World-Building with ChatGPT

TSS #051: Immersive World-Building with ChatGPT

by | May 27, 2023

Read Time: 5 minutes

Your ability to construct immersive settings – from modern cityscapes to future frontiers – is as essential as crafting magnetic characters.

Today, we’re looking at world-building, the techniques that will help you create a universe of your own, and how to use ChatGPT to jumpstart your creativity.

Journey through the Dimensions of World-Building

World-building is the art and science of creating an imaginary realm, bursting with its own unique geography, culture, rules, history, and even time period.

Each aspect serves as a pillar that supports and enhances the credibility of your world.

Here are five fundamental aspects:

1. Time Period:

This element helps establish the culture, technology, and society in your story.


  • “The Da Vinci Code” is set in the early 21st century, using ancient secrets and historical events to build its story.
  • “The Kite Runner” shows the changes in Afghanistan from the 1970s to the 2000s, reflecting the country’s troubled history.
  • “Gone Girl” is set in post-recession America, which influences the attitudes of the characters and the investigation methods.
  • “Back to the Future” moves from the 1950s to the 1980s, showcasing the different norms and technologies of each period.
  • “The Lord of the Rings” is set in an imagined ancient time before the rise of man, which influences the creatures, magic, and warfare in the story.

2. Physical Environment:

This element describes your world’s landscapes and buildings.


  • “The Da Vinci Code” takes us to places like The Louvre in Paris and Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, adding suspense to the story.
  • “The Kite Runner” describes the streets of Kabul and the vast Afghan landscape, contrasting life in Afghanistan and the United States.
  • “Gone Girl” is mostly set in a small town in Missouri, the quiet life here helps build tension in the story.
  • “Back to the Future” shows us many environments due to its time-traveling story: a 50’s town, an 80’s suburb, a futuristic city, and the Wild West.
  • “The Lord of the Rings” presents a variety of landscapes, from the green Shire to the desolate Mordor, each affecting the journey of the characters.

3. Social and Cultural Context:

This element focuses on your world’s traditions, norms, and interactions.


  • “The Da Vinci Code” explores the conflict between religion and science and presents the workings of secret societies.
  • “The Kite Runner” highlights the impact of class, ethnic tensions, and political changes on relationships in Afghanistan.
  • “Gone Girl” critiques modern marriage, media influence, and societal pressure, which shape the characters’ actions.
  • “Back to the Future” shows the cultural changes over decades, affecting family life, teenage life, and scientific progress.
  • “The Lord of the Rings” shows the cultures and societies of different creatures, forming a rich mix of traditions, friendships, and conflicts.

4. Geography:

This element deals with the layout of your world.


  • In “The Da Vinci Code”, the geographical locations help in solving riddles.
  • In “The Kite Runner”, the geography affects characters’ lives, especially in escaping from Afghanistan and adjusting to life in America.
  • In “Gone Girl”, the move from New York City to a small town in Missouri reflects on the characters’ inner changes and the plot development.
  • In “Back to the Future”, the layout of Hill Valley changes with each time period, showing both similarities and differences across different timelines.
  • “The Lord of the Rings” provides a detailed map of Middle Earth, helping readers understand the long journey from the Shire to Mordor and the strategic importance of various places.

5. Historical Events and Climate:

These elements greatly affect your world’s societies and stories.


  • “The Da Vinci Code” uses historical events and religious stories to build a complex narrative.
  • In “The Kite Runner”, Afghanistan’s history, like the fall of the monarchy, the Soviet invasion, and the rise of the Taliban, deeply affects the story and characters.
  • In “Gone Girl”, past events and personal histories shape the suspense and twists of the narrative.
  • “Back to the Future” shows the effects of changing historical events on characters and the status of the town.
  • “The Lord of the Rings” presents a history of ancient battles and alliances that shape the present conflicts, while the harsh weather of Mordor impacts the characters’ journey.

Collaborating with ChatGPT for Your World-Building

ChatGPT can serve as a valuable tool for brainstorming and fleshing out your story’s universe.

Use these starter prompts below to jumpstart your world-building process.

ChatGPT World-Building Prompt #1 – for your story

// Prompt below – edit the bold text in brackets //

For a [insert genre] story set in [insert basic setting or world description], design a comprehensive and immersive world. Use the categories below to guide your world-building and ensure the setting is as rich and layered as possible:

1/ Time Period: [Describe the era in which the story is set. What are the key characteristics of this time period? Are there any significant technological advancements, or is the world more primitive? Consider how this time period influences the daily lives of the characters.]

