Joshua Essoe is a full-time editor who has edited for NYT bestsellers including Piers Anthony, David Farland, and Dean Lorey. He has edited for USA Today bestsellers, Writers of the Future winners, and many independents.

He was also lead editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine and founded the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create with Michael J. Sullivan, Diana Rowland, Jay Wells, and Debbie Viguie.

You can find Joshua teaching at the Superstars Writing Seminar every February in Colorado.

Essoe's Guides to Writing: Worldbuilding by Joshua Essoe

Worldbuilding is written by an editor from the perspective of tackling all the most-common issues writers struggle with when worldbuilding.

The book is divided into a detailed opening and 6 comprehensive, easy-to-access dilemmas that are most often seen plaguing authors' worldbuilding and how to avoid them from the start, and fix them if they're already there:

•The 6 primary kinds of infodumps
•Over-building, not knowing when to stop, including the wrong details, and misunderstanding the economy of comprehension
•Boring readers with the wrong info, becoming derivative, and being unable to bring the world to life
•Maintaining consistency through a book or series, missing common consistency-breakers, developing unbalanced worlds, and being unable to keep track of all the details
•Homogenized worlds in structure, government, culture, peoples, and settings, and being unable to find inspiration for the creation of new and marvelous things
•Stale worlds lacking broadening, deepening, and evolution.



  • "A detailed and well-organized toolkit with all the equipment you need to flesh out your fictional worlds and make them come alive for the reader. Joshua Essoe doesn't just give you answers—he gives you questions, which YOU have to answer to help construct the world for your characters to adventure in."

    – Kevin J. Anderson, NYT bestselling author of the Dune sequels, Saga of Seven Suns series, the Jedi Academy trilogy, & many others
  • "Joshua Essoe has written not only a comprehensive guide explaining the bigger picture around worldbuilding for authors, but he has created a practical guide with actionable advice and steps an author can take when building a fictional world. From improving the dissemination of information to the reader to detailed walkthroughs on how to handle specific situations, it's all here. If you're building a fictional world, this book is required reading."

    – M.D. Cooper, NYT Bestselling author of the Intrepid Saga, Rika's Marauders series, The Orion War series, & many more




I was a good kid, so the first time I skipped class it was an accident.

It was the kind of autumn afternoon that you can only earn by sweating through the noon heat first. The kind of mountain afternoon near the end of the school day that's quenched its fire in lengthening shadows and a breeze with just enough bite in it to remind you that summer's ending. The warm-grass smell of the football field melted in the face of the sharper scent of pines from nearby woods.

My seventh-grade class was scuffling around outside one of the lower classrooms on the edge of school grounds, waiting for Mrs. Dean to come open it up. The girls crowded in a group comprised of smaller circles, laughing with each other, or waiting quietly. The boys milled in a looser bunch, all focused on the ones playing a game that involved a lot of screaming and shoulder punching.

The ones watching ranged from amused to wary, concerned that the quasi-friendly violence might turn on them.

In the midst of this, I faced the classroom, leaning on a short, cinderblock retaining wall, rough and cracked through uncountable cycles of freeze and thaw, trying to read. I was caught up in fire and brimstone, burning deadly thread out of Pern's skies atop soaring dragons. One of the boys bumped into me. He turned and shoved me with an angry smile as if I'd bumped into him, then pushed away to shove the kid who'd shoved him.

The noise I could put up with, those kids bouncing off me like bumper cars, not so much. I straightened, grabbed my blue Jansport backpack with the faux-leather bottom, and moved to the edge of the mob.

Twenty-five feet away, the school's perimeter chain-link fence clinked and ticked, settling in the new breeze. Just inside the fence, against the retaining wall, was a brown-paneled shed with a huge, shiny combination lock on the door. My eyes had passed over the shed countless times, but never once had I bothered to wonder what it was or why it was there. It just was.

Crunching across the loose gravel, and wading through the heatwaves billowing off the blacktop, I stood at the door and checked the lock, just in case, even though I could clearly see the mammoth thing was snapped tight. I peeked around the side. There was a ten-foot length of shade along its back side, two feet from the chain-link fence. Sure, it was in clear view of the street beyond, but that was the outside, the not-school, and since I was in school, it didn't particularly matter. What mattered was that the shady breezeway was devoid of annoying, brawling boys.

