Phillip Harrison.com - Writer
Phillip L. Harrison.com
Canadian Poet and Author - Writer, Phillip Harrison has always considered
himself to be a writer first, and a poet by nature.
write we are creating new thoughts that did not exist before.
Arguably some would say that we are having new thoughts and
merely writing them down, but sometimes the thoughts flow so
quickly onto the page that it becomes difficult to tell
what came first; the thought or the ink that described it?
In either case the feeling which over takes a writer when they
are experiencing this flow of images into text, is indescribable
and incredible. Only by writing can we
truly understand what it feels like to release the images from
within our minds and be able to paint them into the minds of
others through the written word. It is in the most real
sense an indelible experience. Impossible to erase or
forget and cannot be washed away by the real world around us.
ELEMENTS OF FICTION
Writing is the composition of not factual texts. Fictional
writing often is produced as a story meant to entertain or
convey an author's point of view. The result of this may be a
short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all
types (though not the only types) of fictional writing styles.
Different types of authors practice fictional writing, including
novelists, playwrights, short story writers, dramatists and
A Genre is the subject matter, or category in which a writer
would base their work on. For instance Science Fiction, Fantasy
and Mystery are considered genre fiction. In fiction, genre
writing is the act of a storytelling driven by plot. As opposed
to literary fiction that focuses on themes rather than plot,
genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is made to appeal
to a large group of people and primarily sells more for it is
more commercialized to the general public. An example to further
elaborate, The Twilight(series) may sell more than a novel by
Herman Melville, such as Moby Dick, because the Twilight novel
deals with pop culture such as romance and vampires, which are
in high regards of young readers, who outnumber older readers
who would find Moby Dick more to their liking.
Literary fiction, or literature, can somewhat be classified as a
genre. Unlike genre fiction, literary does not focus on a story
that is driven by the plot or the typical good vs. bad guy
aspect of a story, like a genre would acquire. Literary fiction
often deals with metaphors and the way the world works, which is
one of many reasons why literature is read in schools as opposed
to majority of genre fiction focused frequently for
"Now lend me your ears. Here is Creative Writing 101:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she
will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a
glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or
advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading
characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the
reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and
make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get
8.Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as
possible. To heck with suspense; Readers should have such
complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that
they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat
the last few pages."
ELEMENTS OF FICTION
Just as a painter uses color and line to create a painting, an
author uses the elements of fiction to create a story:
The elements of fiction are: character, plot, setting, theme,
and style. Of these five elements, character is the who, plot is
the what, setting is the where and when, theme is the why, and
style is the how of a story.
A character is any person, personal, identity, or entity whose
existence originates from a fictional work or performance.
A plot, or storyline, is the rendering and ordering of the
events and actions of a story, particularly towards the
achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect.
Is the time and location in which a story takes place.
Is the broad idea, message, or lesson of a story.
Includes the multitude of choices fiction writers make,
consciously or subconsciously, as they create a story. They
encompass the big-picture, strategic choices such as point of
view and narrator, but they also include the nitty-gritty,
tactical choices of grammar, punctuation, word usage, sentence
and paragraph length and structure, tone, the use of imagery,
chapter selection, titles, and on and on. In the process of
writing a story, these choices meld to become the writer's
voice, his or her own unique style.
The plot, or storyline, is the rendering and ordering of the
events and actions of a story. Starting with the initiating
event, then the rising action, conflict, climax, falling action,
and ending with the resolution.
On a micro level, plot consists of action and reaction, also
referred to as stimulus and response. On a macro level, plot has
a beginning, middle, and an ending.
The climax of the novel consists of a single action-packed
sentence in which the conflict (problem) of the novel is
resolved. This sentence comes towards the end of the novel. The
main part of the action should come before the climax.
Plot also has a mid-level structure: scene and sequel. A scene
is a unit of drama—where the action occurs. Then, after a
transition of some sort, comes the sequel—an emotional reaction
and regrouping, an aftermath.
Setting is the locale and time of a story. The setting is often
a real place, but may be a fictitious city or country within our
own world; a different planet; or an alternate universe, which
may or may not have similarities with our own universe.
Sometimes setting is referred to as milieu, to include a context
(such as society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the
story. It is basically where and when the story takes place.
Theme is what the author is trying to tell the reader. For
example, the belief in the ultimate good in people, or that
things are not always what they seem. This is often referred to
as the "moral of the story." Some fiction contains advanced
themes like morality, or the value of life, whereas other
stories have no theme, or a very shallow one.
STYLE (WRITING STYLE)
Style includes the multitude of choices fiction writers make,
consciously or not, in the process of writing a story. It
encompasses not only the big-picture, strategic choices such as
point of view and choice of narrator, but also tactical choices
of grammar, punctuation, word usage, sentence and paragraph
length and structure, tone, the use of imagery, chapter
selection, titles, etc. In the process of creating a story,
these choices meld to become the writer's voice, his or her own
Writing style refers to the manner in which an author chooses to
write to his or her audience. A style reveals both the writer's
personality and voice, but it also shows how he or she perceives
the audience. The choice of a conceptual writing style molds the
overall character of the work. This occurs through changes in
syntactical structure, parsing prose, adding diction, and
organizing figures of thought into usable frameworks.
Components of style
For each piece of fiction, the author makes many choices,
consciously or subconsciously, which combine to form the
writer's unique style. The components of style are numerous, but
include point of view, choice of narrator, fiction-writing mode,
person and tense, grammar, punctuation, word usage, sentence
length and structure, paragraph length and structure, tone,
imagery, chapter usage, and title selection.
The narrator is the teller of the story, the orator, doing the
mouth work, or its in-print equivalent.
POINT OF VIEW (POV)
Point of view is from whose consciousness the reader hears,
sees, and feels the story.
Tone is the mood that the author establishes within the story.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
Suspension of disbelief is the reader's temporary acceptance of
story elements as believable, regardless of how implausible they
may seem in real life.
