World Building with Andrew Zimba

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Quote from World Building with Andrew Zimba

World Building with Andrew Zimba – How To Write the Future podcast, episode 99

“When it comes to telling a story or crafting or condensing it into a book or a film, is what kind of story do you want to tell? And I think that first question is, do I wanna tell an allegorical tale? Or what I’ll call a world building tale, just for simplicity between the two.” – Andrew Zimba

In “World Building with Andrew Zimba,” How To Write the Future podcast host Beth Barany talks to lifelong storyteller, novelist, and avid historian, Andrew Zimba about the process involved in the world building for his novels and share advice and tips to help you create the story world for your fiction.

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About the How To Write the Future podcast

The *How To Write The Future* podcast is for science fiction and fantasy writers who want to write positive futures and successfully bring those stories out into the marketplace. Hosted by Beth Barany, science fiction novelist and creativity coach for writers. We cover tips for fiction writers. This podcast is for readers too if you’re at all curious about the future of humanity.

This podcast is for you if you have questions like:

– How do I create a believable world for my science fiction story?

– How do I figure out what’s not working if my story feels flat?

– How do I make my story more interesting and alive?

This podcast is for readers too if you’re at all curious about the future of humanity.


Image of Andrew Zimba

Andrew Zimba is a lifelong storyteller. An avid historian, he grew up reading stories of kings and kingdoms as well as tales of myth and magic. A native Minnesotan, he holds degrees from the University of Minnesota and also studied in Poland. Andrew and his wife currently reside in Texas.








Transcript for episode 99 – World Building with Andrew Zimba


Hey everyone. Welcome to How To Write the Future Podcast. I’m your host, Beth Barany. I am a creativity coach, science fiction and fantasy writer and writing teacher, and obviously podcaster and filmmaker. I’ll share more about that another time. I just want to welcome you all here. This podcast is for science fiction and fantasy writers who want to write positive, optimistic futures because I believe that what we vision, we help make so. 

I love interviewing guests and talking about world-building, and I’m so excited to bring to you a guest here today. We have Andrew Zimba. Hi Andrew. Welcome. 


Hey Beth, thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here.


I’m so glad that you’re here and that you love world-building as much as I do. 




So I’m gonna share, yes. It’s so exciting. I’m gonna share with everyone a little bit about you. Andrew Ziba is a lifelong storyteller. An avid historian, he grew up reading stories of kings and kingdoms, as well as tales of myth and magic.

A native Minnesotan, he holds degrees from the University of Minnesota and also studied in Poland. Andrew and his wife currently reside in Texas.

So glad that you’re here and talking about world-building. And I wanted to know, Andrew, if, before we dive into your, the fabulous questions we have prepared for everyone I was just curious what you studied in college and university. ‘Cause I was checking out your substack and you have these beautiful, mostly medieval imagery that, just gorgeous woodcuts and things like that I just adore. So I was curious, did you study history in, in university? 


It was my minor officially as part of my undergrad. But I’ve had a lifelong love of history and, fantasy is a nexus point of creativity and also the historical aspects of it as well. My pursuits in school were more kind of global studies as part of the undergrad, and then more of a business focus with my master’s degree. But history’s always been a passion for me.


That’s such a great combination those three domains. Great. So let’s dive right into it and what guidance would you give someone who’s starting the writing or world-building process? 


Yeah, I look at it as this is first, first of all, a passion project, and it could be as expansive as you want it to be, but I think the first question is what kind of story do you wanna tell?

So world building can be as expansive as you want it to be. It’s a passion project.

But I think the first question is, when it comes to telling a story or crafting or condensing it into a book or a film, is what kind of story do you want to tell? And I think that first question is, do I wanna tell an allegorical tale? Or what I’ll call a world building tale, just for simplicity between the two.

There’s a range between those and many decisions along the way, but allegorical tale would be the world we take that at face value, right? We don’t get into the whys and the hows. It’s more of this is a vehicle to impart certain lessons. I think that’s our fairy tales. Those are our campfire tales.

Those are the things that tend to stick with us. Just those kind of very simple, true stories, but at the same time, it doesn’t take into the world building component. So if there’s a troll under the bridge, which could be a story about coming of age, rite of passage, good versus evil, overcoming obstacles, facing fears.

But if there’s a solitary troll who lives under this bridge that’s been a nuisance for quite some time, why has it been left to a teenager? To resolve this. Why haven’t the local villagers it the local knights or, merchants don’t like impediments to commerce, so why hasn’t somebody resolved this?

Or if it’s an expansive world, why hasn’t just somebody put up a new bridge somewhere else that we’re just gonna go around? We’re gonna go around the problem, so to speak. And I think there’s many answers to those questions. 