The dark-stained plywood of the shed had taken a beating over the seasons until a fine dusting of splinters coated it. I knew leaning against it would embed a hundred tiny wood slivers in my shirt, but I was a mountain kid, so what did I care. I carefully avoided dipping my head into the slight, spiderweb-filled eaves, took out my book and was lost again in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight.

I looked up when I realized it had grown quiet. I had no idea how long that silence had steeped. I got the kind of head rush you get when you know you've missed a bus or a flight, and in a slight panic I looked around the side of the shed.


Nobody in front of the classroom. Nobody up the steps toward the field and the upper classrooms. Nobody down the walkway in the main building where all the offices were. Everyone was gone. School grounds were quiet. But the bell had never rung!

I grabbed my backpack and ran for the front of the school, blood pounding in my ears and footsteps echoing off deserted classrooms. I started to pass stray kids and teachers, and stopped running, trying to breath normally. I didn't make eye contact. Surely, they could tell I'd just skipped class.

In the parking lot, the stragglers were still clambering into the last giant, yellow buses. Some had already pulled away, but good old number thirteen was still sitting there. It was usually one of the last to leave, going the farthest, all the way out into Boulder Bay.

The relief hit me as hard as my initial shock had, making me see colorful little sparks, but the relief quickly backwashed into misery. There wouldn't be a single good place left to sit, which meant that the chances of having paper balls ricocheted off my head, having to sit next to someone who smelled, or thought burping was the epitome of twelve-year-old artistry were very high.

However, I was entirely distracted by the shocking fact that I hadn't gotten caught. I had skipped! I had done something really, really bad! They take roll!

And nobody noticed.

I had simply disappeared for that last class of the day. Little did they know where I actually was—on dragon back, saving weirs and towns from utter destruction. There were no repercussions, not from teachers, not from other students, and not from my parents.

I laugh as I write this, knowing that they'll read it at some point and find out.

That was the first time, accidental as it was, but not the last. From then on, I was smart about skipping class. I didn't do it every day and I didn't do it on a schedule. But I did it when I plain and simply couldn't anymore that day, or when I could no longer resist the call of Pern's skies and dragons.

Even now I have no idea how I never got caught. Why did they bother taking roll at the beginning of each class? I'll never know.

That kind of total absorption was caused by the kind of worldbuilding we all want—if we want worldbuilding at all. We want the kind of worldbuilding that grabs our readers and teleports them into a new world that is so convincing, so gripping, and so emotionally entangling that they don't care about being covered in splinters or spiderwebs, can't hear loud-ass school bells ringing, or notice the sudden and conspicuous absence of screaming children.

That is the kind of worldbuilding that I'm going to help you create with this book.

It's a huge subject matter and this single tome couldn't possibly cover every facet of the subject, I leave that to other books like Creating Life (The Art of World Building) by Randy Ellefson, and the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding edited by Janna Silverstein.

What I'm going to do is teach you to avoid the biggest pitfalls in worldbuilding that I see writers struggling with in my job as an editor. The goal of this book is to give you a good overview, then, like in Action Sequences, go over the most common issues I see writers facing and offer solutions to them.

A "Fully Realized World"

If you've ever listened to any panels where editors and agents are talking about what they want, you've heard someone at some point say that what they really want is a "fully realized world." What's this "fully realized world" they're always so keenly interested in? Why do they all want it? How is it different from what you're already doing?

All they mean is worldbuilding. They want it because they're looking for stories that will so immerse readers, and themselves, that they'll feel like they're living the story rather than just reading a book. A story like that can sell a lot of copies.

INFO DUMP: Etymology is Fun!

The word "world-building" has been in use longer than you might have expected! Its first use was by scientists trying to describe geological processes in The Literary Magazine, Aug. 1805. It was technical jargon for the literal creation of more world! In the late 1800s, artists began adopting its use to describe imaginative realms, and by 1975 writers had begun to use it to explain the creation of entire, new worlds. Today its use has become common through publishing, film, TV, and games, and its precise definition remains in some flux . . . along with its spelling. We see both "world-building" and "worldbuilding" in professionally edited text. Though it has not yet reached Merriam-Webster, it is a word they're keeping their eyes on.

