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Writer's Den #1 - Picking a World

Original Link: Writer's Den: Picking a World

So you've decided to write a fantasy novel, but the big question on your mind is "What fantasy world do I set it in?" This is an important question to answer before proceeding with your book. Many writers start on their book without any idea of where they are setting it. And without a good idea of where the action is happening, you set yourself up for plot holes and inconsistencies the size of a dragon. Even authors like me (the proverbial "pantser") need to know where the book is set so that the appropriate flavors can be added, and a good mental picture can be drawn by the reader.

Will you use an existing setting that is tried and tested? What about setting it on earth, but adding a fantasy flare to it? Or, of course, you could build your own world from scratch. These are all good options with their own sets of pros and cons that we will explore together.

Using an Existing World

At first glance, this seems like the safest of the options available. Putting your story into a world that has already been created and fleshed out is a great way to save yourself some work up front. But beware, as this option can give you a false sense of security as well. In order to set a novel in an existing world, you must have a very good grasp of the world you are targeting. Existing worlds gain their own fan base, and that fan base will be quick to pick up on whether you have a good grasp of the world you are working with.

There's nothing worse than picking up a book by a new author, set in a tried and tested fictional world, which the author has gotten all wrong. The obvious way to avoid this situation is to do your research before starting to write. Read anything and everything ever set in that world. Make notes to keep yourself organized. Look online or at the local book or gaming store for any maps that might have been published. If the world is shared by more than one author, make sure you read a variety of authors work to get the best idea of how much wiggle room you have when interpreting the mechanics of the world.

If you do your research properly, this option will prove itself to be a great one, and you will end up with a finished product that fans of the world will love and appreciate. Moreover, you will end up with a highly marketable product that publishers of the world can add to their portfolio.

Setting Your Book on Earth

Setting a book on earth can be more challenging, because you are much more limited in what locations you can use and what rules you can bend or break. People reading a book set on earth have a certain expectation for your story and the amount of detail you put into characters and events. At the same time, Earth is a big place, and there always seems to be some undiscovered island resting just beyond the mist that holds a whole new world of fantastic creatures and cultures waiting to be explored.

The joy of using a setting like Earth rests in the familiarity with the setting. Writing what you know makes for a richer, more believable story, and urban fantasy seems to be hot right now. You can add magic to our mundane world, or alter history to suit your story, or even invent an entirely new history for earth. Even the time frame can be changed: set it in earths past during Arthurian times and explore the medieval era, or jump forward in time to post-apocalypse, or invent a futuristic setting with a twist of magic and some new creatures or races added.

But remember, the further you get from the Earth we know, the more you're going to have to flesh it out in order to make it believable. Using an existing major city as a reference point can give readers perspective and help them build a mental image of the action, but ensure that you do your research so as not to get the details wrong. If I had to label it, I would call setting your story in Earth the balanced approach, as it is equal in both risk and ease of writing.

Creating a New World

This I think is the most complex of the options. The details of creating a new world from scratch are very complex and beyond the scope of this article. A new world can be as large and detailed as you want to make it, but some serious thought must be put in to decide what type of ruling power is present, religions, politics, races, and many other factors.

An additional danger of creating a new world is the prospect of bringing it into an already pretty saturated market. There has to be some kind of hook to your world, something that makes it unique. That could be something as simple as the authors voice making it a vivid enjoyable place to read about, or some strange concept that has yet to be explored.

Building your own world can also have some very cool benefits. You have ultimate creative control over what events happen and how things work. If you want to change something, you can. You direct the destiny of your own world and this, I think, is what makes it such an appealing concept to so many authors out there.


There are no wrong answers when writing your book. You pick the option that works best for you, but remember that no matter what option you choose, do your research up front and you'll end up with a well-rounded end product that will leave your readers begging for more.

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