Let's look at Worldbuilding in action. 

From perspective of the audience, worldbuilding is a two-step process. 

The first step involves what the audience is told overtly. In the image above, taken from the opening crawl of Star Wars, the audience is informed that the story is set in the distant past of a distant galaxy. These details become known facts about the setting. 

The second step involves the audience filling in the blanks by making inferences based on these factsBased on the information given in the image, the audience might safely assume that the characters depicted in this story are no longer alive. 

What are some standard elements of Worldbuilding?

Place: Where will the story take place?
  • Example: The Lord of the Rings stories take place in Middle-earth
  • Example: Batman is set in Gotham City

Technology: What kind of technology is available? 
  • Example: In the Terminator movies, artificial intelligence exists
  • Example: In the Revolution series, electricity stopped working

Culture: How is the society structured?
  • Example: In X-Men, mutants are persecuted 
  • Example: In The Handmaiden's Tale, pregnancy is greatest thing a woman can hope to accomplish
Speculative Element: Does this world break the "rules" of the real world?
  • Example: In the Game of Thrones, seasons can last for years
  • Example: In Star Wars, some people have psychic powers 
Pretend that you've never heard of Star Trek. Now, watch the video below, paying close attention to the introductory narration:

Star Trek: Opening Narration


Here's the text of the voice-over: 
"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

So what does this narration tell us about the four elements of worldbuilding we've discussed?
  • Place: The story takes place in space 
  • Technology: People have spaceships capable of reaching new worlds
  • Culture: The society refers to humanity in masculine terms. 
  • Speculative Element: People are seeking aliens
What else does this narration tell us?
  • The story centers on the a specific spacecraft
  • The ship has a time-sensitive mission
What inferences might the audience make based on that?
  • The story is set in the future
  • Something limits the length of she ship's mission
    • Maybe the crew have five-year tours of duty 
    • Maybe the ship can only carry five-years of supplies/fuel
  • It seems to be a peaceful mission
  • Male characters will dominate authority position