Coorlim’s Guide to NaNoWriMo 2: Worldbuilding

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Coorlim’s Guide to NaNoWriMo is a multi-part series on writing, creativity, and the work-life balance throughout the month of November. This week we cover the pre-writing topic of worldbuilding.

Continuing last-time’s discussion on work we can do prior to the actual writing, we can take the opportunity to establish facts about our setting.

Setting the Story

Now, I’m sure you know approximately where you’re setting your story by now, even if it’s only in the most general of terms. If you wrote the beat sheet we talked about, you’ll know what locations the story takes place in, and you can work out their details.

If your story is set in the real world, past or present, you can take the time to do some research.

Otherwise, you’ll have the chance to make up what needs to made up ahead of time, instead of while you’re writing. And during NaNoWriMo, you need to focus on wordcount as much as you possibly can.

Focus on sensual details

The plot will determine your absolute needs where it comes to setting, so fleshing these details out is an excellent place to begin. You need more than the bare minimum, though; lush setting details provide necessary atmosphere to draw your characters into the reality of your book.

The details you’ll need for your writing are both sensual – focused on the senses – and concrete. Specific. Most importantly, the details will depend on the nature of your viewpoint characters; what they notice reveals a great deal about who they are.

Develop more than you need

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that you’ll need, so create as much of the world as you can. It’ll keep your depictions of the world consistent, and you’ll form a more powerful overview of things. It might not be something you exactly plan for, but your subconscious mind will be constantly constructing a virtual model of your setting. Trust in your subconscious… but take good notes.

What details do you need? This depends on your story. Generally speaking you’ll want to focus on the elements that define your genre, because that’s what its readers are looking for. Writing fantasy, develop a consistent system for your magic. Working on science fiction, you’ll want to know how your technology works.

These don’t have to be details your readers ever see, but for the love of all you consider holy, you, at the very least, should know how it works.

Recording it all

There are a few different ways you can track this work that you’re doing. The low-fi method is simply to get a notebook or two and jot down inspiration as it arises.

More efficient means exist, ones that are easier to organize as you go, easier to refer to as you write. A simple text file would work. The program Scrivener is very good for it, allowing you to create connected files in ordered hierarchies.

A third and somewhat more involved method would be a private wiki installation of some sort.


If you’re interested in more specific examples of what details to focus on when world-building, check out the following resources.

Next time, we’ll be covering character creation. What you need to know, and what you can ignore.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.

Latest posts by Michael Coorlim (see all)

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

2 thoughts on “Coorlim’s Guide to NaNoWriMo 2: Worldbuilding

  1. Vicente L Ruiz

    I’ve found this chapter interesting, since I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding.

    I read -I think it was in “From 2K to 10K” by Rachel Aaron- that authors do have a tendency to overdo their worldbuilding, to get lost in the details that will never be seen by anyone. I’d like to know what you think about it. I have done my own little bit of worldbuilding and it is indeed an absorbing, demanding, satisfying task.

    1. MCoorlim

      I think that you need to do whatever worldbuilding it takes to make the world consistent in your mind. That’s usually more than you show the reader, but it’s a mistake to think you can’t make up elements on the fly, or that you need to focus on parts you’ll never touch on.

      I mean, you can make up whatever you want, but if you never use it, it’s not time spent on practical pursuits.


Leave a Reply