2/ Physical Environment: [What does the world look like? Paint a picture of your world’s landscapes, flora and fauna, architectural elements, and notable structures or landmarks. How do these aspects impact the events and characters in the story?]

3/ Social and Cultural Context: [What are the customs, traditions, and societal norms in the world? Detail the unique cultural practices, belief systems, and societal hierarchies. Discuss the interactions between different groups or races within the world, and how these interactions affect the overall social fabric.]

4/ Geography: [What is the larger spatial layout of the world? Describe continents, cities, and other locations in detail. Explain their relationships, including trade, politics, or historical connections. How do geographical barriers or connections influence the narrative?]

5/ Historical Events and Climate: [What key historical events have shaped the world’s present condition? Discuss the climate and how it influences lifestyle, clothing, and architecture in the world. Consider how both history and climate might impact the story’s progression.]

6/ Conflict and Cooperation: [What are the sources of conflict or cooperation within the world? These might be territorial disputes, resource scarcity, cultural clashes, alliances, or trade agreements. How do these dynamics propel the narrative and influence character development?]

7/ Myths, Legends, and Lore: [Does the world have its own myths, legends, or folklore? If so, how do these tales influence the world’s culture, belief systems, and characters’ perceptions?]

8/ Magic or Technology System: [If the world has a magic or advanced technology system, how does it work? What are its limits? Who can use it and who can’t? How does this system impact the plot, characters, and society?]

// Prompt above – edit the bold text in brackets //

ChatGPT World-Building Prompt #1 – for analyzing existing stories

// Prompt below – edit the bold text in brackets //

Analyze the setting and world-building elements in my favorite narrative, [Insert your favorite story, film or novel]. Identify the specific aspects that contribute to its immersive and well-realized world. Discuss how the author’s or screenwriter’s detailed world-building shapes a believable and engaging audience experience. What strategies did the storyteller use to make this world feel real and lived-in? How do these world-building choices influence the story’s characters, plot, and overall theme? In what ways do these elements affect the audience’s engagement and perception of the narrative? Finally, reflect on how these insights could be applied to create a rich and immersive world in my own writing.

// Prompt above – edit the bold text in brackets //

More Quick Tips and Tricks

Creating a realistic universe will significantly enrich your narrative.

Here are a few more strategies with examples for crafting captivating settings in your stories:

1. Aim for plausibility:

Whether your story is based in reality or is a product of your wildest imagination, the laws of your world must be consistent.

For instance, in the “Harry Potter” series, the world is filled with magic, but it still follows established rules.

Underage wizards aren’t allowed to perform magic outside of school, a regulation enforced by the Ministry of Magic’s Trace. There are also severe consequences for using the three Unforgivable Curses, especially Avada Kedavra, which is punishable by a life sentence in Azkaban.

Despite the fantasy setting, the presence of such rules and consequences lends a sense of credibility and structure to the world, making it feel believable.

2. Connect your world to your characters:

Characters should be products of their environment, shaped by the culture, geography, and events of their world.

In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen’s survival skills, resilience, and distrust of the government are direct results of growing up in an impoverished District 12, thus creating a deeper connection between her, the setting, and the audience.

3. Inject conflicts:

Conflict can arise from the world itself, adding layers of tension and propelling the narrative.

In “Dune,” the planet Arrakis is a source of the valuable resource “spice” but also home to deadly sandworms. This creates a tense atmosphere, with characters constantly having to balance the potential for great wealth against the risk of death.

4. Avoid information overload:

Slowly unveil your world in a natural way, instead of dumping all the information at once.

Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” introduces Middle Earth’s cultures, languages, and history gradually, embedded in the characters’ dialogues, journey, and through songs and legends, avoiding a “lecture” about the world’s details.

Final Reflections on World-Building

Masterful world-building is a keystone of immersive storytelling.

By understanding these layers, leveraging ChatGPT, and following the above strategies, you can craft settings that help audiences escape into your imaginary world.

Remember to experiment with different ideas, get inspiration from your favorite stories, and also let your imagination chart the course for unique world creation.

That’s it for this Saturday.

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See ya next week!

— Dave