A good plot is all about organizing ideas in a way that is
appealing to the reader. It is also, and more importantly, the
guideline that helps the author make sure he doesn't get lost on
all of the ideas and characters that start to come up whilst the
book is written. The following is a simple guide on how to
create a somewhat original plot.
A Plot is a narrative and typically needs only causal events.
(It’s also, traditionally, literary) term defined as the events
that make up a story, particularly: as they relate to one
another in a pattern or in a sequence; as they relate to each
other through cause and effect; how the reader views the story;
or simply by coincidence. Authors are generally interested in
how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or
emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an
imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include
multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.
A plot is composed of causal events, which are a series of
sentences linked by "and so." A plot highlights the important
points and the line of a story. Ansen Dibell writes: "Plot is
built of significant events in a given story – significant
because they have important consequences." Consequently, it
also has the same meaning as storyline.
A plot was defined in 1927 by the English novelist E. M.
Forster. Forster defined a plot as the cause‐and‐effect
relationship between events in a story. Forster says, "‘the king
died and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died, and
then the queen died of grief,’ is a plot."
A plot is causality. Causal events make up the plot of the
story. For example, event A: "The Prince searches for Cinderella
with the glass shoe," then event B: "Cinderella's sisters tried
the shoe on, but it does not fit," after that event C: "The shoe
fits Cinderella, the Prince finds her." Among these events,
event B may be omitted. This is because, A is the cause of C,
but B is not the cause of C. A⇢B⇢C is a story, and A→C is a
plot. A story orders events from A to Z in time, and is
different from a plot.
Thus, a plot consists of the events which cause a change in the
development of the story, and does not necessarily include the
events concerned with empathy.
In his Poetics, Aristotle considered plot (mythos) the most
important element of drama—more important than character, for
example. A plot must have, Aristotle says, a beginning, a
middle, and an end, and the events of the plot must causally
relate to one another as being either necessary or probable.
Of the utmost importance to Aristotle is the plot's ability to
arouse emotion in the psyche of the audience. In tragedy, the
appropriate emotions are fear and pity, emotions which he
considers in his Rhetoric. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not
Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character
suffers (pathos), and whether or not the tragic character
commits the error with knowledge of what he is doing. He
illustrates this with the question of a tragic character who is
about to kill someone in his family.
The worst situation [artistically] is when the personage is with
full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it
undone. It is odious and also (through the absence of suffering)
untragic; hence it is that no one is made to act thus except in
some few instances, e.g., Haemon and Creon in Antigone. Next
after this comes the actual perpetration of the deed meditated.
A better situation than that, however, is for the deed to be
done in ignorance, and the relationship discovered afterwards,
since there is nothing odious in it, and the discovery will
serve to astound us. But the best of all is the last; what we
have in Cresphontes, for example, where Merope, on the point of
slaying her son, recognizes him in time; in Iphigenia, where
sister and brother are in a like position; and in Helle, where
the son recognizes his mother, when on the point of giving her
up to her enemy.
A character (or fictional character) is a person in a narrative
work of arts (such as a novel, play, television series or
film).[ Derived from the ancient Greek word χαρακτήρ, the
English word dates from the Restoration, although it became
widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From
this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed.
Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre
or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person." In
literature, characters guide readers through their stories,
helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. Since the
end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used
to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. Since the
19th century, the art of creating characters, as practiced by
actors or writers, has been called characterisation.
A character that stands as a representative of a particular
class or group of people is known as a type. Types include both
stock characters and those that are more fully individualised.
The characters in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1891) and August
Strindberg's Miss Julie (1888), for example, are representative
of specific positions in the social relations of class and
gender, such that the conflicts between the characters reveal
The study of a character requires an analysis of its relations
with all of the other characters in the work. The individual
status of a character is defined through the network of
oppositions (proairetic, pragmatic, linguistic, proxemic) that
it forms with the other characters. The relation between
characters and the action of the story shifts historically,
often miming shifts in society and its ideas about human
individuality, self-determination, and the social order.
ROUND VERSUS FLAT CHARACTERS
In his book Aspects of the novel, E. M. Forster defined two
basic types of characters, their qualities, functions, and
importance for the development of the novel: flat characters and
round characters. Flat characters are two-dimensional, in that
they are relatively uncomplicated. By contrast, round characters
are complex figures with many different characteristics and
undergo development, sometimes sufficiently to surprise the
DYNAMIC VERSUS STATIC CHARACTERS
Dynamic characters are the ones who change over the course of
the story, while static characters remain the same throughout.
Creation of characters
In fiction writing, authors create dynamic characters by many
methods, almost always by using their imagination. Jenna Blum in
The Author at Work described three ways of creating vivid
A magic character comes into the author's head and "lives
there", sometimes "dictates their story" to the author.
A borrowed character is created by taking an emblematic quality
or character trait from a real person, plugging that trait into
a fictional situation, and then the author uses imagination to
transform the character into a unique construct.
A made-up character is created from the "ground up", often
starting from expediency as a two-dimensional creation which the
author then tries to get to know better, sometimes by adding
trouble and conflict.
An antagonist is a character, group of characters, institution,
or concept that stands in or represents opposition against which
the protagonist(s) must contend. In other words, an antagonist
is a person or a group of people who opposes a protagonist.
The English word antagonist comes from the Greek ἀνταγωνιστής -
antagonistēs , "opponent, competitor, enemy, rival," which is
derived from anti-("against") and agonizesthai ("to contend for
In the classic style of stories where the action consists of a
hero fighting a villain/enemy, the two may be regarded as
protagonist and antagonist, respectively. However, the villain
of the story is not always the same as the antagonist, as some
narratives cast the villain in the protagonist role, with the
opposing hero as the antagonist.
An antagonist also may represent a threat or obstacle to the
main character by its existence and not necessarily targeting
him or her in a deliberate manner.
Characters may be antagonists without being villainous or evil –
they may simply be injudicious and unlikeable for the audience.
In some stories, such as The Catcher in the Rye, almost every
character other than the protagonist may be an antagonist.
Aspects of the protagonist
An aspect or trait of the protagonist may be considered an
antagonist, such as morality or indecisiveness.
