As a fantasy writer, an enormous part of writing my story is the creation of the world my story takes place in, especially if that world is not Earth. If a world does not seem believable, readers aren’t going to be swept away while reading or want to delve deeper into this new world, exploring every nook and cranny and following the footsteps of the main characters.
For example, think about some of the worlds of the most well-known and beloved fantasy stories of our age: Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Lewis’s Narnia, Barrie’s Neverland, or Rowling’s magical world of Harry Potter. After reading about these worlds, who can honestly say they haven’t dreamed about exploring the valley of Rivendell or crawling through their wardrobe to find a lamppost in a wood? Or maybe flying off to Neverland and fighting pirates? I personally know two people who have attempted to find Platform Nine and Three Quarters (I tried to tell them you needed magical blood to pass through the barrier, but they wouldn’t listen). When writing a fantasy story, you’re not just telling the reader about a character’s struggles, you’re taking them on a journey to a new world.
It’s not easy. From my own experience I’ve found it’s quite easy to take the little things that make the world around us real for granted when writing about a new one. Making it believable, writing it so convincingly that the reader truly believes they are there is exceedingly difficult. I’m always finding holes.
In particular I find myself struggling with this in my current work-in-progress, Tempests. After finishing my first draft I proudly handed it to my critique partner, happy to have a completed manuscript at last. She kept it for a month or two, mulling over it, then handed it back to me covered in red and yellow marks and sticky notes of comments. The story, she told me, was compelling, but she had trouble picturing herself there with my characters because I hadn’t defined the world around them, save for in a few places. I immediately sent her copious notes describing the world I pictured when writing the story. After reading through them she told me, “Put this in the story!”
Right. Guess I have my work cut out for me then.
Despite these challenges, I really enjoy creating a world for my characters to live in. I find myself spending hours drawing out maps, making lists of customs and traditions, naming cities and landmarks, and writing out a history of a land that may only be mentioned once or twice in my novel. But is it worth it? Absolutely.
I find my inspiration for world building all over. Sometimes it’s in a word my ten year old brother makes up while telling me about his play-dough creations. Sometimes I find interesting art online (like the examples I’ve included in this post) that stand out to me and seem made for the story I’m writing. Other times I’m inspired by a book I’m reading or something I’ve seen on TV, or a place I’ve visited. All these things combined help me piece my world together.
What techniques do you use when world building? What challenges have you faced? Do you enjoy this part of storytelling? Share your thoughts with me below!