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I have some material for a "world" (more fantasy than sci-fi at this point). I've noodled around with this world off-and-on for ages but have never had a story to put in the world. I have some brief character descriptions for the regional leaders.

So, do you have any tips on how to essentially grow a story out of the environment? I have a vague notion but am hoping there are some suggested pathways. Thanks!

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Out of the blue, I can count four ways to go about it. All assume that your world was created with one or more civilisations (meaning races, kingdoms, whatever).

The first option is to focus on a community. It can be a neighbourhood in a large town or in a small town, it can be a village, a religious community (think something equivalent to a village for a group of secluded religious people), or even the royal court.

Imagine how that community works, identify a few characters by function (baker, begger, farmer, warrior, etc) so as to have a feel for the way people's everyday life flows.

Now choose one or two of the locals and give them something they want, whether it is to catch the eye of the handsome baker apprentice or to escape their father's imposition of working in the family farm rather than becoming an apprentice to the carpenter. Let it flow.

Alternatively, let a stranger come to town, whether it's a circus, a salesperson or an old warrior heading home. What trouble can they stumble upon at the Inn?

The second option is to focus on your world's history. When and how were the current limits of the Kingdom settled? Was there a war? Or perhaps there was a joint kingdom that was broken up when the dying king decided both sons should inherit. Did the brothers accept the division? Or perhaps their descendants are now eagerly plotting to conquer the other kingdom to themselves. I mean, to reunite what was wrongly divided. You can either choose to write the story of the division (including those who opposed it) or the story of the current kings. Perhaps you could write the chronicles of the current dinasty! Or the previous.

The third option is to focus on the world's mythology. If the religion is well developed and there are actual gods and mythic heroes (demi-gods or humans who dealt with the gods), you could write the story of the gods (especially if the pantheon behaves like a court of immortal people bickering among each other) or the adventures of the demi-gods and the human heroes.

Or perhaps you want to tell the story of a local 'monster' (say, the three headed creature which is often hunted by the locals) from its own point of view. Or the hunters'.

If you're into short-stories, you could write a collection of legends that explain how the gods' actions created the world as it is today. A bit like the Greek myths that explain the origins of animals, geographical features and constelations.

The fourth option is to focus on the world's geography. If there is a map of the world, surely there are some mountains, volcanoes... inner seas filled with monsters maybe? If you have a Death Valley, write the story of a caravan travelling through it. If there is a chain of mountains, have a nobleman hire a group of mountaineers to safely take his daughter to meet her future husband on the other side. If there is a bay inhabited by sea monsters, tell the story of the fisherman who dreams with capturing more than just fish, earning fame and riches for his heroic deeds.


If I think of a fifth or sixth option, I'll come back ad jot it down. In the mean time, have fun.

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    I think this is a great answer because it involves the world in the story and gives me ways that story and world-building can work together, which I think is really what I'm looking for. – Terri Simon Jun 1 at 21:15
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Think of the real world, the one in which we live. How do you grow a story out of it?

The answer is there's plenty of stories, it's just a question of what interests you, what moves you, what kind of story you wish to tell.

Your secondary world is the same. There are myriads of stories that can be set in it. It's all about what you're passionate about, what story you want to put on paper.

The story's goal isn't to showcase the world. It's the other way round - the world is the background on which you draw your story. If an element of world isn't important to your story, then you don't include it - you don't twist the story just so you can put that element in. Similar to how, if I tell a story about France, I don't put in it the amazing coral reefs in Australia.

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The classic world-exploring story is a journey. Someone goes from one place to another, and along the way, they see a lot of the sights, and meet a lot of the people, and experience a lot of the culture of the world they live in. The key is to find a good reason behind the journey, and then also to make it transformative for the main character. The external changes in place and setting need to be matched by internal changes in maturity and understanding.

There are plenty of great examples. The Hobbit (AKA "There and Back Again") is a famous one. I'm currently reading a fun SF book structured in just this way, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which, despite a backdrop of space wars and interspecies romance, is really largely about seeing and experiencing the sights in a fully realized interstellar setting.

