Build Your Fantasy World

My name is Travis Sullivan from Tokyo Surrenders to a Hamster, and I’m here today to talk about world building.

For fantasy, urban or high, world building is very important. Though, each requires more attention in different areas. High fantasy focuses on history, customs and culture.

On the other hand, urban fantasy pays more attention to secret history and why the fantastical elements don’t bleed into normal society.

Both require a writer to blend the natural and supernatural, as well as the structure of the world, around the characters. Research is also an integral part of each, but that is a different topic altogether.

So, where does one begin?


Well, world building is a tricky topic since everyone goes about it in a different way. Some like to detail the world down to the smallest insect before moving into the story. I call that brand the Iceberg.

Others like to build a frame for their worlds, and after jumping into the story, fill in the details as they go. I call this the Skeleton. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and most people will actually find themselves in between them, closer to one side or the other, rather than sitting on the deep end.

 Let’s start with the pros and cons of the “Iceberg.”


  • A rich world with a lot of depth.
  • Strong cultures and histories that can be referenced to with ease.
  • Hidden conflicts and desires that can be called upon while writing.
  • Details that remain consistent throughout the story.


  • The vast amount of time spent preparing to write.
  • Having disagreements between the story and the world.
  • Heavy info-dumps due to having too many details for each section of the plot.
  • Catching World Builders Disease.


Now for the “Skeleton.”


  • Little downtime between the story’s conception and its first draft.
  • World build as the story progresses and minimize unnecessary work.
  • Easy to add and change aspects of the world in order to make scenes work.
  • Slim details allowing for the story, to flow and avoid the heavy info-dumps.


  • Details will often be inconsistent from one scene to the next.
  • More drafts are required to fill in the world around the ever growing world.
  • New disputes and character distractions are harder to slip into the story without creating a contradiction.
  • Scenes can lack the details to fully immerse a reader.


So, which archetype do you follow?

In your next piece, I’d suggest moving closer to the other archetype and see if it tightens up your stories. Personally, I’m closer to the Skeleton, yet I try to move closer to the Iceberg with every new piece.

I almost always begin with magic. My article on Sanderson’s three laws of magic talks about how I use them to craft an interesting and immersive magic system. I follow that up by brainstorming how the magic affects people and changes society. From there, I craft characters and the society around them.

I eventually create natural conflicts in the world and a few major events in history. Then I write the first draft, keeping a separate file where I list all the things I need to expand and research before the next draft in order to fill out my worlds. I do the same thing for the second draft to give my worlds that Iceberg feel without actually having that much depth.

World building is often made more complicated than necessary, though some people skimp on it a bit too much. The goal is to find a nice, happy medium to rest in that will make the writing shine.

I hope this helps with your writing.

Please stop by Tokyo Surrenders to a Hamster for more random thoughts on writing as well as the mini-adventures of Goo and stories about Japan.

Thanks for reading,



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