Creating Worlds in Science Fiction: Building Settings

The worlds we create as writers are unlimited. Some settings are close and claustrophobic, limited to the character’s head, a room, or the loneliness of a planet. The world of fiction can be our own world embellished with magic so we go out in the world imagining there are unseen layers. Dystopian fiction magnifies or projects our current ills and gives us the ultimate conflict: protagonist vs. society. Science fiction and fantasy can be a window into entirely new worlds, often painted with a very detailed brush.


  1. Writers can limit their worlds on purpose, in order to portray the claustrophobia of their protagonists’ real psychological, internal, and personal struggles.
    • in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis to an unexpected change in his condition.
    • The claustrophobic and tiered setting of Hugh Howey’s Silo Series, is an entire society set in a silo. Protagonists must face their psychological limitations before overthrowing the world order..
    • The school and limited experience of the protagonists in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a life with no future.

  2. Writers can create a magical world hiding behind or within our own, just beyond our purview. Things in our world may seem ordinary to most people, but the extraordinary is there for those in the know.
  3. Writers can frighten us into looking more closely at our own society, establishing a not too distant dystopian future to serve as a cautionary tale.
  4. Writers can do world building from scratch. These architect build planets and universes that seem familiar but crafted into something completely new.
    • The sweeping world of Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, where power, politics, religion, and a little bit of magic trace a Machiavellian path to, well, the throne.
    • Frank Herbert’s Dune, a desert planet thousands of years in the future, complete with emperors, drug guilds, contrasting religions, and the rise of a messiah.
    • Dragonflight and Anne Mcaffrey’s Dragonriders, about the dragons and the people who communicate and ride them on a planet called Pern in some distant future.

  5. Writers can use time travel to put protagonists from our time into futuristic worlds or to visit history. Historical fiction takes on new meaning with the use of magical or technological intervention, and science fiction is easier to understand with a protagonist with our perspective.
    • The Outlander series is an intersection of historical fiction, romance, magic, and time travel. Diana Gabaldon’s protagonist circles the globe in space and time.
    • The Island of Eternal Love, by Daina Chaviano, a piece of epic fantastic fiction which traces the entwining history of three families over continents as well as time.
    • Timebound (from The Chronos Files) by Rysa Walker traces the protagonist’s repeated journeys into an ever-changing past.

We can focus our description of a setting down to one room or open it up to distant planets of the unknown universe. We can look at the past, present, or future.  What elements of the human experience each writer chooses to focus on is up to us.


For more information and ideas about Science Fiction settings, check out 25 different Sci-Fi Settings from SciFi Ideas. Kristin Twardowski also has a lot to say about World building on her blog.

Happy Writing! Happy Travels!



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