Skip to main content

How to build a fictional world - Kate Messner

  • 6,556,038 Views
  • 38,173 Questions Answered
  • TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

Why is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so compelling? How about The Matrix or Harry Potter? What makes these disparate worlds come alive are clear, consistent rules for how people, societies -- and even the laws of physics -- function in these fictional universes. Author Kate Messner offers a few tricks for you, too, to create a world worth exploring in your own words.

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Kate Messner
  • Director Avi Ofer
  • Narrator Kate Messner
Additional Resources for you to Explore
The world building strategies of popular books like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have been analyzed in great detail by writers and critics alike. The NPR piece “At Home in Fantasy’s Nerd-Built World” continues the conversation, taking a look at the magical creation of George R. R. Martin’s world in Game of Thrones.

If you’re ready to create your very own fictional world, it’s great to start by reading lots of examples – and read like a writer, studying the craft of world building. Pay attention to the details and ask yourself why the author might have made the choices he or she did.

When you’re ready to move forward, you may want to use author Kate Messner’s world building worksheet as a guide. Part I takes a look at the basic setting for a work of futuristic fiction. Part II challenges you to dig deep with a close look at the society – its rules and its power structure. And Part III casts a spotlight on everyday life.

Author/educator Kate Messner’s science thrillers Eye of the Storm and Wake Up Missing may serve as additional mentor texts for writers who want to build their own futuristic worlds. Kate’s TED Talk, “Building Dark Worlds to Make a Better One,” takes the conversation to the next level. How might we use these world-building strategies to create not only fictional worlds to but improve upon the real world in which we live today?
Avatar for Erhan Demirbaş
As far as I see, dystopian worlds have one common aspect. They split up humans into categories. Examples like, Hunger Games which is districts, Divergent which splits humans into most suitable works, Red Rising which splits according to colors etc. Do all dystopians have to have groups? What do you think about?
04/25/2015 • 
 18 Responses
 / 18 Updates
Avatar for Joshua R
ABC: Think of a narrative you have read or written. Explain whether or not the narrative was believable, using examples from its setting.
04/23/2015 • 
 3 Responses
 / 3 Updates
Avatar for Andrew Bakaine
01/26/2015 • 
 3 Responses
 / 3 Updates
Avatar for Pete Collinson
Once you've done this lesson, type into this discussion what you've learned. Also put your FIRST name so I know who's done the homework.
10/03/2014 • 
 42 Responses
 / 42 Updates
Avatar for Hannah Johnson
This is a brilliant way to inspire kids to jump into creative writing!
04/30/2014 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for Olivér Solténszky
I think a process like world building should NOT include the steps of story and character building. Making a whole world environments and history is a whole different story than the person who acts in it. I think the two should be separated, and the world building must be prior to the generation of characters. It's simple, because you'll have a complete world a set of rules to apply to an idea, and the ideas of characters will be more polished when you have a setting to place them in. [...]
01/20/2014 • 
 11 Responses
 / 11 Updates
Avatar for C Renato Rojas Del Aguila
Es más, tengo un Universo al cual le cree historia, razas, lugares, 3 idiomas diferentes y estructurados. Es Aland su nombre y pronto será grande.
01/19/2014 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for Gayle Sexton
Gayle Sexton • Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia • COMPLETED LESSON
01/19/2014 • 
 2 Responses
 / 2 Updates
Avatar for Anupriy Kanti
Anupriy Kanti • Bangalore, Karnataka, India • COMPLETED LESSON
While writing many stories over years, I was plagued by this question -   To what degree does the details of the history and mythology of a work have to be created? Does the writer/creator need to have the background context of the constructed world completely chalked out or is it enough to create the illusion of a world with plethora of history and mythology through the stories that are told?
01/09/2014 • 
 8 Responses
 / 8 Updates
Avatar for Anupriy Kanti
Anupriy Kanti • Bangalore, Karnataka, India • COMPLETED LESSON
I am transmedia storyteller and for a project I have initiated, I am created a detailed fictional world with its own mythology and history, to have stories set within this world expressed via transmedia. Hopefully this forum can be a place to discuss World building terms. I shall start with one. I was inspired by the term 'Mythopoeia' and its association to world building. Here is a reference - http://undiscoveredauthor.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/writing-quotes-mythopoeia/
01/09/2014 • 
 2 Responses
 / 2 Updates
Avatar for Mary Spata
what world am I in - am I the only one confused - are there others :)
07/31/2015 • 
 7 Responses
 / 7 Updates
Avatar for Elaine Le Sueur
What amazing worlds some writers must live in within their own minds.
07/31/2015 • 
 1 Response
 / 1 Updates
Avatar for Susan Chase
Look into Teachers Write! To learn more about writing.
07/31/2015 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for Elnora Lewis
Scaffolding the video would help students think and use the suggestions/patterns
07/31/2015 • 
 1 Response
 / 1 Updates
Avatar for Lucas Hebberd
Just say what you have taken from other worlds. For example, I created a world kind of based around the rules of terraria, with the corruption, crimson and hallow.
02/18/2016 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for James Rivera
Is it really 42?
03/14/2016 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for Likhona Mbovane
Where y'all at?
03/14/2016 • 
 3 Responses
 / 3 Updates
Avatar for Litha Xaba
Why is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so compelling?
03/14/2016 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for Thomas Ripley
The world of Terra is one of constant warfare and strife. Due the literal never-ending conflict and bloodshed, development of technology and scientific discoveries has accelerated dramatically. Humanity has discovered Tansite, a powerful, magical mineral that is used for power and weapons, magic, a physical embodiment of a being willpower and soul, and many other sentient species, including elves, dwarves, and even dragons! (Note: They aren't exactly like the ones you know today. They were similar to the stories, so man just gave them the titles to distinguish them) Any tips, suggestions, or critique?
06/26/2016 • 
 3 Responses
 / 3 Updates
Avatar for Lane Crim
Lane Crim
The "let's build a world together" link brings you to a page not found on the website when I tried it. I found the article by searching the title on the website so hopefully this link will help. https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2013/05/07/let-s-build-a-world-together
03/20/2017 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for Emi Mae
Emi Mae
donth know768o9
11/07/2017 • 
 0 Responses
 / 0 Updates
Avatar for Daniel Peel
Explain your currency and how trade would work E.g would people be mining for a valuable mineral
05/11/2020 • 
 2 Responses
 / 2 Updates

Customize This Lesson

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Kate Messner
  • Director Avi Ofer
  • Narrator Kate Messner

More from The Writer's Workshop