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Tips for Students: Creating Fantasy Worlds Tip Sheet

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.


Thank you to the students who attended the “Creating Fantasy Worlds” presentation where you learned about the brief history of fantasy worlds in western literature, received an overview of the aspects to consider when designing a world for your story and characters, and were provided templates and ideas on how to get started on planning your own world and story. Below are some of the ideas we discussed as well as a few other tips, questions, and writing exercises to help you as you begin creating your own fictional worlds.

Rules for Magic

Rules help orient the reader in this world and let them know what the magic is, who can use it, where it came from, etc. Answer the following questions to get your brain flowing:

  • Where does the magic come from?
  • Who can use it? Who can’t? Why?
  • How do people (or creatures) use the magic?
  • How does magic affect daily life?
  • What’s a rule that the society has imposed?

Writing Exercises:

  • Make a rule book related to magic
  • Write a three page story about someone who breaks one of the rules of this society

Creatures

Creatures are an essential part of a fantasy world. Creatures are not only fun to read about, but they can also add in extra elements to the world and deepen the creation of it as they function as companions, enemies, or even symbolism.

Revisit this video where JK Rowling discusses creatures with Stephen Fry if you’d like.

  • What standard mythological creatures might fit into your story? Why?
  • How will magical creatures affect your characters?
  • Will your creatures be able to use magic?

Writing Exercises:

  • Research animals you don’t know much about. How might you use some of their elements in your own writing?
  • Write a two page story about an animal using magic and things going horribly wrong.

Maps & Images

Readers of fantasy novels expect some sort of visual element. Even though you’re likely not writing a children’s book, fantasy worlds ask readers to suspend nearly everything they know and immerse themselves in a strange land. Help them orient themselves by providing some sort of visual, even if it’s just something on the cover of the book that gets their attention and helps them start to envision the land you’ve created.

How will your images provide context of the world for your reader? Think about things like:

  • Terrain
  • Climate
  • How people travel
  • Isolation vs. Population
  • Real place vs. fictional (will this land be an alternate form of Earth or a brand new place?)

Exercises:

  • Create a map by hand
  • Create a map using Photoshop, Google Docs, or a digital art app (be sure to talk to your parents before signing up or paying for something!)
  • Research a real place on earth that is similar to the land you envision creating

Words and Language

To create a more immersive setting, use some words that give the reader some insight into the land you’ve created. Show them that they’re in a new place that has its own history, customs, and language. The words should reflect the places so that the readers get a sense of mood and tone before they even learn about them.

Writing Exercises:

  • Use the thesaurus and dictionary to your advantage! For example, if you want to create a lush, green land, look up words that are related to “green,” “lush,” “vibrant,” etc. Look up Latin roots and etymologies. What words can you use or words you can create that reflect that setting?
  • Write three fictional dictionary or encyclopedia entries for some of the places or events in your imaginary land. Integrate some history into them to provide more info about the world.

Point of View (POV)

Characters help readers become acquainted with the fantasy world they’re exploring. Here are some questions to help you consider how POV will reveal information about your universe.

  • Which character(s) will help your reader navigate the new world?
  • Will they be completely brand new to the world or will they know a lot?
  • Who will guide the character?
  • Is it possible for the main character to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the reader?
  • Is the character willing to learn or reluctant?
  • How will new concepts be explained to the character? Through dialogue? Narration? Artifacts?

Writing Exercises:

  • Have your character enter a new world and learn about it purely through dialogue. Do they talk to another human? A creature? A plant?
  • Now, rewrite that same scene but without dialogue; reveal all of that same information just through narration.
  • After writing both options, reflect. Do you prefer one method over another? Are there ways to integrate both narration and dialogue to reveal info about the world?

Potential Platforms to Use:

Be sure to talk to your parents before signing up or paying for something!

  • Pinterest: Collect a series of images and resources and keep them in one place; great for visual people. Free.
  • Google Docs: Keep your ideas in the cloud and access them at any time from any device. Free.
  • Readthrough: Great for screenplays. Free
  • Scrivener: Platform many professional writers use; easy to use. Costs money.
  • Campfire: Platform to organize ideas and world build. Costs money.

Always keep a notebook with you! Write down ideas as they come to you so you don’t forget them.

Speaker Bio: Ashley Ingle has been an English instructor since 2011, teaching in a variety of settings including International Baccalaureate Magnet Programs, community colleges, and at Davidson Academy, working with profoundly gifted students. She’s taught a variety of courses ranging from Honors English to Creative Writing to Passion Project, a class in which students construct a novel, screenplay, or short story collection within in a school year. She is a published writer who specializes in humor and education pieces; her work can be found in publications such as McSweeneys and Edutopia. She is passionate about writing and enjoys helping writers grow in their ability to create original stories and engaging essays. 

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.

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