Imaginary world – Writers tips
Creative tips: We show you how to create your own imaginary world and become a regular Tolkien. World building tips for writers and artists.
Tolkein did it and so many other great writers and storytellers. Making up your own world and people to inhabit it isn’t just for little kids trying to entertain themselves on a rainy day (or, indeed, for vile little madams like the murderous ne’er-do-wells featured in Heavenly Creatures).
In this day and age, our creativity often needs a jump start because of the information overload we’re subjected to every day. Creating your own world gives your inner child a chance to come out and play and is a great alternative way to de-stress. This is especially handy if you are a writer trying to come up with some great stories! Here a few creative writing tips (and other creative exercises) to help get your started on your own imaginary journey.
Decide on the basic theme for your world.
Is it a different planet in another dimension? A medievalesque country hemmed in by an enchanted wilderness? Think back on your favourite movies, TV shows and books to find the general flavour of your world.
Draw a map of your world and come up with some names.
You will need a fairly large piece of paper, some pencils or pens and something to color with if you want. Roughly sketch the basic layout and move things around until you are satisfied. You may prefer to make a few different versions until you decide on the one you like best. As you are putting in mountain ranges and giving names to special landmarks, things may start to come to you. The stories that surround these places will start to form and so will the people involved.
Populate your world.
What kind of people would be tough enough to live in the desert wasteland you designed? What creatures are roaming through the forests and do they have special powers? Predators and prey, innocent people and warring people. Who rules these realms and are they benevolent and kindly or tyrannical dictators? Do the different races or villages trade with each other peacefully, while a different group or individual tries to unleash darkness upon them?
Write the history of your world.
You can go as in-depth as you want when you record the history of this imaginary land. Who are the heroes and who (or what) did they vanquish? What kind of ancient peoples lived peacefully in the forest before another, more barbaric race killed them off? What kind of wars or battles took place and why were they fought? Take inspirations from real life and do some historical research to help you come up with ideas. Fact, they say, is stranger than fiction.
If you wish, you may also wish to invent the science of your world. Pratchett’s world was steeped in magic. Is your world magical, scientific or is there a rift between the two? If your world is water-based, why is that? Are there two suns in the sky? Is there a scientific reason for your decision to make the air smell of perfume? Does their table of periodic elements feature potassium and iron, or logos, ether and octarine?
You may also wish to explore the idea of religion on your world.
Narrow it down with heroines and villains
Now that you have taken the time to form this mystical and imaginary world, make up some great characters to follow. Heroes and villains that will continue to shake things up and keep things interesting. Start your characters off at any age and form them from the ground up. What made them who they are? Are they evil because their parents were killed during an invasion and now they want revenge? Are they tyrants that hold the whole land in their sway? Did your main character do some serious wrongs in her life and now she wants redemption? Include some love interests, friends and influential relatives in their lives.
Keep your world in a folder
If you wish, build your world in various ways. Invent the folk songs and songs of ancient times, as Tolkien did, and record them as MP3s. Write grand histories and tiny tales. Create fake parchment (steep plain paper in non-milky tea and leave it to dry) and use the parchment to create your world’s laws and writs. Draw maps of the countries and of the world itself. Create charts of its constellations, or indeed of its solar system. Draw its flora and fauna, its monsters and demons and beasts. Draw its principal characters. Design the clothing worn by rich and poor, warriors and scientists and priests. Invent diaries of soothsayers foretelling what would happen to your imaginary world in aeons to come. This is an entire world (or country) you’re building, so the possibilities are endless…
Middle Earth wasn’t built in a day
It takes time to come up with a whole other world, so don’t try to rush it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was Middle Earth. Turn off the television and sit down in front of a piece of blank paper. Who knows where you may wander.
Take some paper. Steep it in cold brown tea. Let it dry. Draw a map of your imaginary world on it – like C.S. Lewis’s map of Narnia, or Tolkien’s maps of Middle Earth. Burn the edges with a match to make it look truly old. Lovely, isn’t it?
Watch Heavenly Creatures, a Kate Winslet film that shows what happens when building imaginary worlds goes very, very wrong. If you ever copy these dreadful girls we will actually disown you and steal your cake. But what a fun film!
Design costumes for your characters like this beautiful design by Bianca Davies.