The Art of World-Building

When the hobbit walked through Mirkwood, we all walked with him. We knew exactly how the trees looked, how the wind moved their branches, what the ground felt like as one fur-soled foot pressed down. We could smell the rotting leaves and…We were there as the master welcomed us into Middle Earth, his world. We were his honored guests and when we returned to this world, we felt a sense of loss.

No one, in my humble and uneducated opinion, has ever created a world in the rich way of J.R.R. Tolkien, and perhaps no one ever will. There are some among our younger readers who skip or skim the long descriptions. Do I need to know what every tree in the forest looks like?

And yet these same young people marveled over the world of Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar. I am closing in on finishing the third of the Wycaan Master novels and will then begin another edit of the first book before passing it on to more professional hands.

One of the aspects that I want to focus on is how well have I described the land in which the story transpires. There is a lot of traveling and many different climates and natural wonders, as well as villages and cities, which are described. When I wrote the first book, it was in close collaboration with my then 11-year-old son. I was very conscious of maintaining a fast pace. The second and third books were more my own work, with my son reading and giving me feedback. I believe these two novels involved considerably more world-building.

Why do we need to show such detail in epic fantasy? It seems obvious for the Sci-fi writers to put so much emphasis on creating worlds and I understand why those who write in modern earth need not focus so much because we can see the world we live in. 

Do you enjoy the detail of a new world or are you content to receive hints and imagine it for yourself? How important is world-building to you becoming a loyal reader of a fantasy series? Finally, if you write fantasy yourself, do you have any best practices or tips? Do share in the comments below.

Appreciate your feedback. Have a great weekend and a happy 4th.



Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at on Twitter (@elfwriter).