In order to be a successful science fiction or fantasy writer, you need to be able to build a believable and interesting world for your readers to explore. This can be a daunting task, but thankfully there are a number of worldbuilding tools and prompts available to help you get started.
World builders frequently start with a list of worldbuilding prompts like:
-What is the world's history?
-What are the major political and geographical regions?
-What are the major religions and belief systems?
-What are the major races and cultures?
-What are the major natural features?
-What are the major technological advances?
-What are the major social institutions?
And while those are all great questions, I like to break things down into the six main fantasy functions fantasy worldbuilders use when creating their worlds.
There's also gobs of worldbuilding templates, worksheets, websites, and tools to go along with your world building prompts.
Top-Down Worldbuilding Worksheet
Bottom-Up Worldbuilding Worksheet
Six pages for folks who have a pretty good idea what their world is about already. This is for the planners out there who have a handle on their world but still need to be steered.
You can get an in-depth walk-through of the worksheet here.
For the pantsers out there that love to write and then figure out what they got after the fact. These eight pages should be instrumental for codifying your world and the rules that have been running roughshod through your unconscious mind.
You can get an in-depth walk-through of the worksheet here.
(These are my favorite books from writing Worldbuilding For Fantasy Fans And Authors. All links are for US Amazon, and I threw in some affiliate links, so don't click 'em if you're philosophically opposed to that sort of thing.)
On Writing and Worldbuilding: From the creator of the Hello Future Me YouTube series, this books has some real actionable writing advise for fantasy worldbuilders.
Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation: This is the mother load when it comes to worldbuilding theory, but it's also a textbook, really expensive, and not always easy to read. This is for the really, really serious worldbuilders.
World Builder's Guidebook: An old AD&D sourcebook, but an invaluable resource full of loads of random generating tables for when you need some inspiration. Only available as PDFs these days.
The Art of World Building Series: By Randy Ellefson, who also has a podcast, this six-book collection breaks down into books on life, places, cultures, and has a pretty useful book on worldbuilding tips.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: Not a whiff of fantasy in the whole 400+ pages, but a fascinating read that gives some great insight into how cultures form and are influenced by their environments.
How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler: Ryan North somehow finds a way to make technology entertaining as he breaks down all its underpinnings. Be warned that it's pretty all over the place, although I did learn that all earthworms in the Americas died due to the ice age, so that was pretty cool.
A Magical Society: Guide to Mapping: A free thirty-seven-page introduction into designing a world starting with plate tectonics and global weather patterns all the way to the migration of species. It sounds intimidating, but it’s very easy to understand and use.
Save the Cat!: Not actually worldbuilding related, but one of the more useful books on writing I've ever encountered. I know there's one for writing novels now, but I've never read it, so I can only endorse the original screenwriting version.
/r/worldbuilding: This is the premier online worldbuilding group, and where I got my start. Loads of helpful people and little judgement. You might even see me around there (/u/matticusprimal).
Fantasy Maps and Worldbuilding Facebook Group: Another great spot to find others to trade notes about maps and worldbuilding. An active community with no judgement that’s accepting of anyone no matter their worldbuilding experience.
Forging Fantasy Realms: Join me once a week as I demonstrate fantasy worldbuilding techniques, tricks, and tips, usually by building a world on the fly in an hour.
Jemisin's Wired Presentation: Nebula and Hugo winner N. K. Jemisin has been giving worldbuilding workshops for years now and recently recorded this presentation for Wired. Nearly two hours dedicated to worldbuilding by someone at the top of the field.
Brandon Sanderson’s Online Writing Courses: No one has contributed more to understanding fantasy magic systems than Sanderson, who has made all his 2020 creative writing classes at BYU available online for free.
Hello Future Me: An exceptional YouTube channel dedicated to worldbuilding and writing. Each episode provides a deep dive into a worldbuilding or writing aspect yet is still always entertaining.
Anthropology in Worldbuilding (Hong Kong Book Fair interview with Steven Erikson): Malazaaaaan! A great interview with the creator of what many people believe to be the best series. A former anthropologist, Erikson has some great insight into fantasy worldbuilding, although they do spend a lot of time discussing his sci fi book.
Knyght Errant: If you ever need to know an aspect about Medieval armor, well this is the place.
Writing Excuses: This long running podcast by heavy-hitters Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Taylor is a must have for all speculative authors. And the fourteenth season is dedicated entirely to worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding For Masochists: I've just discovered this one and haven't made my way all the way through it yet, but it's amazing. Some great fantasy authors at the top of their worldbuilding game as they design a collective world and walk you through their process.
The Art of Worldbuilding: Randy Ellefson's podcast to accompany his book series, he breaks down a new subject each session and writes his own music.
Mythcreants: A long-running series discecting the fantasy genre, with a lot of worldbuilding advice.
World Anvil: This is the podcast from the creators of World Anvil. It updates regularly and has some pretty famous guests.
Worldcasting Podcast: Created by Worldbuilding Magazine, this podcast updates weekly and has a rotating cast.
Douglasparker.org: Douglas Parker taught worldbuilding at the University of Texas for 30 years, and his site is chock-full of invaluable information. The entire course outline is available for free, and his collection of resources puts any others to shame in terms of scope. Alas, it's a MASSIVE, 800-page PDF, but is worth checking out if you're ready for a deep, deep dive.
Mithril and Mages: An awesome random generator, but one geared more for names. It is also not stuck in the vaguely medieval Europe time period and can draw from modern surnames to natural terrains. Worth checking out.
Chaotic Shiny: If you ever need to generate something for inspiration, this is the spot. Everything from constellations to flags. My friend said he heard about it from Neil Gaiman, so there's that too.
Landform Worldbuilding Cheatsheet: As the name denotes, there's 130 quick rules for landforms grouped upon terrain types.
Planet Generator: Go big or go home. This one makes a planet complete with climate.
Massive List of Fantasy Maps: Everything from Narnia to Legend of Zelda. Probably hundreds of them.
Writing F/SF Horses: Horses are a mainstay in fantasy, but how many authors actually ride regularly? Judith Tarr at Tor.com certainly has, and lays down all the basics in this long-running series on depicting horses in the genre.
A Book of Creatures: Not so much a book but a blog collecting strange mythical beasts from around the world. Alas, it's in wordpress and not great for searching, but it's got a lot of info and updates regularly.
Medieval Bestiary: An alphabetized list of medieval monsters and their details.
Mythic Creature Crossover, as designed by Jez Kemp.
Superpower Wiki: A massive database regularly updated with pretty much every superpower imaginable. Very useful for designing your own magic system.
Roles for gods:
Everyculture.com: As the site name suggests, a compilation of cultures and countries from around the world. A great starting point for cultural overviews as well as inspiration on finding a unique analogue culture.
Donjon Medieval Demographic Generator: It’s actually a world creator geared for RPGs, but I find this to be the most useful feature since it tells you exactly how many and what kinds of trades a community can support just from plugging in a population. There are loads of other features that are worth checking out, too.
Vulgar: If you ever need to make a conlang, this is the spot. it's level of customization is INSANE. It has a free option for generating 200 words, and the pay version is pretty cheap.
Food Timeline: Need to know when people domesticated dates or invented egg nog? Well now you have it in one long timeline.