Why Your Story Trumps Your World

When I was a kid I loved to play with blocks. I would spend afternoons building towers and cities of various shapes and colors. And after I was done building, I would proudly show off my booming metropolis to my parents.

As an adult, I still build—just not with blocks. Now I build worlds for the fantasy stories I write. And just like my four-year-old self, I want to proudly share what I’ve made with a receptive audience.

I’m guessing most fantasy writers are like this. After we’ve built up the worlds of our stories, we’ll want to show them off. And why not? We’ve put in a lot of time and dedication into our creation. Doesn’t it deserve some recognition—an audience to appreciate it?

Of course it does. But as we think about showing off our world, we need to remember a hard truth: Your world is not the most important thing in your writing.

The story you are writing is more important. The plot, the narrative, the character development. These come first. Your setting—the world that you have built—comes second.

To think of it another way, the world you have created is subservient to your story. It serves to build up your story. This imaginary setting you have created serves to strengthen and enrich the plot, the narrative, and the character development you present to your readers.

I say this because after all the work, love, and creative energy we put into building our world, we may be tempted to make the world primary and our story secondary. We may be tempted to make our story simply a means to show off the world we made. But this is not what storytelling is about.

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