Magical World Workshop

Creating Your Magical World Workshop

Setting:(Click on the maps for larger versions)

Check out the magical map, and plan out how you’d like your world to look.  Get some paper and doodle a bit. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

I made a simple map on paintbrush, then built a nicer-looking one with mapmaking software and added hotspots. If you’re an artist, you can do this on your own. Otherwise, Profantasy or Fractal Mapper can be a big help, along with other mapping software. Worldbox, Inkarnate, and Azgaar’s fantasy map generator are popular. Or, like me, you can just take a computer game and use its “Create your own map” feature.

Little Stuff: Plants  Beasts


Big Stuff:

For each country, I fill in the big rules of society. Try creating some rules for your civilization.

Ideally, these rules lead to story, and story leads to these rules. In Lotorinum, Babies are introduced to servants and relatives in a lavish party-ceremony around 6 months old, which is called being Presented.  Not being done means the family was too poor or didn’t like the kid. The latter is cause for teasing and malice. So what if a family didn’t present their fifth kid because…they had a deep secret about him that they couldn’t reveal? And off goes the story!

NAMES AND LANGUAGE  What do names sound like? How are last names (if any) decided? What language/definitive words/slang do people use?

CLOTHING STYLE  What do they wear and why? What’s “in”? For which gender? Don’t forget makeup, jewelry and all the other goodies.

EXPORTS IMPORTS and TRADE: This can define all your politics and wealth, right there.

JUSTICE  What are the laws and punishments? Who administers them? Are they fair?

FOLK TRADITIONS  Common expressions, little spells, stuff everyone knows. This can add so much color!

HOLIDAYS/CALENDAR: What do they celebrate and how? How do they mark time? What do they consider important?

LIFE CYCLES: Births, weddings, deaths, coming of age, old age: How are they celebrated?

MEN AND WOMEN  Are gender roles modern and equal? Or no so much? What is improper for one gender to do?

POLITICS  Who’s in charge and are our neighbors plotting to kill us by next week? Or do we just think so?

CLASS DIVISIONS:  What are the different social groups? Can one move from one to another?

CURRENT ISSUES  What’s everyone worried about? Happy about?

HISTORY  What  happened in the past few decades? Or centuries?

RELIGION Is there a national one? Or each to his own?

FOOD  What do they eat and what can they afford?

MONEY  What are the coins called? Or is there another system?

MAGIC Do they need a crystal ball? Is there a cost? What are the limits?



Colorful Little Details:

Society is always evolving, and your society needs those little details that make it unique!  What do people wear, eat, do for fun? Is everyone reading a book like The Da Vinci Code and discussing it while waiting in line to buy turnips? Or was the turnip crop bad this year? What do you say when someone sneezes? Think about these categories, fill some in, and make up your own as well.

Music styles


Animals used domestically

Postal system- like pony express?

Roads, who cares for them, inns


Architecture- climate related.  Also species related if wings and tails are involved

Little cultural customs like plucking flower petals.

Symbolic foods for seasons


Calendar years

Who has ships?

Furniture styles

Are mirrors common? Or glass?

Views on slavery/servants/field workers


Current issues


Sports/leisure activities





Styles of cloth, materials


Trash disposal

Level of technology


Cultural values

Recent cultural changes

Thieves/gansters/bad guys

Unusual laws

Forms of address/ titles

What goes up and down the rivers? (People, contraband, products?) How does it get there? Who takes it?

How does the weather endanger the lives of the people who live in your world? (Along with weather—stuff like tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, snowstorms, avalanches, and so on, you should include things like areas where you’ll have earthquakes and volcanoes. Don’t be afraid to be generous in heaping out troubles. You’ll find plenty of use for them.)

What else endangers the people on your continent? (Plagues, barbarians, people from the other side of the world, monsters from the oceans or beneath the earth … Again, take some time on this. And be generous.)

There are, of course, hundreds of other things to consider in your world.  This list may help.  I also recommend Dianna Wynne Jones’ The Rough Guide to Fantasyland to avoid all the obvious mistakes.  You’ve already gotten a good start.


A character is someone who needs something with every fiber of his being. Or he starts out happy, but then you risk or remove what he values most. Now he has a mission: a plot.

Here is the key to characterization: who is your character, what does he want, how far will he go to get it, and what is he prepared to lose in that process?

What does this character want or need most?

What stands in his/her way?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re well on you way.  From there, try writing a first person biography or a few descriptive paragraphs. Make a list if you like, and figure out what makes this character tick.  Then make a second character: best friend or mortal enemy, but someone who contrasts with and deepens your first character.   Then just stick them in a room together and see what happens!

Character Start Sheet

(This is my short version–my long one’s about 5 pages long)

Here is the key to characterization: who is your character, what does he want, how far will he go to get it, and what is he prepared to lose in that process?

