A Tool for SFF Writers, Readers & Gamers
I’d heard about WorldAnvil before in the gaming community, but it’s always hard to tell whether a gaming utility is going to be as useful as it sounds. HeroLab was also highly recommended, and I found it cumbersome. But a friend started using WorldAnvil to create his universe, and then a couple of YouTubers I watch talked about it on sponsored videos. A Black Friday sale was the last kick in the pants I needed to finally decide to give the thing a try.
Which is why I’m writing about it, because where has this been all my life?! For a writer, this is the perfect utility to finally create and cross-reference your universe!
I’ve tried to create things like this before. My first effort required four interconnected websites in order to create a similar effect, and it doesn’t look half as good. Here’s a link where you can check out my original site tree.
My second attempt to move out of my stacks of messy notebooks was a WordPress site. This was marginally better, because WordPress is pretty intuitive. It was still time-consuming, however, so I never did finish including all the information I wanted to. As you can see, it’s been a while since I updated it.
Why SFF Writers Need It
Contemporary fiction has the advantage of having a common frame of reference. The story exists in the Real World ™, so you can assume that anything that exists in our world exists in the story. Science fiction and fantasy stories, on the other hand, often exist in their own worlds. They have different histories, landscapes, people, cultures, and sometimes, even different physical and metaphysical laws.
It’s hard to keep track of. And if a writer can’t visualize how it works, a reader certainly won’t be able to. Some keen readers will even point out all the flaws and inconsistencies, and it’s more than just whether a character’s eyes were blue at the beginning of the story but changed to brown by the end. Often it’s a matter of not successfully communicating how a key technology works, or how a particular species’ reproductive cycle makes sense on a broader scale. And without these details, the universe in a writer’s story becomes flat and unconvincing. It pulls you out of the story, instead of pulling you in. WorldAnvil can help fix that!
Why it’s Also Great for Readers
Have you ever been reading a space opera, and wanted to know more about a strange and interesting world than the author described? Chances are the author knows more than they’re telling, but it wasn’t needed for the story so it wasn’t included. But somewhere, they’ve got a notebook with a bunch of details scribbled in it. On a WorldAnvil site, you get to see those scribbled details, but with a distinctive presentation, and in greater detail than the writer likely would have kept in their notebook.
WorldAnvil includes templates to create everything from characters to natural laws (physical or metaphysical,) to beloved traditions to nations and galaxies. The fields encourage writers to think about information they may not have thought about before.
For instance, while filling in forms that describe the way space travel works in my Toy Soldier Saga universe, I realized I had never described what the entry to a wormhole looks like to the naked eye. And that’s something I intend to fix, because one of the most important elements I’d like to capture is a sense of wonder. In other words, it’s not only encouraging me to flesh out my world more, it’s encouraging better writing. When that happens, it’s my readers who win.
It’s also an opportunity for readers to get something extra and interactive from any writer to takes advantage of it! Maybe you’re a gamer and the author of your favourite series is too. They can include stats for that! Maybe you want to write fan fiction. A WorldAnvil site gives the original authors, and their would-be fan authors, an unprecedented way to interact and keep track of all the details.
- Creating an account is free. You can sign up as either a worldbuilder or a player. If you want to skip all the creation stuff once you’ve signed in, just reload the site and your dashboard appears.
- You can Follow the universes you want to follow and no others. Doing that means you get updates every time something new appears.
- Depending on their plan, your favourite authors might have a Subscriber option (usually managed through their Patreon.) Signing up for a Subscription means you get access to things that aren’t available publicly, like secrets, behind-the-scenes information, or whatever else a writer might want to include (for me, it will include all the original fiction of the series without having to buy the books!)
- I mean, LOOK at how COOL this is?!
- Creating your account is still free. You get a lot more features, a lot better access, and the option for Subscribers, if you go with a paid plan though. Still, for most of us, I’d recommend starting with a free plan and expanding when you need to.
- I can’t tell you how cool these templates are. Really, just check out some of what I’ve done with it for an example!
- Customizability. Make your world look exactly the way you want to, share what you want, keep the rest of the details or articles private for you alone (with any of the paid plans).
- Control. You decide how to order and interlink your articles, whether or not to feature your social media, and what goes on every page. You can also create a section that appears on every page of your world except the first. I used it on my Wyrd West world to list all the books with Amazon affiliate and Books2Read links so that readers could purchase them easily.
- Challenges for prizes! Right now there’s a NaNoWriMo-inspired event on called WorldEmber. Write 10k words of published, public articles in December for prizes! I was like, “bitch, please. I just did NaNo…”
- ALL THE DETAILS. They think of just about everything!
- If they didn’t, the Discord community is ready and willing to take your suggestions!
- The Discord community is probably the friendliest, most helpful online community I’ve ever had the pleasure of joining. They reach out to new people to make you feel welcome. And if you don’t know how to do something and can’t figure it out, just ask! Answers usually come within minutes.
- It says right on their page to sign up for a plan that they “ARE NOT AN EVIL MEGACORP.” They aren’t. The creators/owners, Janet and Dimitris, are friendly, approachable, and will talk to you directly.
- Creating your account is still free. You can be a Game Master and build your campaign world, which player characters join, or you can be a player in your Game Master’s world.
- Fully integratibile forms and stats for almost any tabletop game system I can think of, including many that are no longer in print.
- There’s a bit of a learning curve. The system is a bit like a cross between a Wiki and WordPress, and it takes some time to figure out how to do things. Like I said, you can get help anytime, though. Just make sure to join the Discord.
- Personal, easy-to-remember URLs are only available at the most expensive tiers, so you have to funnel people to your world-sites yourself. SEOs won’t help you.
- They’re big on attribution in your graphics, and you have to click “advanced options” when you upload a graphic to find it. They also have a limit on graphic space, so make sure your graphics are optimized when you upload them!
- You can’t edit it in mobile because you can’t see what you’re doing, and there’s no app.
- That “no easy URL” thing is the big drawback. You’ll have to bookmark your favourite world-sites, trust your author to funnel you, or sign up for the free account to follow and just go to the main WorldAnvil site.
- I don’t believe it has an easy “Print Character Sheet” option, so if you’re keeping your character there, you might want to go full-digital.
- Editing on mobile might also be an issue for Game Masters.
But all in all, I have an extremely high degree of satisfaction with it. I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to do more in the SFF field!