Building a World

Every novel has its own world. My mom says my grandmother was always in “her own world.” But where world-building really counts is in paranormal stories. I saw a great presentation on it that gave all the reasons why you should build your world BEFORE you write your novel or series. Unfortunately, I saw that presentation AFTER I had written two novels.

The only way for me to build my world was to go through it. I don’t pre-plan my novels and did not pre-plan my world either. I hardly knew I was going to write a paranormal, never mind a series! It started with a little Halloween story I wrote for the blog several years back. Those characters and that setting would not leave me alone. So I splashed in, head first.

As I wrote, the world I was building grew and changed. Writing for me is an organic thing, and I can’t imagine writing a first draft any other way. It seems like it’s probably less efficient and more work, but still, it’s my go-to method. It works for this pantser.

When I still had an agent, she loved my first paranormal and submitted it without success. For so many years, I continued to write the next book, and then the next, never stopping new stories. I always had a deep plan–when I pubbed my first book, the rest would follow. And that’s what’s happened, but I never dreamed how time-consuming and meticulous the revisions would be. And in particular, the paranormal revisions.

The first glimmer came when I stepped into a bookstore and saw a dozen or so trade paperbacks with the word “Nightworld” on each one. “Nightworld” was the name of the series. And it came from nowhere to prime real estate in Barnes and Noble. Unfortunately, “nightworld” was also the name of MY world. I have a new name for my world, but I’m not using it. The first novel in the series was titled Gypsy and I’m changing that, too.

Even as I wrote and published romance novels, the paranormals were calling me from my closet where I’d stashed them in a shoe box. Finally, I opened an old Word document and printed out a first chapter for my critique group. It didn’t seem like the revised Gypsy, but I hadn’t pulled out the shoe box yet. Did that yesterday and found two complete manuscripts for the first book in my paranormal series. No note to self on which was the revision but I figured it out soon enough.

Here’s how I’m fixing my world: I’m reading through the first two books of the series to create a bible of the world. To make it fun, I’m going to just highlight what I need to save for the bible and continue reading. No corrections, no revision, just read through and track all the building blocks of the world. Not that I’m recommending my method, but if you’re a person who doesn’t know what your next sentence will be, let alone your next chapter, this may be the way you build worlds too.


  1. Hi John, It is! The thing I didn’t say that after reading and highlighting the paranormal things, I still have to revise again. And not just the paranormal parts. Writing is hard work. Nobody really believes that unless you’re a writer or are trying to be one.


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