Wednesday, May 1, 2013

World Building with Words

By Deb McLeod

I’m writing a multiple viewpoint thriller. One of the braids takes place in The Light, that place where Angels go when they’re not hanging around us humans, battling the dark and meddling in our world.

It was a client who brought World Building to my attention. Those of you who grew up with role-playing games know all about this. Alas, I do not.

My client is writing a YA series and her characters, a special race of people with special powers, walk among us. They have their own agendas and live in a world within our world. Hidden in plain sight. 

During the course of her writing some questions came up about longevity and death rituals. So she decided to write a synopsis of their world, their powers and their habits. She found Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide and used it as a sort of template. 

Here are some of the categories she came up with:

  • Purpose
  • Birth / Creation / Lifespan
  • Death
  • Lifestyle
  • Psychology / Behavior
  • Physical Characteristics
  • Abilities
  • Limitations
  • Education
  • Relationships
    • Families
    • Courtship & Marriage
    • Children
    • To Humans
  • Government / Leadership
    • Laws / Trial Process
    • Punishment / Outcasts
  • Conflicts / Enemies
  • History
  • Land of Origin
For me, creating a world starts with the words I can use to describe it. I like to build lexicons. 

A lexicon is an inventory of words you can draw from, either to use right in your copy, or to spark ideas for plot, backstory and description. 

Right now I’m trying to create the equivalent of the Inuit lexicon for snow, but for light, for dark, and for good and evil. I’m looking into mathematical functions and metaphysical terminology that isn’t too frou frou. I’m reading history and ancient bible tales and pulling words that suit the world I’d like to create. I like to play with the dictionary and a thesaurus, jotting good words down and taking notes on the side as ideas pop to the surface. For me, it’s the lexicon that opens the world. 

But after seeing my client’s list I decided to try one for myself. It has deepened and enriched the work and my understanding. I have defined the Angel’s powers, found words to describe it, have brainstormed what an Angel battle looks like and written their history as I understand it. 

What great fun to immerse into another world, to define powers and limitations and structure. Lexicons and world building for your characters comes in handy whether your world is the street you live on or another world you make out of thin air. 

Try creating a lexicon and see if it sparks you the way it sparks me. And let me know how it goes. 

Or, for all the questions you can imagine about world building see: 

About the Author: Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach and founder of The Writing Ranch. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist. 


  1. This is a really great post! I enjoyed reading this very much.

    1. Thanks Gina! I've had so much fun creating this world and the words I use to describe it, I think I will try this will all my fiction, whether it takes place in the real world or an alternate one.

      Keep me posted if you try this for you fiction!


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