There’s no right or wrong way to tell the story. People should tell the story, build the world that they want, but if you’re thinking about this is a place that exists almost independent of the story. It has a past, it has a present, and it has a future trajectory. I would put that more in the world building category. And okay. 

There are some questions then we need to answer and how you answer them or how you go about them, it’s totally up to you, but I think that’s the first piece of, do I wanna embark on? I wanna impart messages as part of my story. If you’re on the world building side, that’s still there, right? I still have a point of view. I still have questions I wanna pose, but also this internal logic in the richness of the world that’s as important to me, versus an allegorical tale, which just says here’s where we’re at here’s what the story begins. Take it as is. I think that’s the first thing. 

And how much time do you wanna put into that? 

I think there’s the other piece of, as you build the world, you reward your reader for paying attention. Here are the details. Here’s the subtext in nuance or just overt statements.

And as this applies to one character if you’re building that in a logical, coherent way, then what could apply to this other character too? Or if this happens, and that means this could happen. So I think that pulls people into a story in a way that maybe an allegorical tale can’t, because you just don’t have that complexity to it.

And it’s not a right or wrong question, but it’s a choice about how much time and what direction do you want to go with it. 


I love that. I think those are really important distinctions for people to think about, and I understand not everybody is going to be able to make that Clarity of choice at the very early stages. I would say I wasn’t. 

I tend to make those decisions in the revisions phase. As people started asking me questions about the story world, whether it was in my fantasy world or my sci-fi world, I was driven to find the answers. I wanted to know, my readers were confused. They wanted to know the critique partners and beta readers.

I think it’s also the author’s comfort level. Are you okay with things not being explained or do you want to create that reality basis? A world that has its own reality and its own logic. 

So I really love that distinction and I think it can help some writers pull back a little bit and go, oh yeah, I do want to figure out the logic of my story world.


The last couple minutes of me, me sharing that was really based on years of world building myself and writing my medieval fantasy novel and thinking through the process as I’m in it, but also retrospectively and talking with others and like you say, critique partners or getting questions. I think exploring the world through questions or very specific what if scenarios, and sometimes the answer is, I don’t know.

You’re gonna figure it out. You probably know the least amount about the world at the beginning. I think that’s fair to say. And you continually are growing and expanding it. I think it’s being comfortable, leaning into those things. But if I had advice for people, I would say, how do you want to look at this.

And part of it is what do you show the reader. Where’s the camera located? Where’s the lighting? But also what’s that track that’s running behind the scenes where you as an author know this is what’s actually going on. Here’s what the characters know, and then, okay, here’s what I’m gonna tell the reader. How much continuity you want with that, versus, I’m okay if this is floating out there. That doesn’t bother me that’s an individual choice as well. 


Yeah, absolutely. I’ll just speak from a working writer’s perspective. That people are, They crave things that are grounded, even while they love the fantastical, whether it’s in a sci-fi, or fantasy world of all kinds, Readers and viewers are super savvy. Especially the younger generation, like I, I didn’t grow up with the internet, but I notice in people, 20, 30 years younger, when they’re in their twenties, they have viewed and watched so much more media than I did at that age. 




Because access. So just speaking from someone who didn’t have that when I was growing up, Writers have to be aware that their readers are going to be able to see deeper into stories today than maybe before. Readers tend to be a bit more sophisticated and so we need to make world building choices, if we want, make world building choices in relation to that level of knowledge that our readers have.




and just make decisions, Some people think my fantasy world is fantasy light because I’m not writing like Tolkien, but then other people say, wow, it felt so real because I’m writing from my character’s lived experiences. I’m not writing encyclopedic entries. So I always bring that up.

In terms of world building, we don’t have to know the entire world. We just need to understand how our characters interact and view the world. And then we can do some authorial things like you’re saying, You can know more about your world than your character does and that’s super fun.


I think you raise a really good point about the difference between if you embark on world building, let’s say between the choice between allegorical and world building, there still is how complex and there’s so many varying degrees of that. But I guess if I had to distill what we’re talking about, I think this is what you’re saying as well, is it’s about any time there’s an opportunity for collaboration or conflict between characters and there’s something that has to do with the world, how are you positioning that? You don’t have to talk about, here’s the thousand year history of this dynasty, but simply like in this moment between these characters, this is a unique world that’s different from our reality, and here’s how the logic of this world plays out, however detailed or not, right? ’cause it’d just be very simple between two characters in this. The crux of the issue relates to the world and how it impacts these characters. I think that’s an important distinction. Thank you for mentioning that because it’s not, we’re gonna build out absolutely everything, but as we do this and what we choose to do, where’s that internal logic that goes along with the character development and the storytelling?


