Developing Your World Using Characters

I’ve already mentioned SO many times that the characters are the most important part of the story. They are the what get you invested and wanting to know more, and you want to see the effects of your worldbuilding play out in the individual experiences of the people in it.

If you’re like me, a lot of your ideas start with characters. Rather than a concept for the world I’m building, the people in it are the first thing I think of, and the first element I want to explore. So it makes sense then, if you are unsure where to start your worldbuilding, to begin with the characters.

If you can’t already tell, this is my preferred method of worldbuilding. While I might start with a few loose concepts that I want to use or explore, I always have a character to go along with it, and I use them as the starting point.

A character’s backstory and personality are a result of the world they live in. If they are the effect, the world is the cause, so what you’re doing essentially is building in reverse. Just ask yourself what sort of world would create a character (or characters) like this?

Still not sure where to begin? Fear not! I have a few questions to get you started:

  • Outline what you do know about your character(s) – What do they look like, what do they eat, what’s their job, where do they live, who do they live with, who is the head of the family, etc.
  • What do they value? What is important to them?
  • What sort of problems do they face? What sort of conflict are they dealing with, internal or external?
  • If you have more than one character, what sort of relationships do they have?
  • From this list of data you’ve compiled, what can you infer about the sort of world they live in?
  • Can you make any connections? Are there any patterns you can discern? How might these elements be related?

It’s at this point in my worldbuilding that I have a solid idea of what exactly I’m going for. I like to have an idea of the society I’m working with, what is important to them, what sort of struggles they face and how any fantastical (or technological) elements play into their lives. From here you can go deeper and further develop a smaller area of your world, or go broad and develop the world at large. Whatever suits your needs or fancy.

This sort of worldbuilding is technically a bottom-up method, where we are starting with a small piece of the world and branching out, as opposed to a top-down method where we start with the broader elements. It just so happens that this method uses a character to generate the areas we want to develop. And I think that makes for much stronger, and ultimately more interesting worlds.

You’re probably going to recognize a lot of overlap from my worldbuilding framework worksheet, and that’s not a coincidence. I build worlds while very deliberately thinking about the people who live in them, and letting both setting and character influence each other. If you’re interested, click the image to check out the worksheet and learn a little more about my process:

If you’ve never tried it, give it a shot and see how it works for you! I really struggled with my worldbuilding when I began too broadly, which I found that a lot of resources tend to push you towards. Using your characters isn’t as neat as filling out a lengthy questionnaire, but once you have that ground work, you can always use them to help you flesh out your world. This is simply a method that I have developed because it suits the way I create ideas, the way I create worlds, and the way I like to think about and develop my stories. And maybe it’ll work for you as well!

What are your Thoughts?

What do you think about starting worldbuilding with a character? Does it sound difficult? Sound like something you’d want to try? I’d love to get your feedback! Let me know down below!

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