Building Your World – Finding the Concept


Hey guys, I just came up with this new idea for this a fantasy world? Want to hear it? I know you do, here it is:

Long ago, in a distant land, there lies a kingdom of men, elves, dwarves, and mages. A terrible evil lies to the north of the kingdom, a powerful lord named Sarasmegoriana, who unleashes an army of orcs, trolls, and demons to threaten the land. A prophecy exists where a young man wielding a magic sword will save the land and…

Wait! Don’t leave yet! I haven’t even got to the part about where the hero saves the princess from the dragon!

Alright, serious hat on. While the description above is meant to be satirical, it’s the common layout that makes up most fantasy stories (especially in the RPG market). While this formula worked out for writers like Tolkien, by itself this set up is cliché, bland, and really boring.

For a fantasy world to stand out from the crowd, you need to have a unique concept.

What is the concept? Ask yourself this, can you describe your world in under one sentence? If not, no worries. Much like the elevator pitch describes what makes your novel unique, the concept of your world should describe what makes your world stand out from the crowd.

The concept is the center of every fantastic element in your story. It is the seed which every decision you decide grows from. For all the following posts in this series, we’ll be referring to the concept as the foundation for which we develop everything else.

How do we go about building our concepts? The easiest way to do so is ask one question, “What if?” This question is often used when devising plots. What if aliens invaded earth? What if Hitler actually won World War II? What if the water became contaminated and turned everyone into zombies? (More on What If’s, go here.)

So how do we go about applying it? Well, look through your story notes you already have and start practicing. “What if people could fly?” “What if people could breathe underwater?” “What if people had the ability to breathe fire?”

  • What if the hero failed his journey and the dark overlord took over the world—Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn.
  • What if the seasons spanned longer than just three months and went on for years— George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire­
  • What if wizards still existed, and they lived in hiding in our very society— J.K Rowling, Harry Potter.

After you ask, “What if”, answer the question. Let’s try with the question “What if human beings could fly?” Well, transportation would be conducted differently, as well as building construction. We’d have doors on different floors of buildings rather than just the first.

In doing so, new questions are spawned:

  • How do we fly?
  • Do we need to flap our wings or do we defy gravity?
  • How do we move about in the air?
  • Are buildings restricted to the ground?
  • If so how do we go about construction then?
  • How do we go about transportation?
  • Can our vehicles fly?
  • Can everyone fly?

If you’re like me, by the time you’re done exploring all the possibilities and questions of asking your “What if,” you’ll likely have several pages of material.

For now, try to narrow it down to a concept similar to “Modern day earth where everyone is inherently gifted with the ability to fly.”

Your concept is likely to change as you develop it as this series goes on. What are some ways you’ve come up with the concepts for your own stories? I’d love to hear from you.

3 thoughts on “Building Your World – Finding the Concept

Add yours

  1. As someone who doesn’t know this genre at all, I am amazed by the creativity. This is a great post helping me understand some of your thought processes in your writing. I love this!


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Brian J. Branscum

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