An antagonist may not always be a person or persons. In some
cases, an antagonist may be a force, such as a tidal wave that
destroys a city; a storm that causes havoc; or even a certain
area's conditions that are the root cause of a problem. An
antagonist also may or may not create obstacles for the
Societal norms or other rules also may be antagonists. An
antagonist is used as a plot device, to set up conflicts,
obstacles, or challenges for the protagonist. Though not every
story requires an antagonist, it often is used in plays to
increase the level of drama. In tragedies, antagonists are often
the cause of the protagonist's main problem, or lead a group of
characters against the protagonist; in comedies, they are
usually responsible for involving the protagonist in comedic
The protagonist (from Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής
(protagonistes), meaning "player of the first part, chief
actor") or main character is a narrative's central or primary
personal figure, who comes into conflict with an opposing major
character or force (called the antagonist). The audience is
intended to mostly identify with the protagonist. In the theatre
of Ancient Greece, three actors played every main dramatic role
in a tragedy; the protagonist played the leading role while the
other roles were played by the deuteragonist and the
The terms protagonist and main character are variously explained
and depending on the source, may denote different concepts. In
fiction, the story of the protagonist can be told from the
perspective of a different character (who may also but not
necessarily, be the narrator). An example would be a narrator
who relates the fate of several protagonists - perhaps as
prominent figures recalled in a biographical perspective.
Sometimes, antagonists and protagonists may overlap, depending
on what their ultimate objectives are considered to be. Often,
the protagonist in a narrative is also the same person as the
focal character, though the two terms are distinct. Excitement
and intrigue alone is what the audience feels toward a focal
character, while a sense of empathy about the character's
objectives and emotions is what the audience feels toward the
protagonist. Although the protagonist is often referred to as
the "good guy", it is entirely possible for a story's
protagonist to be the clear villain, or antihero, of the piece.
The principal opponent of the protagonist is a character known
as the antagonist, who represents or creates obstacles that the
protagonist must overcome. As with protagonists, there may be
more than one antagonist in a story. The antagonist may be the
story's hero; for example, where the protagonist is a criminal,
the antagonist could be a law enforcement agent that tries to
In psychodrama, the "protagonist" is the person (group member,
patient or client) who decides to enact some significant aspect
of his life, experiences or relationships on stage with the help
of the psychodrama director and other group members; in this
case, the protagonist takes supplementary roles as auxiliary
FLAWED CHARACTERS (MAJOR / MINOR)
In the creation and criticism of fictional works, a character
flaw is a limitation, imperfection, problem, phobia, or
deficiency present in a character that may be otherwise very
functional. The flaw can be a problem that directly affects the
character's actions and abilities, such as a violent temper.
Alternatively, it can be a simple foible or personality defect,
which affects the character's motives and social interactions,
but little else.
Flaws can add depth and humanity to the characters in a
narrative. For example, the sheriff with a gambling addiction,
the action hero who is afraid of heights, or a lead in a
romantic comedy who must overcome his insecurity regarding male
pattern baldness are all characters whose flaws help provide
dimension. Perhaps the most widely cited and classic of
character flaws is Achilles' famous heel.
A minor character flaw is an imperfection which serves to
distinguish the character in the mind of the reader / viewer /
player / listener, making them memorable and individual, but
otherwise does not affect the story in any way. Examples of this
could include a noticeable scar, a thick accent or a habit such
as cracking their knuckles.
Protagonists and other major characters may (and usually do)
have multiple minor flaws, making them more accessible, and
enabling the reader / viewer / listener to relate to the
character (in the case of a sympathetic character) or otherwise
influence the audience's opinions of the character.
Many insignificant or archetypal characters which are
encountered only once or rarely are defined solely by a single
minor flaw, differentiating them from the stock character or
archetype that they adhere to.
A major character flaw is a much more noticeable and important
hindrance which actually impairs the individual, whether
physically, mentally or morally. Sometimes major flaws are not
actually negative per se (such as devout religious beliefs or a
rigid code of honor), but are classified as such in that they
often serve to hinder or restrict the character in some way.
Examples of this type of flaw could include blindness, amnesia
Unlike minor flaws, major flaws are almost invariably important
to either the characters, or the story's development.
For villains, their major flaw is usually the cause of their
For heroes, their major flaw usually must be overcome (either
temporarily or permanently) at some point in the story, often at
the climax, by their own determination or skill.
For neutral characters, or those that shift allegiance, the
major flaw is usually the cause of either their corruption,
redemption or both.
For the protagonist, the most visible flaw generally serves a
more vital interest, as well, as it defines his or her core
problem. It is the protagonist's reluctant (and usually
unconscious) journey to address this problem that forms the
spine of the story, sometimes acting as the MacGuffin to
stimulate the plot.
This is a specific sort of flaw, also known as "Hamartia", which
is possessed by Aristotelian tragic heros. It is a flaw which
causes an otherwise noble or exceptional character to bring
about his own downfall and, often, his eventual death.
Examples of this could include hubris, misplaced trust,
excessive curiosity, pride and lack of self-control.
This fall usually occurs at the beginning of a story; with the
story itself concentrates on the consequences or attempted
redemption of the fall.
In fiction, a composite character is a character composed of two
or more real life or fictional individuals, appearing in a
fictional or non-fictional work. Two or more fictional
characters are often combined into one upon adaptation of a work
from one medium to another, as in the film or video game
adaptation of a novel or comic book. A composite character may
be modeled on real historical or biographical figures in either
type of work.
Sometimes composite characters are created in journalistic
works, but such use raises ethical questions.
