Fictional Worlds

Create Your Own World!

“Create Your Own World!” is a motto of visionary artists. We all enjoy escaping into, and journeying within, fictional realms. Some aspire to create their own unique artistic worlds. 

Intended for all readers who love literature and film, and especially for writers, educators, narratologists, media scholars and practitioners, screenwriters, filmmakers, and videogame designers, the new set of books about narrative world-building points at new ways of navigating, exploring, and creating entrancing fictional universes.

Available in print and as a four-part Kindle set, Fictional Worlds was also released on iTunes as an interactive, illustrated and expanded transmedia edition. The Fictional Worlds books are part of a new series Storytelling on Screen. 

Enter and browse Fictional Worlds  the book set and its website! We invite all visitors to leave comments and ask questions. Let discussions begin!

Credits. The background image on this website is a screenshot from Ponyo (Japan, 2008). Whimsical and mysterious, this  "fusion" of the waterworld and cosmos depicts one of the naively optimistic and unashamedly beautiful fictional worlds created by the legendary Japanese master of animation Hayao Miyazaki. His work is discussed in several chapters of Fictional Worlds.

Fictional Worlds

a book set

COMPARATIVE AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES on the studies of social Narrative, media, cinema, and Screenwriting

New! As a follow-up to the four volumes of Fictional Worlds, a new study is available. See a full text of "Fictional World-Building as Ritual, Drama, and Medium" (Routledge, 2017), posted here for a limited time, with the Publisher's permission. This long article is part of an ongoing dialogue with Henry Jenkins, Mary-Laurie Ryan, Mark Wolf and other scholars on the emerging theory of fictional world-building. It specifically addresses the key debate points: Is FWB a new phenomenon or part of the human condition? Should it be discussed in the contexts of narratology, media studies, anthropology, or all of the above? Can Worlds exist without Stories, and what is primal? Can we consider FWB a component of an emerging form of higher consciousness?

This work is part of Lily Alexander's four-article series on fictional world-building, published and forthcoming in 2017 in the two volumes: Revisiting Imaginary Worlds, and The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds, ed. Mark Wolf, Routledge, 2017. The three forthcoming articles explore the ways mythology, genre, and the forms of symbolic journey (the Hero's Journey) can be effectively employed in fictional world-building, including literature, film, television, and video games. Please send comments and questions to the author via: contact (at) storytellingonscreen.com

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From Reviews of Fictional Worlds

(published in 2013 and 2014 as the print and digital editions):

"Novel... enlightening... The degree of research is staggering, yet the information as written is so accessible... reads like a fascinating novel. This is a must own for students of film, teachers of film, and all students (and recipients) of culture studies. Highly recommended."

Grady Harp, Film Producer, Literary Aficionado

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"It is beautiful and most ambitious work. FICTIONAL WORLDS is especially suitable for screenwriting students. The ideas on genre are very good as well.  A formidable achievement."

                                                                            Professor Stephen Mamber, Chair, Cinema and Media Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

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"The scope of this book is enormous. It has a lot to say about theoretical issues concerning fiction and various fictional genres… especially films. Observations about video games make clear that they are hugely interesting philosophically."


                                                    Kendall L. Walton, Collegiate Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, University of Michigan; author of Marvelous Images: On Values and the Arts, and In Other Shoes: Music, Metaphor, Empathy, Existence

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"Groundbreaking...  Compelling... A page turner.  Wonderfully accessible!  One of the most impressive recent books, [it] imaginatively takes on anthropology, cultural history from ancient Greece to the present and storytelling theory from a global perspective... Alexander also succeeds in providing helpful practical suggestions for developing and improving your own visual narratives."

Andrew Horton, Professor, University of Oklahoma, author of The Last Modernist and Screenwriting for the Global Market 

Film & History, Issue 46.1, Summer 2016

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"Richly detailed, generous-spirited and inspiring book... filled with many intriguing ideas...  Profoundly useful... Alexander draws on a broad range of theorists—including Aristotle, V. Propp, Yuri Lotman, Claude Levi-Strauss, Victor Turner, Joseph Campbell, Walter Benjamin, and Mikhail Bakhtin—and theoretical approaches—semiotics, narrative and genre theory, anthropology, cultural and screen studies—to present a dynamic evolutionary approach to narrative from ancient rituals and myths to our present digital culture... She argues that across historical eras and cultures, narratives provide essential frameworks through which to think about our social realities and to construct symbolic versions of community as “modes of survival”. In a global digital age, storytelling offers a “new transcultural algebra” through which alternative conceptions of community may be elaborated and evaluated... In developing this striking thesis, Alexander draws on an astonishing range of authors (including Homer, Euripides, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Joyce), directors (from Eisenstein, Vertov, Kurosawa, and Hitchcock to Lumet, Scorcese, Tarkovsky, Sokurov, and the Coen Brothers), individual films from world cinema and American television series."

