Worldbuilding 101: Setting is a Character, Too

Tony Peak
10 min readJul 24, 2023
ID 193881218 © Grandfailure | Dreamstime.com

Worldbuilding is more than just set dressing for your story. When used well, it embellishes the narrative that your readers are already creating in their minds as they read your work. It’s meant to inform that narrative, augment its power, and allow the author to express their ideas in a fashion unrelated to plot or character. Like costumes and sets in a film, they help suspend suspension of disbelief as the reader immerses themselves in your creation. It also adds a personal stamp to the work that is separate from plot and character, yet enhances both.

If this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Worldbuilding is a crucial element in certain fantastical genres, such as science fiction and fantasy. But it can be applied to all genres, and is limited only by what the author deems necessary to tell their story. It’s easy to get carried away with worldbuilding, divulging pages of exposition. It’s also easy to gloss over, and its absence makes it easier for your story to get lost amidst the millions of others that people can read. Worldbuilding is an opportunity to make your work stand out, as well as say something about what matters to you, and your characters.

In this regard, worldbuilding/setting is its own character, and deserves just as much attention as the other elements in your story.

There are two key delivery methods of worldbuilding: narrative exposition and character dialogue. Exposition can come across as passive, while information revealed in dialogue can feel more organic and meaningful to the characters. Both can be executed masterfully, or overused.

Narrative Exposition

Before I get started on exposition, I’ll include a sample of my own writing where I utilize it. This isn’t an advertisement for my work; unless I can show you how I do this, then I shouldn’t be offering advice.

This excerpt is from EDEN DESCENDING, the first novel in my science fiction, post-apocalyptic trilogy:

Morning on the savanna allowed Reyes to experience an unfolding of sunlight unlike any he’d seen. The tall beige grasses split each ray into thousands of smaller yellow beams, as if each came from a separate star meant for a tiny world hidden in the sward. A breeze stirred the expanse like invisible

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Tony Peak

Science Fiction & Fantasy author, member of SFWA, HWA, & Planetary Society; represented by Ethan Ellenberg