In any narrative, the focal character is the character on which
the audience is meant to place the majority of their interest
and attention. They are almost always also the protagonist of
the story; however, in cases where the "focal character" and
"protagonist" are separate, the focal character's emotions and
ambitions are not meant to be empathized with by the audience to
as high an extent as the protagonist (this is the main
difference between the two character terms). The focal character
is mostly created to simply be the "excitement" of the story,
though not necessarily the main character about whom the
audience is emotionally concerned. The focal character is, more
than anyone else, "the person on whom the spotlight focuses; the
center of attention; the man whose reactions dominate the
For example, in Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, the
protagonist is Christine Daaé (the audience is concerned mostly
with her emotions, aims, and well-being), while the focal
character is the "Phantom" (the audience is concerned mostly
with the allure of his actions and reactions—though to some
degree, later on, his emotions as well). In another example, in
"The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe, the
protagonist of the story is unnamed and does not have a great
effect on the story, though he is present. He does not show much
emotion throughout the story, and the reader is not as
interested in him. The focal character of the story is Roderick
Usher, whom the reader cares for more greatly and follows his
condition and emotions more.
The focal character is also not necessarily the same thing as
the viewpoint character, through whose perspective the story is
seen. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works of Sherlock Holmes,
Watson is the viewpoint character, but the story revolves around
Holmes, making him the focal character.
Generic characters are interchangeable characters, appearing
mostly in animated shows or comic strips. They often reappear at
different times with different jobs, or are seen in the
background. Animation or comic strip artists, when in need of a
character that furthers the story without becoming part of it,
often use an existing character from their repertoire instead of
inventing a new one. Generics can be considered to be similar to
gag characters, but might stay longer.
In playwriting, a ghost character is a character that is
mentioned as appearing on stage but neither says nor does
anything but enter, and possibly exit. They are generally
interpreted as editing mistakes, indicative of unresolved
revisions to the text. If the character was intended to appear
but say nothing, it is assumed this function would be clearly
identified in the play.
The term is most often used in discussion of Elizabethan and
Jacobean plays, which are assumed to have existed in several
revisions, only one of which is usually published. It is most
associated with the works of William Shakespeare and is often
thought to be evidence that the published version of the play is
taken from his foul papers.
What the presence of such a character means often varies by play
and by commentator. Some commentators[who?] claim that the ghost
character in Timon of Athens, for example, proves the play's
weakness and unfinished nature, though such an argument is
rarely used for other ghost characters.
Other plays of the period include ghost characters, such as John
Webster's The White Devil, in which "little Jacques the Moor",
"Christophero", "Guid-antonio", and "Farneseis" are mentioned
entering, but have no lines.
A stock character is a stereotypical person whom audiences
readily recognize from frequent recurrences in a particular
literary tradition. Stock characters are archetypal characters
distinguished by their flatness; as a result, they tend to be
easy targets for parody and to be criticized as clichés. The
presence of a particular array of stock characters is a key
component of many genres.
A recurring character is a fictional character, usually in a
prime time TV series, who often and frequently appears from time
to time during the series' run. Recurring characters often play
major roles in more than one episode, sometimes being the main
Recurring characters usually start out as guest stars in one
episode but continue to show up in future episodes if the
storylines or actors are compelling enough. Sometimes a
recurring character eventually becomes part of the main cast of
characters; such a character is sometimes called a breakout
UNSEEN / INVISIBLE CHARACTERS
An unseen character or invisible character is a fictional
character referred to but never directly observed by the
audience. They are characters that are "heard of, but never
heard from".[Books can feature characters who are referenced by
others, but whose actions and dialogue are never directly
described. Works of Voltaire, for example, include the "unseen
A supporting character is a character in a narrative that is not
focused on by the primary storyline. Sometimes supporting
characters may develop a complex back-story of their own, but
this is usually in relation to the main character, rather than
entirely independently. In television, supporting characters may
appear in more than half of the episodes per season.
In some cases, especially in ongoing material such as comic
books and television series, supporting characters themselves
may become main characters in a spin-off if they are
sufficiently popular with fans.
A sympathetic character is a fictional character in a story that
the writer expects the reader to identify with and care about,
if not necessarily admire. Protagonists, almost by definition,
fit into the category of a sympathetic character; so, however,
do many supporting characters and even villains.
BACKDROP / SETTING
In works of narrative (especially fictional), the literary
element setting includes the historical moment in time and
geographic location in which a story takes place, and helps
initiate the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has
been referred to as story world or milieu to include a context
(especially society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the
story. Elements of setting may include culture, historical
period, geography, and hour. Along with the plot, character,
theme, and style, setting is considered one of the fundamental
components of fiction. And novelist Donna Levin has described
how this social milieu shapes the characters’ values. The
elements of the story setting include the passage of time, which
may be static in some stories or dynamic in others with, for
example, changing seasons.
Alternate history or alternative history, sometimes abbreviated
AH, is a genre of fiction consisting of stories that are set in
worlds in which one or more historical events unfolds
differently from how it did in reality. It can be variously seen
as a subgenre of literary fiction, science fiction, and
historical fiction; different alternate history works may use
tropes from any or all of these genres. Another occasionally
used term for the genre is "allo-history" (literally "other
history"). See also fictional universe. Since the 1950s, this
type of fiction has to a large extent merged with science
fictional tropes involving cross-time travel between alternate
histories or psychic awareness of the existence of "our"
universe by the people in another; or ordinary voyaging into the
past or into the future that results in history splitting into
two or more timelines. Cross-time, time-splitting, and alternate
history themes have become so closely interwoven that it is
impossible to discuss them fully apart from one another.
"Alternate History" looks at "what if" scenarios from some of
history's most pivotal turning points and presents a completely
different version, sometimes based on science and fact, but
often based on conjecture. The exploration of how the world
would look today if various changes occurred and what these
alternate worlds would be like forms the basis of this vast
In French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan and German, the genre of
alternate history is called uchronie / ucronía / ucronia /
Uchronie, which has given rise to the term Uchronia in English.
This neologism is based on the prefix ου- (which in ancient
Greek means "not/not any/no") and the ancient Greek χρόνος
(chronos), meaning "time". A uchronia means literally "(in) no
time". This term apparently also inspired the name of the
alternate history book list, uchronia.net.
In writing an alternate history, the author makes the conscious
choice to change something in our past. According to Steven H
Silver, alternate history requires three things:
1) The story must have a point of divergence from the history of
our world prior to the time at which the author is writing,
2) A change that would alter history as it is known, and
3) An examination of the ramifications of that change.
