World-Building for Writers: Creating a world readers will love

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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Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland sprite. Debut release TANGLED ROOTS now available. Magic awaits at

19 thoughts on “World-Building for Writers: Creating a world readers will love

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The world-building process takes patience, but it’s also very rewarding to step back and realize you’ve created a rich, enchanting world for readers to explore. 🙂

    1. I love looking at the maps at the beginning of fantasy novels,so there’s an aesthetic appeal to them, but they’re also very practical. I need to know how my characters get from one place to another and what they encounter–marshes, mountains, forests, raging rivers, etc.–on their way there. So even if our map is for our eyes only, it’s still a useful tool. 🙂

  1. That’s kind of strange because I have a post talking a little bit about worlds. I just about to add some images. Your post really opened some more research that I can do to my own world. I love taking pictures from my own, especially clouds and then incorporating them into my story. You’d be surprise what type of formation clouds make. The other day for the first time I saw ducks or geese in a migrating v formation heading northwest. I recorded but again, my camera sucks, haha. Great post. 😊

    1. One of my favorite parts of writing fantasy is simply being able to discover more about the world I’ve created (or discovered, depending on how you view the creative process) and the characters who live in it. Every new detail I discover/uncover is like a hidden gem now sparkling in the light.

      It’s those simple things–geese flying in a V and honking on their way south, a deer pausing in the woods, the sound of a summer thunderstorm–that inspire my work. Including those simple details can make our stories so much more vivid. I’m currently reading “Wizard’s First Rule” by Terry Goodkind and he is the master of this. The characters don’t just throw a stick on the fire, it’s a stick of birch, and he describes the way the sparks swirl upwards when the stick is added. Those details make a story come alive.

  2. For my next WIP, I drew lots of “maps.” First couple were actually floor plans for major rooms/places. Then I drew out to do the town these were in and after that I did the kingdom. So, yeah, I am with you on those being helpful!

    Glad to see your writing is going okay! Keep up the good work. 🙂

    1. Yes, floor plans are helpful, too. I ended up sketching out a very, very rough floor plan of a castle in one of my stories just for logistics. I’m not even sure I kept it, but at the time I needed it. Maps definitely come in handy.

      Thanks, Gloria! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Bev. I absolutely love reading and writing fantasy. I love discovering a rich world full of interesting characters. I just started reading Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and I love how detailed and vivid his world is. And he creates characters you can cheer for. Oh, and, of course, there’s a map. 🙂

  3. I haven’t touched my fantasy realm that I was building in that last four years (?).

    I have a map. That’s the big one for me, to see where places are and what possible travels could happen. I also write up and list of characters. Also, I write bits of history and even a creation myth to find and colour my world. Often this helps to find the plot.

    I haven’t really revisited this world in a couple of years. Maybe I should take a stab at seeing what is still there, or if maybe I need to retool it. I have had other projects come up. I kinda miss crafting a world. Maybe a visit in the future is in order. Time to dust off my fantasy passport. 🙂

    1. I like the idea of writing a creation myth for a world. I will have to try that sometime. Understanding the history of our worlds is definitely important; that’s something I’m working on with my new WIP.

      Enjoy dusting off your fantasy passport. Happy travels through your world! 🙂

  4. I think fantasy writers are much more conscious of world building than those who write fiction that takes place in the real world. But I often draw town layouts for fictional places. They are not that elaborate, but it helps!

    The piece I’m working on now is the recounting of an actual historic event, but I find myself drawing up diagrams and looking at maps and learning a lot about what life was like back in the 1920’s. So, much to my surprise, my research for this piece has included a lot of world building, too!
    ~Tui, hopping by from the #StoryDam linky (finally!)
    p.s. I hope to hop back on the row80 train next week, too. 🙂

    1. Yes, we fantasy writers tend to spend a lot of time creating maps and doing world-building exercises. I agree that even if your setting is a fictional town set in the real world, maps can still be helpful, just from a practical perspective. If your character has to go to the store, it’s nice to know how long of a drive or walk it is from her house–that sort of thing.

      Looking forward to you joining us for this round of ROW80. 🙂

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