The late, great fiction master Gary Provost defined story as A World filled with Active characters whose Goals reflect High Stakes ( WAGS for short). Having published everything from contemporary novels to fantasy-adventure to historical romance I’ve learned a few things about building a fictional world. I hope these tips and questions will be useful to you.
Anchor your story geographically. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you must set your story in an actual town–it’s often better if you don’t because it’s hard to get all the details right and readers will surely call you on it) but you should give readers a point of reference. My current series is set in the fictional town of Hickory Ridge but it’s based on a real town nearby. Your story might take place in a small town near Kansas City or on an island in the Outer banks, or on a spaceship in a different planetary system.
Add lots of details.Readers should be able to picture the main streets of your fictional world. What businesses are located there? Is the town new, and lacking in landscaping, or old , with lots of trees, and buildings that have seen better days? Who is responsible for law enforcement? A county sheriff? A city police force? A lone lawman with a badge and a gun? What about the economy? How do most residents make a living? What about the school? Is it down the street or do the kids ride a bus, or a mule, to a neighboring town? What is the climate and how does the climate affect your story? What is the political, religious, and social culture of the town? How do these factors affect your characters and their goals?
Create a history for your town. When was it settled and why? Was it a stagecoach stop, a railroad depot, a refueling stop for spacecraft on the way to Mars? Knowing your town’s history will help you develop plot points and create characters who might be descendants of the original settlers. How does their personal connection to the town affect their attitudes and goals? This might be a source of conflict for some of your characters.
Draw a map. Once you have built a fictional world, draw yourself a map to remind yourself of the location of key buildings, streets, and landmarks as you write. This saves having to backtrack through your story looking for the location of the beauty salon or sheriff’s office.
Good luck and happy world building!