Several genres of fiction have been confused as alternate
histories. Science fiction set in what was the future but is now
the past, like Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey or
Nineteen Eighty-Four, are not alternate history because the
author has not made the conscious choice to change the past.
Secret history, works that document things that are not known to
have happened historically but would not have changed history
had they happened, is also not to be confused with alternate
Alternate history is related to but distinct from counterfactual
history—the term used by some professional historians when using
thoroughly researched and carefully reasoned speculations on
"what might have happened if..." as a tool of academic
A campaign setting is usually a fictional world which serves as
a setting for a role-playing game or war-game campaign. A
campaign is a series of individual adventures, and a campaign
setting is the world in which such adventures and campaigns take
place. Usually a campaign setting is designed for a specific
game (such as the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons &
Dragons) or a specific genre of game (such as Medieval fantasy,
or outer space/science fiction adventure). There are numerous
campaign settings available both in print and online. In
addition to published campaign settings available for purchase,
many game masters create their own settings, often referred to
as "homebrew" settings or worlds.
The use of the term "world" in describing a campaign setting is
loose, at best. Campaign worlds such as the World of Greyhawk
detail entire cosmologies and timelines of thousands of years,
while the setting of a game such as Deadlands might only
describe one nation within a brief segment of alternate history.
Fantasy settings draw their inspiration almost exclusively from
fantasy literature, such as the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and
Robert E. Howard. The setting in these games is usually a world
with a level of technology similar to that of medieval Europe.
Fantasy elements include magic and supernatural/mythological
creatures, such as dragons, elves, and orcs.
Science fiction settings are inspired by science fiction
literature. The setting is generally in the future, sometimes
near future but also quite often in the far future, though in
many cases the setting bears no connection to the world we live
in, e.g. Star Wars. Common elements involve futuristic
technology, contact with alien life forms, experimental
societies, and space travel. Psionic abilities (i.e. ESP and
telekinesis) often take the place of magic. The genre can be
divided similarly with science fiction literature into
subgenres, such as cyberpunk or space opera.
WORLDS (AND WORLD BUILDING)
A fantasy world is a fictional universe created in fiction
media, such as literature, film or games. Typical fantasy worlds
involve magic or magical abilities, nonexistent technology and
sometimes, either an historical or futuristic theme. Some worlds
may be a parallel world tenuously connected to Earth via magical
portals or items; a fictional Earth set in the remote past or
future; or an entirely independent world set in another
universe. Many fantasy worlds draw heavily on real world
history, geography and sociology, and also on mythology and
The setting of a fantasy work is often of great importance to
the plot and characters of the story. The setting itself can be
imperiled by the evil of the story, suffer a calamity, and be
restored by the transformation the story brings about. Stories
that use the setting as merely a backdrop for the story have
been criticized for their failure to use it fully.
Even when the land itself is not in danger, it is often used
symbolically, for thematic purposes, and to underscore moods.
World Building or Con-Worlding is the process of constructing an
imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional
universe. The resulting world may be called a constructed world.
The term "world building" was popularized at science fiction
writers' workshops in the 1970s. Developing an
imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history,
geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or
fantasy writers. World building often involves the creation of
maps, a backstory, and people for the world. Constructed worlds
can enrich the backstory and history of fictional works, and it
is not uncommon for authors to revise their constructed worlds
while completing its associated work. Constructed worlds can be
created for personal amusement and mental exercise, or for
specific creative endeavors such as novels, video games, or
METHODS OF WORLD-BUILDING
World-building can be designed from the top down or the bottom
up, or by a combination of these approaches. The official
world-building guidelines for Dungeons and Dragons refer to
these terms as "outside-in" and "inside-out," respectively.
In the top-down approach, the designer first creates a general
overview of the world, determining broad characteristics such as
the world's inhabitants, technology level, major geographic
features, climate, and history. From there, he or she develops
the rest of the world in increasing detail. This approach might
involve creation of the world's basics, followed by levels such
as continents, civilizations, nations, cities, and towns. A
world constructed from the top down tends to be well-integrated,
with individual components fitting together appropriately. It
can, however, require considerable work before enough detail is
completed for the setting to be useful, such as in the setting
of a story.
With the bottom-up approach, the designer focuses on a small
part of the world needed for his or her purposes. This location
is given considerable detail, such as local geography, culture,
social structure, government, politics, commerce, and history.
Prominent local individuals may be described, including their
relationships to each other. The surrounding areas are then
described in a lower level of detail, with description growing
more general with increasing distance from the initial location.
The designer can subsequently enhance the description of other
areas in the world. This approach provides for almost immediate
applicability of the setting, with details pertinent to a
certain story or situation. The approach can yield a world
plagued with inconsistencies, however. By combining the top-down
and bottom-up approaches, a designer can enjoy the benefits of
both. This is very hard to accomplish, however, because the
designer must start from both sides creating twice as much work
which may not reach the desired product as quickly.
The goal of world-building is to create the context for a story.
Consistency is an important element, since the world provides a
foundation for the action of a story.
An uninhabited world can be useful for certain purposes,
especially in science fiction, but the majority of constructed
worlds have one or more sentient species. These species can have
constructed cultures and constructed languages. Designers in
hard science fiction may design flora and fauna towards the end
of the world-building process, thus creating lifeforms with
environmental adaptations to scientifically novel situations.
Perhaps the most basic consideration of world-building is to
what degree a fictional world will be based on real-world
physics compared to magic. While magic is a more common element
of fantasy settings, science fiction worlds can contain magic or
technological equivalents of it. For example, the Biotics in the
science fiction video game series Mass Effect have abilities,
described scientifically in-game, which mirror those of mages in
fantasy games. In the science fiction novel Midnight at the Well
of Souls, magic exists, but is explained scientifically.
Some fictional worlds modify the real-world laws of physics;
faster-than-light travel is a common factor in much science
fiction. World-building may combine physics and magic, such as
in the Dark Tower series and the Star Wars franchise.
