When writing a story set in a fantasy land, one important thing a writer has to do is create a world that the reader can understand and believe. Depending on how similar that world is to our own determines how much work the author has to do. If it’s set in an alternate version of Earth where one ‘what if’ event caused history to take a different turn, then there might not be very many new elements to introduce.

However, sometimes the worlds are so far from our reality that the writer has to create just about everything from scratch in order to get across how this new place works.

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As I’m working on a new story outside of the Faery Trials, I thought I would take you along on my world-building journey. Now, some writers like to do all of their world-building before they ever sit down to write the story. They know the ins and outs of their moons’ phases and are able to incorporate those elements into their rough drafts as they go.

I am not one of those authors.

I prefer to start with a rough outline of my story so I have a better idea of what I need to know. I’d hate to waste hours (or days) coming up with the history of horse racing on the islands only to decide that none of that will have any bearing on the story at all.

So at this point, I’ve written a rough draft. I already know what ground my characters will need to cover. It’s set in a fantasy world in which gods, goddesses, magical creatures, and monsters exist. Everything in this story will happen in or around a main city that’s been isolated by natural disasters and the wrath of the gods. So as far as world-building is concerned, my scope can stay relatively small.

Ready to see my process for doing this? Feel free to create a world of your own and share your progress as we go along!

Now let’s get started!

First, I think its important to start with the lay of the land.

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Nothing too detailed here, just some squiggly lines to outline our land mass

I find it helpful to sketch out a map. I make a lot of notes in a paragraph form too, but later on as I’m having characters run through a city square, I can say that they’re headed north or south and actually have some idea where they’re trying to go.

Next, I start filling in the geography: mountain ranges, deserts, rivers, plains… This gives me a better idea of how difficult it will be for my characters to get around, and it will also help me later when I’m trying to decide what sort of economy and industries this place could sustain.

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Added in some forests, hills and mountains. The lower portion of this country is desert, but that’s not as easy to sketch in.

Now, I can look at where to place the key landmarks I’ll need for my story to take place. There’s a hill where the temple sits overlooking the city. Also an oasis which is the last known source of water before the desert that’s consumed the southern half of the land. Rather than build the world around these places, it’s more organic to build the world first and decide where these people would place these locations themselves. As that’s the way the real world works, it gives the world a more organic feel than assuming that everything is laid out in the way that is most convenient for everyone.

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Added a few more rivers and lakes I can use as elements in the story later.

You might notice that I haven’t named any of these places yet. In the next section, I’ll get into the more challenging (for me at least) part of finding names for these places.

Did you try creating a new world too? I’d love to hear what you came up with!

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4 thoughts on “An Exercise in World Building

  1. This is excellent advice, Alicia! While reading it, I got a mental picture of how my outline is going to look—Ah! I’m so excited! Since I’m deep in the first draft of my literary fiction novel, I’m going to have to bottle up my map-making excitement for a little while. I’ll be sure to share with you when I do! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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