So, pick a main character, give her a good, high stakes reason to go on a long, difficult and dangerous journey, give her some good companions and some memorable enemies along the way, and make sure she learns something. Then set her loose, and we can all see this exciting new world you've created. Just make sure there's a good storytelling reason for any and all the details you include --it's never a good idea to shoehorn in worldbuilding details just for the sake of showing them off.

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Your story has to come to you on its own, because there is no story that is specific to a certain world. Any story can take place in any world. There are fantasy love stories, there is fantasy detective fiction, there is philosophical fantasy, hard science fantasy, fantasy with sad and happy endings, utopian fantasy, there are fantasy war stories, there are fantasy children's books, and so on and so forth.

Whatever your world is, there is no story that you cannot set in your world, because a story is what living beings experience, and wherever beings live they experience all the things that are possible for them to experience. Every story is possible in every possible world, therefore, it is impossible to derive a story from a world.

If you don't know what story you want to tell, you don't know what story you want to tell and that's it.


That said, if (as seems to be the case) you are more interested in the world than a specific story, and you love exploring your world, then maybe the best story for you to tell is that of an explorer who is new to your world or who travels parts of it unknown to himself.

What you can do is to write – loosely and roughly, without much detail and without attempting to write it well – the tale of someone starting out from somewhere in your world. Just follow that person around and see what he encounters and what happens to him.

That is, be a discovery writer and discover the story by travelling your world and taking notes of whatever befalls you there.

And when you are done and your character has arrived someplace or achieved something or died, put what you wrote away for a few months and then from memory write a short summary of that tale, and then begin to write that story in earnest.

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There are some great answers here, but I'd like to add to them.

My answer will probably be slightly based on the fact that I'm writing sci-fi myself.

For over a year, I only spent time on world-building. At some point, I realized, that if I wanted people to experience the world I had developed, I needed characters and a story.

My big question was still "How do I find a/the way to tell a story and then let people experience the 'world' I have created.

Now, my story takes place "today" and in "our world", so a lot of things can go unsaid, as it is made fairly obvious, that it takes place in a place we know, more or less.

My approach was this: What kind of experiences CAN my world give the characters in it?

Being sci-fi, my story includes "tech", that can affect people quite seriously. I realized that, even though I had created groups/societies/backstories for communities + alternative explanations for our evolution, THAT was the approach that made the best sense to me - In other words; What does it make the most sense that the important characters experience?

Start there, and soon, hopefully, the story will draw the characters into situations/places where they 'naturally' experience the parts of the world that you want the reader to experience.

What do you find the most interesting about your world? Why?

If it is a specific culture in one of your societies, for instance, having a 'foreigner' meet that culture is one way to go about it. Then you'll have to ask; "what would make her/him have to meet this culture?"

I realized that I wanted my readers to wonder if the stories in my project were probable and if it could happen to them - I then began by writing 'seemingly insignificant everyday situations' for my three main characters, before turning their life upside down.

This way, I got to know them and the people around them, and that helped tremendously for creating a realistic path for them going forward.

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Sara has a very good answer and it covers most of the ground I use but there are a couple of other ideas that don't seem to be there in the way I use them:

Person: write about the life and times of a single individual, usually someone important, famous, or influential but even a month in the life of a common peasant, soldier, or sailor may be interesting if they go through a life changing event.

Current events: if you have built a full and rich world things are happening in that world, they are happening to people, people who are otherwise not terribly important or interesting. Their proximity to world events makes them interesting and possibly important if the events are big enough and they have an influence on the outcome.

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Since science fiction is involved, you can use the concept of a generation ship starship: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_ship with sub type embryo space colonization https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embryo_space_colonization

In this setup you have tremendous freedom to build your story from any aspect: The world will be a planet with any properties you like. The humans will be evolved at any stage you like. You have the humans and the sponsors, and relate them anyway you like. Good and evil can be composed any way you like. Sponsor means to raise the colonists can be configured as your story needs. Plot twists can be excused more easily.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Stefanos Zilellis, glad to have you here. To learn more about us, check out our tour and help center. Asking for story ideas is off topic here, so the question isn't about that. Instead, it's about how to take a setting and find a story within it. – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 27 at 14:37

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