Constructed worlds often have cosmologies, both in the
scientific and metaphysical senses of the word. Design of
science fiction worlds, especially those with spacefaring
societies, usually entails creation of a star system and
planets. If the designer wishes to apply real-life principles of
astronomy, he or she may develop detailed astronomical measures
for the orbit of the world, and to define the physical
characteristics of the other bodies in the same system; this
establishes chronological parameters, such as the length of a
day and the durations of seasons. Some systems are intentionally
bizarre. For Larry Niven's novels The Integral Trees and The
Smoke Ring, Niven designed a "freefall" environment, a gas torus
ring of habitable pressure, temperature, and composition, around
a neutron star.
Fantasy worlds can also involve unique cosmologies. In Dungeons
and Dragons, the physical world is referred to as the Prime
Material Plane, but other planes of existence devoted to moral
or elemental concepts are available for play, such as the
Spell-jammer setting, which provides an entirely novel fantasy
astrophysical system. Some fantasy worlds feature fictional
religions. The Elder Scrolls series, for example, contains a
variety of religions practiced by its world's various races. The
world of the 2000 video game Summoner has a well-developed
cosmology, including a creation myth.
Map construction is often one of the earliest tasks of
world-building. Maps can lay out a world's basic terrain
features and significant civilizations present. A clear, concise
map that displays the locations of key points in the story can
be a helpful tool for developers and audiences alike. Finished
creative products, such as books, may contain published versions
of development maps; many editions of The Lord of the Rings, for
example, include maps of Middle-earth. Cartography of fictional
worlds is sometimes called geo-fiction.
The physical geography of a fictional world is important in
designing weather patterns and biomes such as deserts, wetlands,
mountains, and forests. These physical features also affect the
growth and interaction of the various societies, such as the
establishment of trade routes and locations of important cities.
Desire for control of natural resources in a fictional world may
lead to war among its people. Geography can also define
ecosystems for each biome. Often, Earth-like ecology is assumed,
but designers can vary drastically from this trend. For example,
Isaac Asimov's short story "The Talking Stone" takes place in a
world where silicon, rather than carbon, is the basic building
block of life.
Some software programs can create random terrain using fractal
algorithms. Sophisticated programs can apply geologic effects
such as tectonic plate movement and erosion; the resulting world
can be rendered in great detail, providing a degree of realism
to the result.
Worldbuilding designers sometimes employ past human
civilizations as a model for fictional societies. The 1990 video
game Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, for example, takes
place in a world full of tribes based on civilizations in early
Mesoamerica and Africa. This method can make a fictional world
more accessible for an audience. Simon Provencher has stated as
a 'Golden Rule' of World-building that "...unless specified
otherwise, everything inside your world is assumed to behave
exactly as it would in the real world." Another example is
from Steven S. Long, a representative of the Champions
role-playing game, who stated that "Everything that happened in
the real world has also unfolded in the exact same way in the
Champions Universe.", so that means any past wars, elections,
and technological advancements in our world occurred the same
way in the Champions Universe unless explained otherwise.
Creating a cohesive alien culture can be a distinct challenge.
Some designers have also looked to human civilizations for
inspiration in doing so, such as Star Trek's Romulans, whose
society resembles that of Ancient Rome. The fictional world's
history can explain past and present relationships between
different societies, which can introduce a story's action. A
past war, for example, functions as a key plot point in the
Shannara and Belgariad series.
A fictional city refers to a town, city or village that is made
up for fictional stories, and does not exist in real life, or
refers to a settlement that people believe exist without
definitive proof, such as Plato's account of Atlantis which some
believed was fiction while others believed it existed.
Cultures have always had legends and stories of fictional cities
from the earliest times. Other fictional cities appear most
commonly as settings or subjects of myth, literature, movies, or
Fictional cities appear commonly in stories of early mythology.
Some such cities are lost (Atlantis), hidden (Agartha,
Shambhala), destroyed (Ys) or must be reached by difficult means
During the mid to late 1500s, several expeditions were made by
various groups of people in order to locate what they believed
to be a city rich with gold; El Dorado. In 1541 Gonzalo Pizarro,
governor of Quito, Ecuador, banded together 340 soldiers and
about 4000 natives and led them in search of the fabled city.
That same year, Philipp von Hutten led an exploring party from
Coro on the coast of Venezuela. Despite having been disproven in
by Alexander von Humboldt during his Latin-America expedition
(1799–1804). There are some people who still believe El Dorado
is yet to be found.
Fictional cities often deliberately resemble parody or even
represent some real-world analogous location or present a
utopian or dystopian locale for commentary. Variants of cities'
names sometimes make it clear what city is the real basis, for
example, Las Venturas from the video game Grand Theft Auto
series based on Las Vegas, and includes a number of notable city
landmarks including casinos. By making use of fictional towns,
as opposed to using a real one, authors have a much greater
freedom to exercise their creativity on characters, events, and
settings while simultaneously presenting a somewhat familiar
location that readers can recognize. A fictional city leaves the
author unburdened by the restraints of a city's actual history,
politics, and culture and can allow for a greater scope in plot
construction and also avoid vilifying any actual group of
people. In Fanfiction, fan-made fictional cities are not
considered canonical unless they are authorized.
Although cities based in real life usually have enough evidence
to locate the real-world inspiration, writers sometimes are
deliberately ambiguous in the locale such as the un-locatable
Springfield from The Simpsons television program.
A fictional country is a country that is made up for fictional
stories, and does not exist in real life, or one that people
believe in without proof. Sailors have always mistaken low
clouds for land masses, and in later times this was given the
name Dutch capes. Other fictional lands appear most commonly as
settings or subjects of myth, literature, movies, or video
Fictional countries appear commonly in stories of early science
fiction (or scientific romance). Such countries supposedly form
part of the normal Earth landscape although not located in a
normal atlas. Later similar tales often took place on fictional
Fictional countries often deliberately resemble or even
represent some real-world country or present a utopia or
dystopia for commentary. Variants of the country's name
sometimes make it clear what country they really have in mind.
