(For OZ, Baum created a land divided into four segments and separated it from our world with the impassable Deadly Desert. In PERELANDRA, Lewis set a battle between good and evil on a Edenic planet not far from ours. And in JONATHAN STRANGE, Clarke layered a fictional tradition of “English magic” onto a [mostly] historical 18th century England.)
This task—creating a fictional world with rules and people and a past—is called “worldbuilding.” A well-constructed fictional world includes, among other things, a distinctive landscape, a logical infrastructure, and consistent laws—natural, magical (where needed), and legislative.
Tarot writing prompt
Conjure up a city of any sort. Sketch (or bullet point) a megalopolis or an intentional community or, heck, make like Kubla Khan and create yourself a stately pleasure-dome.
Questions like these might help you think through the details:
- What is the best thing about your city? The worst?
- What do the folks of your fair city do to earn a wage?
- Do they live well? Or are they living on the edge?
- Are they divided into tribes? Factions? Castes?
- What type of government lays down the law?
- Has there ever been an insurrection? Should there be?
Got it? Good! Now, get up close and personal with one of your citizens. Establish a goal for him—one your city impedes. For instance: Are ramps obsolete? Put your character in a wheelchair and give him a life-or-death mission (on the other side of town, of course). Is artistic expression illegal? Provide him with an unstoppable creative gift. Is education taboo? Let his hunger for knowledge entice him into a fictional world’s worth of trouble.
Whatever the issue, use it to pit your character’s will against your city’s structure. And write until you discover what happens next.
This prompt was inspired by The Emperor, tarot’s archetypal worldbuilder, shown here as Caesar, from The Golden Tarot (with permission of U.S. Games Systems). Associated with structure and governance, the tarot Emperor is firmly in charge. A gone-wrong emperor is willful and vengeful. He sacrifices his people’s well-being to satisfy his ego. A healthy emperor may care for the well-being of those in his rule, but, at best, he provides for the good of the many while sacrificing the good of the few.