Building Your Story World

All right, you’re feeling ready to start your novel. You’ve got your characters. You’ve got your plot.

Now comes the next big question.

Where does your story take place?

When does your story take place?

These two questions are crucial for creating the settings in which and with which your characters will pursue their story goals. This is your story world where your characters will live and where all the action will take place. This is not a world you dare enter unprepared.

For this week, let’s focus on where your story takes place.

Where you set the story is going to be a major force driving your story forward.

Does it take place in a city? The suburbs? Out in the boonies? On a farm? A college campus? A spaceship? A submarine? A covered wagon? Maybe it’s a very small place like an airplane in the air. Maybe it’s one classroom in a school.

These decisions will both limit and expand your story.

There are numerous ways to establish your story world. One is to create it like you would a detailed character description. The danger here is the temptation to put it all in your book as soon as possible. This can come across as an info or backstory dump and can slow your story to a crawl and disenchant the reader.

Another way is to reveal your story world as your main character discovers. This is great if your character is in a strange new world. And this can take place even in contemporary novels. If you’re heroine is sent to New York from Podunk, TX, she is entering a strange new world.

In my work in progress, a fantasy novel, I knew I would be creating a new world. But it would be a world my characters would be very familiar with. I took a multi-prong approach to the story.

I began with broad concepts of the story world, the geography, the kingdoms, the unique features of each land. One of the nations I created is the source of the most valuable metal in the world. Besides making them wealthy, the metal protects and imprisons them at the same time. Because of the metal’s qualities, the natives cannot travel more than five miles outside their land without becoming mortally ill. By the same token, outsiders can only stay for short periods of time before they become ill.

After I developed this broad overview, complete with maps, I followed my characters and discovered more details of the world as they lived in it. I made notes of plants, animals, foods, and the differences among the people of the various kingdoms.

This made the discoveries fresh to me yet I was guided by the people who lived in this world.

In future blogs, we’ll be exploring more aspects of creating a fascinating and believable story world.




  1. THE WHEN OF YOUR STORY - Official Website of Author Henry McLaughlin - February 1, 2017

    […] story takes place is as crucial as where your story takes place. The first blog in this series, Building Your Story World, talked about the where of our […]

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