Ellen Berry, author of Transcultural Experiments; Founder and Co-Editor of the journal Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge 

The Russian Review, Issue 75, April 2016

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"Alexander’s exploration sheds decisive light on the foundations, characteristics, and possibilities of fictional worlds... Aiming to underline the link between storytelling content and ritual structure and to show how the building of community constitutes the meta-theme of storytelling in general and film narrative in particular, L. A. Alexander explores the notion of symbolic community and provides a detailed account of narrative (film) genres in terms of three parameters – their origin in a basic ritual, the cultural need they address, and the cultural function they fulfill – as well as sets of rules for the successful creation of fictional worlds... Particularly interesting passages cover such topics as the “Munchausen Effect,” whereby protagonists pull themselves by their own bootstraps and overcome obstacles without any outside help (pp. 320–322); the “Reverse Pathos” technique, whereby protagonists go through one ordeal after another, thus arousing our compassion (pp. 326–327); the “Second Hero’s Journey,” which involves the midlife adventures of mature protagonists, their renewed search for knowledge, their reinitiation (pp. 125–127); or the murder mystery as “a tragedy in reverse” (p. 259), since the investigation starts after the tragedy has occurred."

Gerald Prince, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, author of Narratology and A Dictionary of Narratology  

Book Review "Exploring Stories," Semiotica: Journal of International Association of Semiotic Studies, Issue 210, May 2016

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In addition to publications in Film & History, Semiotica, and The Russian Review,  forthcoming book reviews of Fictional Worlds in academic journals will be posted under "Reviews." 

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See more comments and reviews from scholars and readers.

Please link to the print, or Kindle editions (amazon).

Link to the illustrated-interactive edition (iTunes).

Scroll down to learn more about different versions and formats.

Explore Fictional Worlds in your classroom as a visual lecture series.

Find creative ideas that will empower your next story, book or screenplay.

Learn how to use FW as a primary textbook or one of your educational materials.

View or download a brochure or a flyer with TOC and details.

Read the author's interviews and scholarly discussions.

Download a free sample on the iTunes store.

A print edition is available on amazon US, Canada and Europe.

Digital editions are available on all amazon and Apple online stores worldwide.

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Fictional Worlds explores the best practices of fictional world-building and the rules/theories defining the storyworlds. Designed to be accessible and useful to all inquiring minds, FW is a motivational and practical resource for creative artists and educators.

Since its publication in 2013 Fictional Worlds has been effectively used as a textbook for graduate and undergraduate students in eight courses at New York University and the City University of New York. We are getting information that academic colleagues begin to use Fictional Worlds in their classrooms in China, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, and South Korea.

Current formats: (1) one print volume, (2) a four-part Kindle set, and (3) a four-part interactive illustrated iBook set, forthcoming. Book One is already available on iTunes.

What can Fictional Worlds do for you?

This work is hoped to significantly enhance storytellers' expertise and skills, as well as empower instructors in the humanities/cultural studies and their students. Fictional Worlds aspires to also be fruitful for scholars, encouraging discussions on such fundamental categories as narrative, genre, ritual, myth, and the biocultural foundations of the storytelling media.

For any reader it offers an array of brilliant stories  astonishing, enlightening and persuasive in their humanity – from around the world and from many eras. Fictional Worlds proposes an anthropological theory of genre and narrative, demonstrating how genres and key story types work to support our social organization, and implicitely testing our "best options." The case studies and the analysis of cultural discourse in four parts/books, particularly in the Conclusion, narrow down the discussion to a set of twenty persistently recurrent – evidently timeless! –  story formulas, which keep reminding us how to survive and strive together. Not surprisingly, these formulas are also very successful, and continue to generate new and newer stories, movies and games.

