Media Monday: Avatar the Last Airbender and World Building

While people often think of world building in reference to fantasy and science fiction, this practice is essential to all genres of writing. Readers want to be immersed in the culture of your piece and to do this, you need to put forth effort into creating a believable and interesting universe for your characters to inhabit.

The children’s cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has much to teach on the concept of world building. The show’s writers based much of the show’s culture on East Asian tradition, especially Buddhism for the airbenders. Throughout the three seasons, viewers learn about the structure of the different nations, the world’s history, the political conflicts, social classes, and many other social aspects.

What makes “Avatar’s” world building so successful is the thoroughness taken by the writers. Every symbol, every piece of clothing, every dish is carefully thought about and woven into part of the world’s culture. The different aspects do not exist separately of each other, but build on each other to contribute to the whole. Each aspect, whether it is the government structure or the holidays is important to building up the rules of the world, but none can stand alone. Instead, these pieces of culture build off each other and contribute to a unified whole, just as real cultures do.


In order to build an intricate culture such as this, writers must focus on the minute details. Usually, a writer knows a lot more about their world than they are able to write into the books, but nevertheless, don’t let that stop you from putting in tiny details that may seem unimportant. These small intricacies are often what make the biggest difference for readers. While they may not know every detail or fact about a culture, the knowledge that there is always more to learn will keep them engaged and interested. Like the writers of “Avatar” did, basing your world off real can add a lot of authenticity. Just be sure to add your own flare to make your world completely unique.

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