What is the difference between worldbuilding and setting? Whereas setting is the environment of any given scene including the people, flora and fauna, objects, geography, weather, and time, worldbuilding goes much further.

Worldbuilding is the wholesale construction or customization of worlds out of your wildest imagination. When a writer uses the word worldbuilding, there is an implied meaning of the creation of something new. It includes everything from the people and creatures inhabiting the world, to the actual lands and waters making it up, to the social customs and political systems of villages, cities, countries, and peoples, to how magic or superpowers or the supernatural all operate. It is the history and culture of everything that populates your world. It is what people fight for, come together for, what they believe, and what they worship.

However, despite that implied newness, it isn't only brand spankin' new worlds that benefit from worldbuilding. There are plenty of stories that effectively use worldbuilding to expand known worlds—even our own! Think of all the stories that add secret organizations to Earth like MIB, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Ministry of Magic, or Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Think of all the cultures and peoples we've seen hidden below the surface like vampires, elves, talking animals, and sentient machines. And don't forget about the zombies! Oh, Lord, all the zombies.

Worldbuilding is creating an immersive, believable world not just in detail, but in experience. It doesn't matter if you're writing science fiction, urban fantasy, contemporary, historical fiction, or heroic young adult southern gothic magical realism. If your readers can't feel the crunch of gravel and bone under their feet as they sweat through the Desert of Death to the Tomb at the End of the World, or don't get a dizzy headrush from the biting, thin air as they witness the bloody worship in the High Places, or aren't filled with awe and horror at the majesty of Green World while they float above it after ejecting from their exploding starfighter, then the story is missing something.

Worldbuilding gets the dirt under their nails. It makes them homesick for a place they've never been.

But Why Though?

Always remember that storytelling is greater than worldbuilding. One beats the other every day of the week and does a triple Lutz with a half-gainer aerial-walkover on Sunday. Worldbuilding should serve your story, not the other way around. Worldbuilding should help you to better understand your story, not the other way around. Even if you have a story rooted in your setting, I still believe this is true. Story trumps all.

That being said, there are a few reasons why you might find yourself worldbuilding. Maybe your plot depends on it, like in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern novels, or Andy Weir's The Martian. None of those stories could have happened without their worldbuilding; you take it away and the stories fall apart.

Maybe you want to explore a theme that will be spotlighted in a society you create like in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Maybe you need to explain how the world works to best portray a character or group of characters that you are inspired to write about, like in the X-Files, or Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard. Your characters can give rise to their setting just as easily as the setting can give rise to your characters. Or maybe you just find it super fun and love worldbuilding as Kevin J. Anderson or Ernest Cline do.

Plan or Pants?

Just like in writing stories, you can either plan your world or you can fly by the seat of your pants. The immediate, obvious advantage to planning is that it will be a far greater help keeping you consistent and preventing you from forgetting cool (or necessary) details, especially in a series.

Planners can fall into a trap, though, and worldbuild to excess. You can worldbuild yourself right out of a story if you never stop making glowtrees, magically attuned rocks, and detailing the social meanings of wearing one nose ring of copper in the left nostril as opposed to an iron earing in the right earlobe. When you find yourself creating the hundred-year lineages of your supporting characters and inventing whole new dictionaries for the languages your people use, and plotting the shipping routes of everyday goods because you need to know if your main character (MC) can reasonably be expected to find their favorite perfume a thousand leagues from home, then you've probably become a worldfaced builderhead.

The gruff sergeant of the lord's personal guard doesn't need a backstory, all he does is lead the MC into a sitting room. Does that complex, realistic language you're researching—complete with an original alphabet and grammar structure!—ever influence the events in your story? Does it appear in many, many places because it is a backbone of your plot?


Then stop it! Get on with the story! Back away from the worldbuilding, pull up a fresh document, and start writing.

Now if you're pantsing, you're not going to run into that issue. After your faster first draft, most of your problems are going to be backloaded into editing where you'll face a longer revision period battling the devils of continuity. This is where a friend or editor with a really good memory and great eye for detail and consistency comes in.

As long as you're writing your story, there is no right or wrong way to go about your worldbuilding; just find the process that fits you best and that keeps you moving forward.