The Fictional Worlds set has grown out of the author's doctoral and postdoctoral research, an array of public lectures, and the enriching fifteen-year experience as an educator, including teaching screenwriting to filmmakers and writers. The texts of all four parts have been tried and tested on the savvy, no-nonsense audience of advanced undergraduate and graduate students in the arts and humanities programs. The discussion is designed to contain manifold levels of complexity. Depending on academic needs and levels, these texts can be useful for a spectrum of learners, from the second year undergrads to doctoral students. 

The new illustrated and interactive edition makes even complex issues easier for instructors to explain, and for the learners to grasp. See the page FOR EDUCATORS for more information.

As a textbook, the Fictional Worlds set could be used one book per course or four books in any combinations, depending on the course foci and the instructor's interests. It is intended for the types of courses that explore literature and film, world cinema, narrative and genre, creative writing, media and society, and general humanities. The author welcomes feedback from all readers and the educators who have employed, or plan to use, Fictional Worlds in their work.

More on FORMATS

With a hope to give a spectrum of choices to all readers, as well as instructors and students, Fictional Worlds is currently available in the three formats: print, digital, and transmedia interactive/illustrated; each of the formats has its advantages.

An old-fashion print volume, and the 1st edition (October 2013), contains all four books under one cover. It has a comprehensive Index, which includes such items as narrative motifs (i.e. survival, betrayal), so a reader can trace how a selected theme has been approached in mythology and folklore, and by influential authors in world literature and cinema. (This can be also achieved by the "search" function in the digital editions). The One-Volume edition makes it easier to trace the transformations of key motifs through cultures and eras, elaborated upon in four related parts. A print edition is also a reference book, to keep on one's shelf for possible future projects in creative writing or cultural critique. The readers are encouraged to highlight, write on the margins, and employ the book as an intellectual tool, as intended.

A print version of Fictional Worlds, enveloping all fours books/parts under one cover, is available on amazon.com, in Barnes and Noble, campus bookstores and other retailers.

A digital version (May 2014) as a set of 4 e-books on Kindle, is available on amazon.com. NB! The content of the FOUR ebooks is equivalent to ONE tome of the print edition. The advantage of this edition is that the book set can be read on the go, on any device, including phones, and the Kindle for mac. The Kindle, titled Fictional Worlds I: The Symbolic Journey & The Genre System, linked to the print edition by amazon.com, is only the FIRST book of the four-book set. The Kindle set also includes Fictional Worlds, volumes II, III and IV.

A NEW INTERACTIVE and ILLUSTRATED VERSION on itunes

A new expanded, illustrated, and interactive edition of Volume One is available on the iBookstore, part of the iTune Store (November 2014). Titled Fictional Worlds I: The Symbolic Journey & The Genre System, it has 282 pages and 100+ visual-interactive features. This multi-touch edition can be viewed on iPads or Mac/Apple computers. It is designed to add new dimensions to the discussion, and provide effective educational experience through an entertaining, engaging and interactive dialogue.

The pages of this volume can be projected onscreen in class, and will support an instructor's lectures of one semester (perhaps using 2-3 sections per week). Fictional Worlds, Vol. One has enough materials to serve as an educator's comprehensive and reliable "support system," to sustain a lecture series, and to stimulate student discussions. Visual sources function as the (unexpected) "windows" and "doors" into the multitude of storyworlds, created by remarkable artists from many cultures. These detours serve to underline the complexity and diversity of the humankind's beloved fictional worlds, to examine them, and to deepen the understanding of the "storyworlds" laws."

Pull quotes "zoom in" on key ideas (also a source of test questions); the core concepts are highlighted and new terms can be immediately explained by accessing Glossary. The volume offers a spectrum of stories, and films for further screenings, and examinations – in class or in individual student research papers. The carefully comprised Bibliography offers a rich array of sources. Fictional Worlds, Volume One on iTunes has 25% of additional materials compare to previous editions, and will be followed soon by the expanded interactive versions of the other three volumes.  

The page VIDEOLINKS of storytellingonscreen.com website offers a catalogue of links to the clips from relevant media sources, which are available online, for immediate use and screenings in the classroom (new links will be added). 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

L.A. Alexander, Ph.D., a recipient of academic fellowships and awards, has been teaching screenwriting, film, literature, folklore, media, and communication for fifteen years; including for the last ten years at New York University and City University of New York. Degrees include film, drama and theater; Ph.D. in anthropology and comparative cultural studies, with an emphasis on narratology. 