By using a fictional country instead of a real one, authors can
exercise greater freedom in creating characters, events, and
settings, while at the same time presenting a vaguely familiar
locale that readers can recognize. A fictional country leaves
the author unburdened by the restraints of a real nation's
actual history, politics, and culture, and can thus allow for
greater scope in plot construction and be exempt from criticism
for vilifying an actual nation, political party or people.
Writers may create an archetypal fictional "Eastern European",
"Middle Eastern", "Asian", "African" or "Latin American" country
for the purposes of their story often called a "Foreign Power".
Such countries often embody stereotypes about their regions. For
example, inventors of a fictional Eastern European country
typically describe it as a former or current Soviet satellite
state, or with a suspense story about a royal family; if
pre-20th century, it likely resembles Ruritania or feature
copious vampires and other supernatural phenomena. A fictional
Middle Eastern state often lies somewhere on the Arabian
peninsula, and either has substantial oil-wealth and has a
sultan, or features a stereotypically Muslim Extremist culture,
widespread terrorism and poverty, and a country name ending in
-istan. A fictional Latin American country typically projects
images of a banana republic beset by constant revolutions,
military dictatorships, and coups d'état. A fictional African
state suffers from poverty, civil war and disease. A fictional
Caribbean nation features voodoo and poverty.
Modern writers usually do not try to pass off their stories as
facts. However, in the early 18th century George Psalmanazar
passed himself off as a prince from the island of Formosa
(present-day Taiwan) and wrote a fictional description about it
to convince his sponsors.
Some larcenous entrepreneurs have also invented fictional
countries solely for the purpose of defrauding people. In the
1820s, Gregor MacGregor sold land in the invented country of
Poyais. In modern times, the Dominion of Melchizedek and the
Kingdom of EnenKio have been accused of this. Many varied
financial scams can play out under the aegis of a fictional
country, including selling passports and travel documents, and
setting up fictional banks and companies with the seeming
imprimatur of full government backing.
A fictional crossover (or simply crossover) is the placement of
two or more otherwise discrete fictional characters, settings,
or universes into the context of a single story. They can arise
from legal agreements between the relevant copyright holders,
unauthorized efforts by fans or common corporate ownership.
Crossovers often occur in an official capacity in order for the
intellectual property rights holders to reap the financial
reward of combining two or more popular, established properties.
In other cases, the crossover can serve to introduce a new
concept derivative of an older one.
Crossovers generally occur between properties owned by a single
holder, but they can, more rarely, involve properties from
different holders, provided that the inherent legal obstacles
can be overcome. They may also involve using characters that
have passed into the public domain with those concurrently under
A crossover story may try to explain its own reason for the
crossover, such as characters being neighbors (notable examples
being the casts from Golden Girls and Empty Nest) or meeting via
dimensional rift or similar phenomenon (a common explanation for
science fiction properties that have different owners). Some
crossovers are not explained at all.
Public domain notes
It is also common for authors to 'crossover' characters who have
passed into the public domain, and thus do not require copyright
or royalty payments for their use in other works; a prominent
example of this occurs in Loren D. Estleman's novel Sherlock
Holmes vs. Dracula, in which Sherlock Holmes and Dracula are
brought together and pitted against each other. The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill is
another example of this, as all of the main characters and most
of the secondary / background characters are fictional
characters whose copyright has expired, and all are characters
of different authors and creators brought together within one
massive extended universe. Many of the works of Philip José
Farmer's Wold Newton family sequences (which has also been
explored and developed by other authors) also utilize and
interweave numerous otherwise unrelated fictional characters
into a rich family history by speculating familial connections
between them (such as a blood-relationship between Sherlock
Holmes and Tarzan). Roger Zelazny's novel A Night in the
Lonesome October combines Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Frankenstein,
Jack the Ripper and the Cthulhu Mythos, although he never
specifically identifies them as such ("The Count", "The Good
Doctor", "Jack", etc.).
Occasionally, authors will include into crossovers classic
fictional characters whose copyright is still held by the
original authors (or at least their estates), but who are
nevertheless considered iconic or 'mythic' enough to be
recognised from a few character traits or descriptions without
being directly named (thus not requiring royalties payments to
be made to the copyright holder). A prominent example occurs
within The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One,
wherein a character who is clearly intended in appearance and
description by other characters to be Dr. Fu Manchu appears as a
significant villain; however, as this character was not in the
public domain at the time of writing and the rights still held
by the estate of his creator Sax Rohmer, he is not directly
named as such in the work and is only referred to as 'the Devil
Doctor'. Something similar occurs in The League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen: Black Dossier, wherein a character named "Jimmy" is
clearly intended to be Ian Fleming's character James Bond,
though here he is satirized as being an inept and unfavorable
antagonist, likely to parody Sean Connery's appearance in the
2003 film adaptation. Another example in The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen is when a character is named to be the
Anti-Christ, yet, despite never being named, is shown to be an
evil Harry Potter.
The TV show Once Upon a Time is set in a world in which all
fairy tales coexist, including Snow White, Little Red Riding
Hood, and even Alice in Wonderland. (As a production of The Walt
Disney Company, copyrighted elements from that company's
productions have appeared in Once Upon a Time.) The Shrek film
series is built on the same concept, and even includes
references to then-copyrighted elements like Peter Pan (often in
the form of satire).
A fictional universe is a self-consistent fictional setting with
elements that differ from the real world. It may also be called
an imagined, constructed or fictional realm (or world).
A fictional universe can be almost indistinguishable from the
real world, except for the presence of the invented characters
and events that characterize a work of fiction; at the other
extreme it can bear little or no resemblance to reality, with
invented fundamental principles of space and time. The subject
is most commonly addressed in reference to fictional universes
that differ markedly from reality, such as those that introduce
entire fictional cities, countries, or even planets, or those
that contradict commonly known facts about the world and its
history, or those that feature fantasy or science fiction
concepts such as magic or faster than light travel—and
especially those in which the deliberate development of the
setting is a substantial focus of the work.
