this out. :)

Penny Rader said...

Welcome, Maeve! I love finding stuff online and can't resist sharing it. (I do have tendency to go overboard.)

Debbie Kaufman said...

What a great list of resources. Thanks for including the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blog. We are planning on one post a week until we run out of volunteers and then we'll go back to one a month! If anyone wants to participate, please email me dlkaufman AT bellsouth (dot)net

In the meantime, I'll be checking out the links on your list for stuff I'm writing now!

Sandy Elzie said...


I popped over from Petit Fours and Hot Tamales...thanks for mentioning us.

Just wanted to say that you have a fantastic writer's site. Very informational.


Sandy Elzie

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for the update, Debbie. I thought I had read that the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales were going to have new Travel with Us posts on Sundays, but then I couldn't remember where I had seen that.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Sandy! Thanks for the kudoes! I'm quite proud of our writers and I hope you visit again. And again. ;D

Linsey Lanier said...

What a terrific post. I've got to bookmark this one. Sooo much great information!

I'm from Petit Fours and Hot Tamales, too. Thanks so much for mentioning us. We also do book reviews every Saturday, so if you have some time today, pop over. We've got some good reviews today. :)

Penny Rader said...

Hi Linsey! I'm delighted so many PH&HT members are visiting and tickled that you're bookmarking us. :D Thanks for mentioning that you guys review books on Saturdays. Can never have enough good books to read. :D

Gale Stanley said...

This was super helpful!! I'm always spending way too much time researching setting. Thanks so much. I added you to my blog list.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Gale! I'm glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for adding us to your blog list! :D

Penny Rader said...

I'm delighted that so many people have stopped by. Please continue to read and post comments.

OT: I'll be back later. Most of my day will be spent at the Lexi's LAMB Benefit Concert. If you happen to be in Wichita between 3-8 pm, stop by 2540 S Seneca (on Seneca a bit south of Pawnee). You'll hear some great music and help kids with special needs. If you want to read Lexi's story, please go here:

Maxine Davis said...

I love this site. Very, very helpful! I'm also with the PF&HT.

Penny Rader said...

Aack! 2540 s. Seneca (not meridian)!

Kathy said...

I ran straight to AMAzon thinking to grab a copy of the book. It is sold out. Darn I'm moving too so I'll just wait and check back later to see if it's available to buy a copy. Thank you for such a timely blog.I think I left a lot of those things out trying to psuh my story.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for all this wonderful information -- all these resources in one place. I'm also with Petit Fours and Hot Tamales and we're glad you told your readers about our Travel the World in Words section. I hope everyone will visit us and find out more about the features we offer writers. I'm glad this gave me an opportunity to discover your site. It is beautiful. I love it and will definitely be back. Thank you.

Marilyn Baron

Penny Rader said...

Glad you stopped by, Maxine. I hope you'll continue to visit us. :D I will definitely keep PF&HT bookmarked.

Penny Rader said...

Oh, Kathy! I'm bummed you can't get the book yet. I hope one becomes available soon. Thanks for visiting! I hope your move goes smoothly. :D

Penny Rader said...

Welcome, Marilyn! I was delighted to find PF&HT's Travel with Us, not to mention the rest of your fabulous posts. Please do come back. I'll post the rest of the links on May 31. :D

Starla Kaye said...

As always, Penny, you have provided an excellent list of resources.

Joan Vincent said...

As always, Penny, great links. Thanks for sharing them!