What does this character want or need most? What stands in his/her way?


Species (Human? Animal? Alien? Fairy?)

Any magical or superpowers?

Where he/she was born:

Where he/she lives:
What are his/her talents/skills?


Brothers? Sisters?

Physical Characteristics:
What’s the first thing people notice about him/her?

Tall?  Short?
Fat?  Thin?
Eyes: color/shape/size:
Hair: color/style/length/thickness:
Glasses, birthmarks, scars, other?
Skin color:
Shape of face:

How he/she dresses, favorite jewelry:

What he/she likes to eat:

Favorite books:

Favorite music:
Favorite ____________:

Favorite Sayings:

Education (lots of school?  No school?):
Any injuries or problems?
Any mental illnesses/compulsions/obsessions?

What is his/her biggest secret?


What is the craziest thing that this character could possibly do?


The most usual plot for fantasy is the hero’s journey plot or heroine’s journey plot. (Science fiction, most often, is social allegory or philosophy reflecting a problem in our world). Still, many say all plots follow this model and it’s a good one to try. Try following the steps and seeing what ideas present themselves.

In the hero’s journey, the boy grows up in the ordinary world, until a mysterious herald summons him to an adventure.  You see he has…a destiny.  The hero often rejects this call—it is too strange, too mysterious, but at last, he accepts.  He adventures along the way, aided by his friends and companions, with sometimes a token female. In the end, the hero descends into the realm of death and confronts the ultimate enemy—a shadow that represents his dark side, his evil and submerged half. Having faced and conquered his dark side, the hero returns, far stronger than before.

A visual representation of the cycle

Another hero’s journey chart

More resources

Campbell summarizes these elements, which became known as the Hero’s Journey, in these words:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Campbell goes on to make an exhaustive list of all the possible steps in the Journey. But we don’t need to write a game that contains every motif ever to appear in a mythical story. Instead we’re going to focus on the most important elements – the ones that have to be there. These are:

  • Establishing the hero’s world
  • The call to adventure
  • Entering the mythological woods
  • Trail of trials
  • Encountering the evil one
  • Gaining the hero’s prize
  • Returning that prize to the community

My book, The Heroine with a Thousand Hearts is currently in progress, exploring the path of the heroine’s journey.

In a pattern reverberating from the Garden of Eden to The Wizard of Oz, the heroine seeks enlightenment and internal power through a quest of ordeals leading to symbolic death.  Only after she has defeated her dark side and reincarnated can she become a bestower of wisdom, the arch-crone and teacher of the next generation.

Follow the Steps of The Heroine’s Journey

World of Common Day
Call To Adventure- A Desire to Reconnect with the Feminine
Refusal of The Call
The Ruthless Mentor and the Bladeless Talisman
Crossing the First Threshold: Opening One’s Senses
Sidekicks, Trials, Adversaries
Marriage to the Animus
Atonement with the Mother.
Reward: Winning the Family
Reinstating the Family: The Magic Flight
Mastery of Life and Death
Ascension of the New Mother

Start Writing:

Once you’ve outlined or taken notes in these three areas, you’re ready to start writing!

Not sure how to start? Try the first lines page and see what grabs you!  Good luck.

Printable Worksheets:

What’s in Your World  Character Start Sheet  The Hero’s Journey Chart

My Heroine’s Journey Chart

One Page Reading List: Hero’s and Heroine’s Journey

Reading List: Craft and Worldbuilding:


Joseph Campbell.  The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Essential information on the components of heroism and plot structure.

Orson Scott Card.  How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Rules of fantasy written by a master of the craft.

Dianna Wynne Jones The Rough Guide to Fantasyland

A hilarious romp through all the horrible clichés of fantasy worlds.

Donald Maass.  Writing the Breakout Novel.

How to write a plot and concept big enough to interest an agent or publisher

  1. N. Williamson.  How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.

Essays by all the masters.

Raymond Obstfeld.  Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes.

One of the best guides to writing fiction out there.

Christopher Vogler.  The Writer’s Journey.

Campbell’s theories distilled into practical analysis and application.

Reading List: Fiction

Everyone agrees the great writers read. And they read a lot. Every day. Pick the stories that mean the most to you. And as you read, think about setting, plot and character? How does the quest start? What’s your favorite character’s big flaw? And so on. While I’m sure you can track down your own favorite stories, here are some of mine:

Booklist like Harry Potter: The Hero’s and Heroine’s Journey

The Massive Heroine’s Journey Reading List

My Favorite Classics

Classics of Fantasy

Fairy Tales, Sacred Myths, and Wonder Tales

Classifying Fairy Tales

Fractured Fairy Tales and Humorous Fantasy

Novel-Length Fairy Tale Adaptations