The Jigsaw-Novel – world-building prompts and exercises

Reading Time: 2 minutes
jigsaw-novel
Use the Jigsaw-Novel prompts to build your fantasy world piece by piece

The next two weeks are going to be unofficial Fantasy Worldbuilding Fortnight for me. To this end, I’ll be sharing updated posts from my 2010 Jigsaw-Novel project. The Jigsaw Novel is a series of world-building exercises, prompts and ideas to dig deep into the world you are creating for your fiction, and build up a picture of that world, piece by piece.

You’ll find a hundred or so daily writing prompts in the tags, plus the themed Jigsaw-Novel elements such as Weather, Industry, Education.

I created these pages to help generate creative writing. The different topics are designed to generate writing about many different aspects of a fictional world – maybe a world you can use for the next Nanowrimo.

For me, world building is not, primarily,  about drawing maps or creating weird names for places – it’s about the society in that world. How do people live? Where do they work? What do they believe? Imagining daily life generates more story ideas – for me – than constructing the rules of a society from the outside looking in.

I find when watching fantasy or science fiction on TV, that I’m fascinated by the background characters – people in the streets, carrying out their work, going shopping or to school or worship. What are their stories? How are they affected by the big story happening closer to the camera? This is what inspired me to create the jigsaw-Novel way of working. It could be used to fill in gaps in early world building, or as a way to plot a society from the ground up – focusing on ordinary life.

In a fantasy world, religion and magic are key elements of society and would affect every aspect of life. The Jigsaw-Novel is designed to help spot logic inconsistencies, like the question I saw recently about Fantastic Beasts: why, when Newt and Tina can simply apparate to new locations, did Newt take a steamship to America?

It’s also meant to be a fun way of creating new story ideas by creating situations and characters.

This is about writing, not pre-writing or background-making. Each activity should leave you with a small piece of your fictional world, or the start of a story set there.

Pick a Category on the right, such as Household, Crime or Career to see the activities and get started.

Or choose the category called Daily Writing Prompt. 

I’m busy updating the Jigsaw-Novel template to record the pieces of your world.

Try a prompt, or category, and let me know what you think. I’m always looking for suggestions and improvements! Thanks!

This post was originally published in December 2011.

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May 25th Daily Writing prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Describe the maps of your world. Who makes the maps? Show some of the map making process and a problem a cartographer or his/her team has encountered.

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May 16th Daily Writing prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today write a section of a guidebook for your world. Choose one aspect: finding accommodation, or how to change money, and write for a traveller visiting your world for the first time.

If your world is too extreme/primitive/telepathic to use guidebooks, think of who/what would guide a visitor, and write for that scenario instead.

Write for ten minutes and see where this takes you.

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February 20th Daily Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today write about founding fathers (or mothers). What legends surround the founding of your story’s society? This might be a grand legend about the beginning of civilisation or a small family story about how your character’s ancestors came to be where they are.

Write for five minutes about the founding legend of your story.

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February 19th Daily Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today write about houses. What kind of dwelling do the wealthiest, poorest and middling people of your world occupy?

Show a character in the process of acquiring their home, however that may happen.

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February 18th Daily Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today write about learning. Show children learning in your world’s traditional way – by rote, by memorisation of books, by injecting a knowledge serum… and create a scene showing willing and unwilling learners.

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17th February Daily Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today write about the mildest season in your world’s year. How do people celebrate the end of extreme weather, should that be icy winters or searing summers? Is the temperate season a relief or a burden?

Show your characters at the start of the gentlest season.

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16th February Daily Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today write about glass. Is it a rarity in your world – perhaps taxed – or does it possess mystical qualities, used in spiritual locations?

Show your character with a glass object or structure, engaged in an everyday task.

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12th February Daily Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today show your character eating a forbidden food. Why is it not allowed? Who else knows about this? How is the character given away?

Write for ten minutes and show the power of food and taboo.

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February 10th Daily Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 1 minute

Today write about light. How much light is enough? Do your characters cope with working by candle light, lantern light – or do they insist on flooding their home and workplace with brilliant artificial light at all times?

Write for five minutes without stopping and see where the light takes you.

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