I have during the last couple of years developed a fantasy world. It's a hobby project I work on when I have the time.

Every now and again I get some idea of a scene or an event and I place it on the time line or write down a few pages.

While the world is quite rich with events I find it difficult to come up with a interesting story to write. In the end all I am left with is a string of events focusing only on the characters with no real plot.

I was hoping I could get some advice on how to build a proper story or that someone would point me to some place that could. How can I go from simply writing scenes to writing a story?

  • Are you from a place where "whit" is commonly used instead of "with"? Apr 24, 2012 at 20:04
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    auto-correct can only do so much to counter my dyslexia.
    – Borgel
    Apr 24, 2012 at 20:12
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    Welcome to Writers.SE! I think that writers.stackexchange.com/questions/1781/… is asking the same question you are; can you take a look and see if that one answers your question?
    – Standback
    Apr 24, 2012 at 20:13
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    Thinking about it some more, let's not merge; I think this question has the aspect of a world built for its own sake that the other question doesn't have. Is anyone else getting that sense or am I reading into this? Apr 25, 2012 at 17:07
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    @NeilFein: I agree with the sense you're getting; they're not the same question. Don't merge. These answers are also different and useful. Apr 26, 2012 at 0:17

4 Answers 4


"the world is quite rich with events"-->Are these events related to one another? If you have an enormous series of unrelated events, you need to work on stringing them together. Find ways to make them relate, or change them entirely until they do. Possibly George Lucas started off with something like--

  • "A spaceship the size of a moon vs. a fleet of little ships!"
  • "Dark overlord fighting hero with light swords!"
  • "Young boy finds robot with secret message that draws him into something bigger than himself!"

Then he thought to himself...man, these have nothing to do with each other at all. What do I do? And then he realized-- wait! What if the young boy who finds the message eventually becomes the hero who fights the dark lord with a light sword? Hey, now I have to have a scene where he finds a light sword! Idea! And a scene or three where he learns to use it. This could be good. Then...hmm...what about the space ships....well...I suppose I'll figure that part out later.

^But you see where I'm going with this? Finds ways to tie them together. If you hit the problem of "this event was about this character and that event was about that character and they have nothing to do with each other!", then make them have something to do with each other. Make the characters run into one another and conveniently become entangled by the overlap of their separate purposes. Just the way Han Solo is a convenient "ride" for Obi-Wan and Luke before he becomes a main character. Up until then, he was just a guy in a bar avoiding a bounty. And later, that comes back as an extended sequence in Jabba's palace. And the people he once gave a ride to, come back to save him!

Take all these threads and make a tapestry!

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    That gave me some perspective, thank you. a plus for sending me in the right direction whit the help of star wars.
    – Borgel
    Apr 25, 2012 at 22:17

I write in a similar vein, and sometimes face the same problem. However, there are some simple ways to create story out of setting.

Surely your setting has some history, and the history of your world must contain some important moments of change: the invasion of Lai Harai by the Beetle-Men, the collapse of the Trondarian Empire, the rise of Lothor the Robber-King, and the voyage of Kymlyt, the first man to sail through the Dragon's Teeth. Find an event which is interesting and consequential for your world, and use that as a starting point to your story.

This will probably not be enough, though, as building a story around "world history" type of events will often result in a stale, cliche story, since these sorts of things have been told lots before. But you said that you have characters, you can come up with interesting stories by considering the way that your characters' lives intersect with the world history. You could write a story about the heroic general who defends Lai Harai from the Beetle-Men... or you could write about an ordinary man who is just trying to save his family from the encroaching monsters. Both stories could be very good, but the first one has been done much more and may be more difficult to make fresh and interesting. You can do the same thing with almost any other situation that presents itself in your world and its history.

This may require you to go back in time, so to speak, with the setting for your story. In my fantasy world, the time which I think of as the "present" is not a time of significant change, and so it presents relatively fewer opportunities for stories. However, I have thousands of years of history mapped out, and when I sit down to write stories I find that I usually mine those "historical" events for settings and character situations, rather than trying to write in the "present". This may work for you as well.


