There’s nothing more exciting—and, often times, overwhelming—than creating a fictional world and populating it with an interesting collection of characters, each with their own agenda. A fully realized, richly detailed fictional world can capture readers’ hearts, minds, and imaginations. The world is full of readers who would eagerly receive their letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who’d gladly take a stroll through the Shire, who wouldn’t mind flying off to Neverland or entering a world where dragons soar or werewolves roam.

So where do we begin? Here are a few of the exercises I use to get my stories off the ground. (Many thanks to Michelle, whose comment on a previous post inspired this one.) Discovering and creating a fantasy world takes patience and time—with each draft, with each exercise, we dig a little deeper, all in the hopes that readers will one day be eager to lose themselves in that world.

Getting the lay of the land

image by Alarna Rose Gray, WANA Commons
image by Alarna Rose Gray, WANA Commons

If I’m setting a story in a fictional place, it helps to make a map. That makes the logistics of writing a lot easier–you’ll know about how long it takes to travel from one part of the world to another and the names of important places and geographic locations. It also makes a world feel so much more vivid if we know the specific names of places in our world. Not just the woods, but the Iron Wood. Not just the mountains, but the Misty Mountains.

Even if the maps we create don’t make it into the pages of our books, understanding the size of our worlds and the places within them helps us create rich, detailed worlds.

Understanding the history and mechanics of our worlds

If your story is a fantasy, how does magic work in your world? What sorts of magical creatures populate it? If it’s sci-fi, what are the important technologies in your world and how long have they been around?

There are plenty of areas to consider—politics, climate, significant historical events, cultural norms, architecture…the list goes on.

When I create a new world, I also will create Word documents in which I explore the major historical events that took place in my world, how the governing system works, etc. If there’s magic, I’ll figure out what the rules of magic are in that world and how magic works. If there are magical creatures, I might make a glossary listing their names, abilities, and basic backgrounds.

For example, in my newest WIP, the first book in what I’m calling the Mage Wars trilogy, a centuries-long war has been raging. There are five different factions, each with their own agenda, so I created a table that lists the name of each group along with their strengths/weaknesses, symbols, alliances, and where they stand in the battle—what their end goal is. I plan on expanding it to include a more detailed history as time goes on—major battles won or lost, that sort of thing.

Collecting images

When I first began collecting images for my stories, I started looking for images of each of my main characters so I could visualize them better. But this can also be expanded to include images of the geography of our world or the homes of our characters, important buildings, etc.—anything that helps us in describing our worlds in rich detail.

What about you? What exercises do you use when creating a fictional world? What are some of your favorite fantasy worlds and what do you love most about them?

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Revised the first chapter in “The Phoenix Feather.” Did some world-building for that story. Wrote 223 words in “Made of Shadows.”

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. 1/2. Began reading “How to Market a Book” by Joanna Penn.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.

2.) Blog twice a week. On track to meet this goal.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 0/3.

2.) Do something related to volunteer work or spiritual practice at least once a week. No progress.

3.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. Met for 2 of 3 days so far this week.


A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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