world building

I was asked to visit a school to talk about my book and run a workshop -- all part of the job. They wanted me to talk to the students about world building and this got me thinking, exactly how did I build my world?

T.B. McKenzie's interesting construction of a magical world and scrupulous attention to detail allows this book to be truly convincing. Readaholics Anonymous  |  2 reviewers made a similar statement
Detail is one thing, but there's more than that at work.

So here is what I told 30 year 7 students at Marymede Catholic College.

Building a world is not easy. I used to think that writers who write about our own world were cheating. All they had to do was say 'Alice got out of a cab in New York city' and we all immediately knew where we are. Right? Right?

Wrong. Whether you are writing a fantasy in fairyland or a thriller in Thailand, you still have to do three things.

1. Who is in the world, 2. What is it like, and 3. What are they feeling.

This is my list, and I'm sure there are writers who either have less or more to add to it, but this works for me. I'll tell you why.

(here is where I read the students the opening paragraphs from my book, and asked if they could see an answer to those three questions. And the answers I got from the kids was: Warlock, flying over a little village, feeling anticipation. Gold stars all round. But back to the main question. Why are these three things so important? )

Well, without a character, there is no one experiencing the world of the story. Without this view point, the world is bland, and clinical -- like a wikipedia article full of bland information I cannot connect to. And to streangthen that connection, I have to know what the character is feeling. This is all writing 101 right? But I really think it pays to reconnect to such simple premises.

So then I did my workshop, and I started by handing out some reference materials; a random picture of a scenery, a random character image, and a random emotion. The task: write a scene that incorporates all three.

Here are the three albums of images I handed out at random:



And emotions.

confusion, surprise, expectation, wonder, happiness, unhappiness, amusement, weariness, courage, cowardice, pity, cruelty, pride, modesty, shame, closeness, detachment, pain, pleasure, caution, boldness, rashness, patience, anger, relaxation, composure, stress, fear, nervousness, respect, disrespect, appreciation, envy, love, hatred, hope and despair. (Pheww... some of these took a little explaining. I blame T.V)

After each student had one of each they had to start writing.

Here are 5 of the best -- see if you can guess which 2 images and what emotion they each had.

And last of all, Jack -- who decided the best way to portray envy was to withhold a chicken wing. 

Thank you to all the staff and especially the students at Marymede Catholic College. I got an email back from them saying;

“Travis was great with the Year 7s—his workshops were creative and entertaining, and he really engaged the students. Many of them have demonstrated a much greater interest in writing than they had before.”

So it looks like i've just given myself some competition for the next epic Fantasy series.



  1. Trav, this is great. I did an adult writing course years ago and one of the exercises was on the 'showing, not telling' that should be in the opening paragraph (and, in fact, throughout). Similar to your method of character, place and emotion, it's amazing how much you can tell about the scene/story from an opening paragraph if you 'show' the surroundings, rather than just 'tell' where the character is. And it's great that the students took such an interest.


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