Writing Tips On How To Create An Imaginary World That Feels Real

tolkien map

Angela Violet looks at ways to create an imaginary world that not only you but others can believe in.

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.

Our creativity often needs a jump start because of the information overload we’re subjected to every day. For writers, creating your own world gives your inner child a chance to come out and play, and is a great alternative way to de-stress. Here a few creative writing tips and 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 colour 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, ideas and details 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 kinds of people would be tough enough to live in the desert wasteland you designed? What creatures roam through the forests and do they have special powers? Predators and prey, innocent people and warring people. Who rules these realms? Are they benevolent and kindly or tyrannical dictators? Or, perhaps, are there no rulers at all? 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 your imaginary world history. 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 heroes 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.

Binders full of imaginary worlds

Collate your documentation in some way – like a folder, either digital or tangible. If you wish, build your world in various ways. Here are some ideas:

  • 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 there’s no need 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.