by Lisa Bullard
I like to play a certain game when I’m traveling. I pretend that the place I’m visiting is my home, and I imagine how my life would have been altered if I had in fact taken root in that other environment.
How would things be different for me if my world swirled amidst New York City’s self-fulfilling energy? If my abode was perched atop a fog-shrouded island in the Paciﬁc Northwest? If I was planted on the lip of a tall-grass prairie, with the world dropping off into nothingness on the other edge of the great grass sea? If I dreamed my dreams in a twig-built hut?
Part of a writer’s task is to create alternative homelands, to build distinctive worlds for each of our characters to inhabit. Once we have our world crafted, we invite readers to make themselves at home there too. We hope that they will want to hunker down into this habitat that we have fashioned and make it a part of themselves; to allow it to take up residence in their hearts and imaginations.
One of the easiest ways to teach young writers about envisioning an environment is to talk with them about the worlds they have wandered through in their fantasy reading. Good fantasy writers are masters at the art of world-building, and students can learn a lot by meandering through the keyboarded landscapes of these writers who have built worlds before them.
Once you have had a chance to help students recognize the importance of “place” in the stories that they have loved reading, start them writing with the Fantasy Land activity found here. It will help your young writers begin to visualize a “home away from home”—a place where they might house their next story.