Absolutely. And I would say this comes down to values assumptions, belief systems that characters have, about what’s important and what’s not important. Yeah. So I, I’m a very character-based writer. I start with my character, really I start with my genre, which has inherent assumptions, and from there, I Build out the world as I’m building the character. Those two, work hand in hand.




How about you? I noticed from reading some of your articles on your substack that you start from a, how do I want these aspects of my world to be? So are you starting from a kind of an external perspective as if you were, I don’t know, a historian writing about the world?


I wanted Ardalencor to seem like a real place. 

And I originally started though with the concept of two characters who weren’t from anywhere, they didn’t have a backstory. They just happened to meet. 

So just very briefly, the story begins in the aftermath of this battle. The army of Ardalencor is beat by a foreign invader and also part of their army switches sides.

So there’s rebellion and invasion at the same time. So chapter one, you pick up with some rank and file soldiers basically saying what just happened? And more importantly, what do we do next? And because of all this deceit and treachery, who can we trust? And that was really the crux of the story. And I didn’t know anything else about the world. It’s multi-point of view.

So you meet the high lord, the king equivalent. You meet the rebels, you meet a lot of people, holding different positions in society. But these first two characters, I wanted them to be of the world versus maybe like a D&D campaign where the characters live in this elevated status as they go about the world.

These two soldiers, one’s a soldier, one’s a mercenary, they are very much grounded in this world. Okay? So what does that mean in terms of their prospects, the resources they can call upon? That was important to me. And then setting the tone of the, of the story, especially with multiple points of view, people vying for power and basically in conflict. I have to think about how this overall system will work. That they can try to do the best they can, but one side not being overpowered versus another. Like why are they fighting if one side is so much stronger than the other. This should have been over.

Last year, or they would never have attempted this, right, had this power dynamic been in place. So history was a big guide for me. Not so much a particular period. This is medieval fantasy story, but I’m not running off of a particular analog from another country. But more, here’s what I know about societal structures and, what should be in a world as well. And also being a dungeon master in D&D and seeing players try to break the game so that all helped. But yes, I wanted it to be very much a grounded experience because there’s multiple points of view, as well. 


Really great to hear that. I did read your article on this next question and I thought this is really a wonderful distinction to talk about. So tell us what you mean by setting your world up versus setting your world in motion.

That really caught my attention because our story worlds are in motion, just like the real world. yeah. Can you talk about those two things? 


Yeah. And this was a distinction that maybe crystallized for me as I went through the process as well. But if we think about setting our world up, it’s like our list of lists, right?

It’s what are all the magical pieces to it? Yes, there’s time travel and there’s dragons and,the geography and the flora and fauna things like that, customs, I saw one list it’s like there’s a hundred different categories on it and some you could say are very precise and others are still expansive, and there’s probably categories, beneath that as well.

Beth, I like your list of about 20 items. 




Which is you’re embarking on world building. There’s gonna be some work here, but I think it’s also a, a good set of questions and manageable at the same time. so I appreciate the, appreciate that list. it’s good. 

Once we have those items, then you gotta think about how do all these things fit together, right?

So if we have time travel, can a million people time travel. If somebody wrote that story, I would be incredibly impressed with that. or if elves can live for 5,000 years, right? What does that actually mean in terms of the context of the story, right? How many generations gather at the holiday feast, right?

Just thinking through those kind of things. Or if you’re putting a dragon in, sometimes there’s just one dragon. We’re talking world building. Why is it just only one dragon, you could answer that, there could be an explanation for it, but you’re putting in an apex predator that’s basically like an attack helicopter in a medieval context.

And there’s these very evocative pictures of this, enormous dragon that’s maybe 50 times the size of this knight or this warrior who’s very cautiously approaching. But is that really a fight? It’s very evocative from a storytelling perspective, and it is the hero’s journey.

But you also gotta think about the dragon as well, right? The dragon isn’t there just to be a pin cushion for the hero, at least as I would think about it. 

So I think that’s the other piece of what are the things I wanna do? What are those disruptive elements? What are things we’re not seeing in our reality?

And then trying to think about those items. And how do all these things come together and with the disruptive elements, the another piece that I look at is, how rare are these, like how many are there? It doesn’t have to be an exact number, one dragon versus 10,000 dragons is quite a distinction.

Proximity would be another thing. You think about Game of Thrones. If you’re in Kings Landing, you really don’t care what’s going on north of the wall, no matter how much the alarm bells are sounded because it’s just so far away. But in the north, any kind of minor disturbance where you get word and everybody’s very wary, and I think that’s another piece of it as well.

And then barriers to entry. Okay, we have time travel, but there’s only a few people who know how to do it, or you do it at such cost and risk that people don’t even wanna attempt it, or maybe you have to prep yourself for that. And let’s just say there’s 10 steps to do that. And most people barely get halfway through.

