How to build your Sci-Fi world

World-Building: Visualizing the Future


Eva Caye

When writing science fiction, what does it take to ‘build’ a new world for your novel? Research, research, research! Although science fiction appears to be top-heavy with spaceships and space battles, to be among the stars means there are other planets to consider, which will be my focus for this article. Otherwise, I find it effective to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a guideline, to make sure I cover all the bases.

First, start with the physical world. If humans are already on your ‘new world’, they will have brought human developments with them. Even if you envision pod houses floating about with anti-gravity and geopositional guidance systems, you should know, and occasionally address, building considerations that your reader would otherwise question. For example, how is waste recycled in your traveling pod-home? Where and how do you renew your water supply? Even if you only provide half a line as a description, “… he moved it to the flash-bin,” or “… as he hovered six meters above the lake to up-vac another thousand liters…” your reader will understand you took the time to build your world thoroughly. 

If your planet has life-forms, look at the life-forms on Earth. We have creatures that fly, swim, crawl, jump, run, slither, and glide. We have plants that grow out of the ground, fungi that grow under the ground, aerial plants in trees. We have microbes that range from beneficial yeasts to Ebola. Take some time to consider evolution and look for little details that may escape notice. For example, you may have your aliens use cilia to communicate in addition to sensing their environment!

There are an estimated 8.7 million species on Earth. Just look at this excerpt taken from

Number of Species Identified on Earth

Category Species Totals
Vertebrate Animals
Mammals 5,490
Birds 9,998
Reptiles 9,084
Amphibians 6,433
Fishes 31,300
Total Vertebrates 62,305
Invertebrate Animals
Insects 1,000,000
Spiders and scorpions 102,248
Molluscs 85,000
Crustaceans 47,000
Corals 2,175
Others 68,827
Total Invertebrates 1,305,250
Flowering plants (angiosperms) 281,821
Conifers (gymnosperms) 1,021
Ferns and horsetails 12,000
Mosses 16,236
Red and green algae 10,134
Total Plants 321,212
Lichens 17,000
Mushrooms 31,496
Brown algae 3,067
Total Others 51,563
The species totals
do not include domestic animals such as sheep, goats and camels. Nor do they
include single-celled organisms such as bacteria.  The original data can be found at:

If Earth is this
complex, what about other biospheres?  A
little research on your part will go a long way!

Second on Maslow’s
hierarchy is safety.  How do your
pod-homes keep from running into each other? 
What kinds of unique employment are available to your characters due to
the physical aspects you design for your world? 
How do your spaceships know where, when, and how to achieve parking
orbits?  When you latch onto an idea,
make certain you follow through with your reasoning, whether you explain your
reasoning right away or not.  In my To Be Sinclair series, there are regular
EM transmitters for most purposes, but for travel between the stars I needed a
mode of instant communication.  As a
result, in book one, DIGNITY, I
mention ‘quantum transmitters’:

Yet her chips
had never been inveigled nor enchanted, the two massively complicated
techniques used in producing quantum transmitters, with any other particles
whatsoever, much less with the highly-classified materials, filaments, and
diaphragms used for transmitters.

Nevertheless, I do not describe their design more fully until book seven, NOBILITY, because I had no need to do so until then.

One book I am writing has a lot of unique life-forms that love to gobble up human life-force, so I have bounty hunters who expand the ‘clear zones’ for human habitation. Even after a human presence of 70 years, the clear zones barely total 500 square kilometers, perhaps 1/3 the size of Connecticut. Why? Unless you have driven cross-country or hiked for a distance of 20 miles, you probably do not realize how enormous our planet is! The U.S is 6.5% of the world’s land-mass, Connecticut is only 0.01%, and by land-mass I mean only 29.2% of the planet’s surface. And life-forms tend to reflect one quality above all others: tenacity. So if you have a colony of humans, consider how long it would take for them to tame the planet.

If you think about the other needs listed in the pyramid, such as health and resources, your mind can explode with the possibilities, especially if you combine the two. What will human occupation do to the resources on the planet, health-wise? Will human microbes destroy the beautiful ganglionic spider-beings excreting the planet’s most valuable export? Would the humans need to be quarantined, or would the spiders? Then turn it around – what natural resources might affect your colonists, and would it slowly kill them off, or would living on the planet mean the people are constantly ‘high’?

The third step given by Maslow is love and belonging. When creating your society, consider what the goals of the establishment by humans were. Did the explorers want to bring life-forms back to Earth, were they escaping overpopulation, or do they simply plan to rape the planet of its natural resources? Explorers want to understand, people escaping overpopulation want to expand, rapists want to exploit for gain. It is an especially effective story-telling device to have your protagonist represent qualities that contrast with their society, determined to Make A Change.

Now look at the descriptors: friendship, family, sexual intimacy. In what ways will your heroine’s personality differ from the prevalent ones in her society? Why does she stand up for changes, anyway, and how do they affect her family, her lover, and her friends? The social system you devise should reflect everything from the base of the pyramid!


Step four is Esteem, whereas step five is Self-actualization. This is your actual story, to show how the character grows, perhaps how she morphs from one end of a spectrum to another, but in essence, to describe your heroine’s problems, conflicts, and process of self-actualization. I’m not here to tell you how to do that; it’s your job to write it! My goal is simply to present a method of world-building to you that will flesh out your story and give your characters a background upon which their actions and conflicts take place.

The best part about world-building in science fiction is getting to create intelligent aliens! Take everything I’ve mentioned above, and apply it to your alien species. I would encourage you, however, not to completely eliminate humans in your writing. Unless you anthropomorphize your aliens extensively, the fact is that you are writing for human readers, so if you try to eliminate the human element altogether, your readers may have little sympathy for your protagonist. Little interest = boredom = reduced readership. And we don’t want that, now, do we?

DIGNITY, book one of the To Be Sinclair series

Why does Emperor Victor Sinclair fall
madly in love with Lady Felicia Sorensen?  

She is a High Royal lady
scientist in a heavily patriarchal society, and the Emperor has only dated
socialites who see him as an icon and a prize.  Felicia’s intellect and
capacity to see him as a man with more than sexual needs instantly inspires
Victor to want her as his Empress, for he needs true love and support, not a
lady who will be a burden upon his time and energy.

Although he entices her with all the
resources at his command, from sexual stimulation and outrageously expensive
gowns to promising she can ‘write her own job description’, Felicia cautiously
learns the differences between love and manipulation.  After an
interplanetary invasion and being censured by a ducal panel, all due to one of
her inventions, she must choose between toughing out the extreme social and
political pressures of a high elevation, and pursuing her scientific
achievements. And Victor finds a way for Felicia to do them both!

This science fiction romance is the first
of the seven-part To Be Sinclair
series. The saga begins with DIGNITY
and its companion volume MAJESTY,
which describe the romance and first years of marriage of the Emperor and
Empress of the Sinclair Demesnes. A few scenes describe sexually explicit

Eva Caye is the author of the To Be Sinclair series of science fiction romances. 

After 17 years of teaching, a health crisis
forced Eva to re-evaluate her life. 
Morphing from dilettante writer to crafting 8 books in two years, she
published her début novel, DIGNITY,
in August 2012, with MAJESTY expected
out in October (update to follow).  

She lives in Louisville,
Kentucky, in a tiny, century-old farmhouse with her incredible husband and two
precious mutts.

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