What distinguishes a fictional universe from a simple setting is
the level of detail and internal consistency. A fictional
universe has an established continuity and internal logic that
must be adhered to throughout the work and even across separate
works. So, for instance, many books may be set in conflicting
fictional versions of Victorian London, but all the stories of
Sherlock Holmes are set in the same Victorian London. However,
the various film series based on Sherlock Holmes follow their
own separate continuities, and so do not take place in the same
The history and geography of a fictional universe are
well-defined, and maps and timelines are often included in works
set within them. Even languages may be constructed. When
subsequent works are written within the same universe, care is
usually taken to ensure that established facts of the canon are
not violated. Even if the fictional universe involves concepts
such as magic that don't exist in the real world, these must
adhere to a set of rules established by the author.
A future history is a postulated history of the future and is
used by authors in the subgenre of speculative fiction (or
science fiction) to construct a common background for fiction.
Sometimes the author publishes a timeline of events in the
history, while other times the reader can reconstruct the order
of the stories from information provided therein.
A parallel universe is a hypothetical self-contained separate
reality co-existing with one's own. A specific group of parallel
universes is called a "multiverse", although this term can also
be used to describe the possible parallel universes that
constitute reality. While the terms "parallel universe" and
"alternative reality" are generally synonymous and can be used
interchangeably in most cases, there is sometimes an additional
connotation implied with the term "alternative reality" that
implies that the reality is a variant of our own. The term
"parallel universe" is more general, without any connotations
implying a relationship, or lack of relationship, with our own
universe. A universe where the very laws of nature are different
– for example, one in which there are no Laws of Motion – would
in general count as a parallel universe but not an alternative
reality and a concept between both fantasy world and earth.
The actual quantum-mechanical hypothesis of parallel universes
is "universes that are separated from each other by a single
Fantasy has long borrowed an idea of "another world" from myth,
legend and religion. Heaven, Hell, Olympus, and Valhalla are all
“alternative universes” different from the familiar material
realm. Plato reflected deeply on the parallel realities,
resulting in Platonism, in the upper reality is perfect while
the lower earthly reality is an imperfect shadow of the
heavenly. The lower reality is similar but with flaws.
Modern fantasy often presents the concept as a series of planes
of existence where the laws of nature differ, allowing magical
phenomena of some sort on some planes. This concept was also
found in ancient Hindu mythology, in texts such as the Puranas,
which expressed an infinite number of universes, each with its
own gods. Similarly in Persian literature, "The Adventures of
Bulukiya", a tale in the One Thousand and One Nights, describes
the protagonist Bulukiya learning of alternative
worlds/universes that are similar to but still distinct from his
own. In other cases, in both fantasy and science fiction, a
parallel universe is a single other material reality, and its
co-existence with ours is a rationale to bring a protagonist
from the author's reality into the fantasy's reality, such as in
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis or even the
beyond-the-reflection travel in the two main works of Lewis
Carroll. Or this single other reality can invade our own, as
when Margaret Cavendish's English heroine sends submarines and
"birdmen" armed with "fire stones" back through the portal from
The Blazing World to Earth and wreaks havoc on England's
enemies. In dark fantasy or horror the parallel world is often a
hiding place for unpleasant things, and often the protagonist is
forced to confront effects of this other world leaking into his
own, as in most of the work of H. P. Lovecraft and the Doom
computer game series, or Warhammer/40K miniature and computer
games. In such stories, the nature of this other reality is
often left mysterious, known only by its effect on our own
The concept also arises outside the framework of quantum
mechanics, as is found in Jorge Luis Borges short story El
jardín de senderos que se bifurcan ("The Garden of Forking
Paths"), published in 1941 before the many-worlds interpretation
had been invented. In the story, a Sinologist discovers a
manuscript by a Chinese writer where the same tale is recounted
in several ways, often contradictory, and then explains to his
visitor (the writer's grandson) that his relative conceived time
as a "garden of forking paths", where things happen in parallel
in infinitely branching ways. One of the first Sci-Fi examples
is Murray Leinster's Sidewise in Time, in which portions of
alternative universes replace corresponding geographical regions
in this universe.
While technically incorrect, and looked down upon by hard
science-fiction fans and authors, the idea of another
“dimension” has become synonymous with the term “parallel
universe”. The usage is particularly common in movies,
television and comic books and much less so in modern prose
science fiction. The idea of a parallel world was first
introduced in comic books with the publication of Flash #123 -
"Flash of Two Worlds".
In written science fiction, “new dimensions” more commonly — and
more accurately — refer to additional coordinate axes, beyond
the three spatial axes with which we are familiar. By proposing
travel along these extra axes, which are not normally
perceptible, the traveler can reach worlds that are otherwise
unreachable and invisible.
TIME TRAVEL & ALTERNATE UNIVERSES
Parallel universes may be the backdrop to or the consequence of
time travel, their most common use in fiction if the concept is
central to the story. A seminal example of both is in Fritz
Leiber's novel The Big Time where there's a war across time
between two alternative futures manipulating history to create a
timeline that results in or realizes their own world.
The concept of "sidewise" time travel, a term taken from Murray
Leinster's "Sidewise in Time", is often used to allow characters
to pass through many different alternative histories, all
descendant from some common branch point. Often worlds that are
similar to each other are considered closer to each other in
terms of this sidewise travel. For example, a universe where
World War II ended differently would be "closer" to us than one
where Imperial China colonized the New World in the 15th
COUNTER / CONVERGENT EARTH
The concept of Counter-Earth is typically similar to that of
parallel universes but is actually a distinct idea. A
counter-earth is a planet that shares Earth's orbit but is on
the opposite side of the Sun and therefore cannot be seen from
Earth. There would be no necessity that such a planet would be
like Earth in any way though typically in fiction, it is usually
nearly identical to Earth. Since counter-earth is always within
our own universe (and our own solar system), travel to it can be
accomplished with ordinary space travel.
Convergent evolution is a biological concept whereby unrelated
species acquire similar traits because they adapted to a similar
environment and/or played similar roles in their ecosystems. In
fiction, the concept is extended whereby similar planets will
result in races with similar cultures and/or histories.
Technically this is not a type of parallel universe since such
planets can be reached via ordinary space travel, but the
stories are similar in some respects.