So it’s almost like they know you can do it, but they don’t know how. But these are little things you can adjust and I think that helps other dragons in this world, yes or no. I think that’s an important question. But then how do these things fit together? How do you put your world in motion? And now that you’ve put all these fantastical forces together or even just different societal or political structures, how does that actually work in practice?

And then you get into how is it experienced to the characters? 


Yeah, that’s really wonderful.One more question and then I’m gonna ask you to tell us how we can find more about you and your book. How do you handle writer’s block and what do you recommend to others with writer’s block, especially in respect to world building?

Can you speak to that? 


Yeah. I think something inspired you to start world building and I’ve sometimes used, I don’t know what I want to use for Ardalencor, but I’m gonna use a historical analog.

Just as a placeholder, as scaffolding. I know this isn’t done, but I’m just gonna hold up these other ideas with this. So that helps me because otherwise you’re looking at a blank sheet of paper and you don’t quite know where to go. I think what’s also helped when I got particularly stuck, this was within reference to what is a character gonna do next when think it applies to world building too is I just wrote down all the possible options that could happen now because this was a character. It was one was the character drops dead in the next moment, all the way to here’s just the, an expansive list. They weren’t going to die in the next moment. But I just wanted the freedom to say, you’re looking at every possibility here. And then I just whittled it down to, okay, it would be this.

But I think with world building, there’s a lot of, I think this will work. Okay, maybe it won’t, or maybe I’m just gonna, I’m gonna change it a little bit or dial it up or dial it down. And I think that’s to be expected too in, in creating Ardalencor, I didn’t walk into this as here’s just idea by idea.

Boom, boom. It was, test this, here, try this out. How would this work? How would this work? When we get actually into the characters and backstory, getting beta readers talking with friends, sometimes people who had no interest in fantasy. just hearing their just raw reaction to things.

It does give you some insight for somebody who’s got no perspective to it. that strikes me as, yeah, that would work. Or What did you think about this? So I think being open to questions is a way to experience the world since we can’t be there physically. 


That’s really wonderful. And what I hear as an overall theme there is testing.

Yeah. What is this? How would this work? What if I changed this? And I love that picture of dialing things up and down. And then the idea of an analog, which is something that I’ve been working on. 

So yeah, tell us how people can read your book. Where can they find it? Where can they find you and sign up and subscribe or buy? Yeah, give us your details. 


Yeah. So In Times of War, A Tale of Ardalencor is available on Amazon, if you like, Game of Thrones, Band of Brothers, Lord of the Rings, all wrapped into one.

If you’re a history buff, as we’ve been talking about history as well, you’ll probably like In Times War Tale of Ardalencor, so it’s available on Amazon. Social media wise, I’m most active on Instagram at Ardalencor. Thank you Beth also for mentioning my Substack, andrew Try to publish one or two articles at least a month.

You can read opening chapters. There’s one opening chapter, the opening chapter in the prologue out on the, out of my substack. But also I have a lot of, here’s the wisdom that I’ve tried to distill based on my journey over multiple years, in world building and wanting to write a book.

So just helpful guides for people. And I try to get into the how and as you’re picking different aspects of your world, how to put those things together with examples and just some general structure as well. So Amazon, Substack and Instagram are probably the best places to reach me. 


Thank you so much for coming to How to Write the Future and I guess because this is a futuristic, it’s actually for science fiction and fantasy writers, but I’m always curious about your thoughts and my guest thoughts on how their work serves to shape our future, as a humanity.

Do you have any thoughts on that? I’m just gonna throw that zinger at you. 


Yeah, I think art, I guess for me, my experience is it should be uplifting. It should be how do we raise the energy and the vibrations? But even if it’s on a difficult topic, My book is, it’s a war setting, but it’s about people coming together, transcendence, resilience.

And I think art is also about how do we strive to elevate as well. Let’s put out our best work. It might be a work in progress, like your masterpiece might not be the first thing, but I think that as how do we carry things forward. How do we create? And especially with writing whatever the genre is, these words have been around for hundreds of years, thousands of years.

There’s been billions of people who have potentially have access to the same language, but as a writer, you’re still able to create something new. And how do we inspire and benefit everybody with the art that we’re creating? So that, that would be my thoughts. 


I love that. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Wonderful. Everyone. Thank you so much for listening to another episode of How to Write the Future. 

If you’re new here, check out my World Building Workbook for Fiction Writers. 

Please do check out Andrew’s resources. You have some great articles on world-building as well, and I’m gonna sign off here.

That’s it for this week. Write long and prosper. 

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Beth Barany teaches science fiction and fantasy novelists how to write, edit, and publish their books as a coach, teacher, consultant, and developmental editor. She’s an award-winning fantasy and science fiction novelist and runs the podcast, “How To Write The Future.”

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