Creating a world with a rich, full tapestry of history and character can be a wonderful place to set a story, or a series of stories.

So the first thing to do is to make sure that you in fact have a rich, full world. Make sure there is a system of government and economics in place. Define the factions that compete for power and control and define their motivations and justifications and alliances. Make sure there is a complete and full history and examine the events and influences that link those historic events. If there is a supernatural force that governs this world (magic, space travel, etc.) make sure you understand how and why it works.

Once you know that you have a complete world with all the little rules in place then you can start exploring those tales. Take one story that you find interesting and start asking questions. If you've already established the history you will already know the "when" and where".

I like to start with the "who". Define your protagonist. Why him? Why is he special? Why not someone else? Does he need training? Who trains him? Does he do this thing alone? Who helps them? Who stands in the way?

Then the "what". What is going on. Why here? Why now? What events led to this event before the story started. Is this a journey? Is this a series of adventures? Is there a monster to be slain, a princess to rescue, an evil to banish forever?

Make a few characters. Give them memories. Give them history. Give them relationships. Make them complex. Pretty soon you'll find out that your characters will start to weave their own tapestries and you're just telling their stories for them.

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    "So the first thing to do is to make sure that you in fact have a rich, full world." Apologies to the OP if I'm wrong, but the problem here is that of moving forward. Unless the world is much less well-defined than it seems in the question, further development will only prevent writing at this point. Getting the background right can be helpful, but it's not getting the writing done. (I think there's some great advice in the rest of this answer, though.) Apr 25, 2012 at 3:10
  • I think what NorCal was getting at was "make sure your rich, full world actually functions." Take Ron Moore's BSG: astonishing characters, great history/background, clear plot... but I could never understand how capitalism was supposed to have survived. Making sure your universe works (or is deliberately broken) can keep you from creating a plot that you later have to abandon because you can't have a direct democracy headed by a hereditary king ruling over three star systems, or whatever. Apr 25, 2012 at 10:23
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    @NeilFein Further development if needed may delay writing but it may result in better writing. Some people who have an active imagination will in their spare time create an epic fantasy world that includes a map, races, languages, religions, gods, etc. - all the interesting bits. And you can write a pretty good story from that. But if you delve into the DNA of your imaginary world and figure out -everything- history, economics, rules of mystical forces, gov't, and then stress test it to make sure it can handle the pressure of the written word then your fiction will be that much stronger.
    – Jed Oliver
    Apr 25, 2012 at 16:23
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    @LaurenIpsum That is the crux of my argument. And if Borgel has created a world that's full and complete and his problem is an embarrassment of riches, then the standard "Hey, Kids! Let's Write!" rules apply: Either start writing until something good pops out or make a plan: hero vanquishes dragon, rescues princess and saves the world from doom or some such scheme. Make sure there are fully faceted characters, obstacles to overcome, etc., etc., etc. Creating a functional epic fantasy world will help solve a lot of hidden structural problems but if you can't write good then nothing will help.
    – Jed Oliver
    Apr 25, 2012 at 16:47
  • You buttress your arguments well here; would you consider editing some of the comments here into the answer itself? Apr 25, 2012 at 17:03

As you have discovered, creating a world is one of the least important things in writing a book. As Holly Lisle has written (though I can't find the source now), this is a mistake new authors often make.

But don't worry, all hope is not yet lost. :) Here's what to do:

  1. Create a main character, and give him a big challenge. Give him/her something they must have, and then put the most powerful force in the world against them.

  2. You must also create a few more other important characters, with their own struggles, as I have found it is hard to write a novel length book with just one main character.

  3. Create a list of 20-30 scenes, in each of which of the main characters tries to get what they want, while facing some hurdle. All the while, the story must still be moving forward.

  4. Start writing. Only bring in the details of your world as and when needed. The readers don't care about the world, they only care about the story. But don't worry, your work hasn't been wasted, as you can use the world in other books. Terry Pratchett has been using his world for more than, what 30-40?, books now.

The key thing is to start writing, it doesn't matter what. If you have a book, no matter how rough, you can revise it, fix it, have others review it. If all you have is some notes, you can do nothing but fret.


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