The author’s diverse experiences envelop traveling and studying narrative cultures in many countries; learning directing, and writing for the media; as well as conducting research in the fields of symbolic anthropology and international media.  For more about the author, see BIO page in the MENU.

What you may find noteworthy or practical in Fictional Worlds

*   understanding of storytelling as a tool in the life of society as a self-organizing system

*   the conception of narrative as a symbolic construction of community – an approach conceived on the intersection of biosemiotics, anthropology, narrative theory and screen studies

*    anthropological theory of genres

*    the Hero's Journey formula, fine-tuned and updated with the help of recent anthropological research

*    ways of intelligent casting of beloved figures, or "how to" employ dragons, heroes, wizards, magic helpers, false claimants, forest spirits, as well as the Fools, Femme Fatale and Private Eyes in new stories, books and films

*    the idea of the Second Journey and its role in screen narratives, from action-adventure to film noir

*    the approach toward drama, and dramatic writing for the screen, defined by this form's cultural function; this part, or Vol. II also includes tips on:

       - the Grey Wolf Effect, and more on understanding/designing story villains

       - 7 types of story goals, and more on the protagonists who drive the dramatic action forward

       -  hamartia, or the tragic flaw, explained as a cultural concept and as a tool for the development of dramatic action

       - the Rule of the Three "Cs" in designing a powerful dramatic piece, a screenplay and even a videogame

       - story reversals, twists and loops

       - effective formula for Dramatic Resolution

These are some of the key points from the four-part set. And for more – specifically on tragedy, mystery, crime fiction, film noir, comedy, as well as on narrative poetics, powerful creative techniques, and the hypotheses on the future of storytelling, read Books Three and Four.

Fictional Worlds offers information on global cultural traditions, detailed explanations of effective narrative strategies and devices, numerous examples and case studies of the works by great storytelling masters.

The book is designed to enhance the authors' abilities to tell stories with passion, humor, astonishment, and enlightening lessons. Beyond providing numerous useful tip and techniques, Fictional Worlds shares infectious enthusiasm for storytelling and offers a new method of approaching creative writing.  It is hoped that Fictional Worlds becomes a kind of useful resource that a writer pulls from the shelf many times (or opens as a digital book), while working on the new and newer creative projects.  

Fictional Worlds is also for all readers who love storytelling and are intrigued by its place in culture, and perhaps even in human evolution. The book is written with a hope to engage scholars in a productive dialogue. 

As a text, a collection of chapters, sections and case studies represents a system of thinking about stories from the viewpoint of symbolic anthropology and related disciplines. Fictional Worlds has been classroom-tested over the course of fifteen years. While gradually introduced to the curious, no-nonsense and fiercely independent minds in my undergraduate and graduate classes, the content of book has been growing with the support of my students. It has been immensely enriched by their endless questions. 

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Interviews and Discussions

In April 2014 - Henry Jenkins, one of the world's leading media philosophers, was running a six-part interview series and a discussion of Fictional Worlds on his website henryjenkins.org

You may find all the questions Professor Jenkins asked, with the links to the interviews, on the page READERS ASK AUTHOR of this website. Feel free to contact this website with your comments and questions regarding the interviews, or any ideas explored in the dialogues with Henry Jenkins.

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Stay in Touch

Your feedback is important! If you wish to get connected with our team and the Storytelling on Screen series, please leave your message in the Contact Form on this site.  See more on new formats, book projects and recent information on the page NEWS of this site.

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Site Navigation

FOR WRITERS page of this site offers more useful tips and information for screenwriters, artists, filmmakers and videogame designers. 

FOR EDUCATORS page on this site introduces Fictional Worlds as an educational material. 

LOOK INSIDE THIS BOOK page of this site offers the detailed Table of Contents of the four books/parts with all chapters, sections and case studies. 

READERS ASK AUTHOR and AUTHOR ASKS READERS feature interviews and the ongoing comments from the readers, including the discussion of the book's methodology with Henry Jenkins (USC).

CHRONOS & TOPOS page provides access to a full text of the article on the time-space continua of fictional worlds, published in JNT (Journal of Narrative Theory). This article examines the films of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky.

BIO page is "about the author."

VIDEOLINKS is a page in progress, with the links to free resources on the web that provide video - clips or full movies - to the screen stories examined in Fictional Worlds. The links are intended to enhance readers' experience, and help instructors who choose to employ one or more volumes of Fictional Worlds as a textbook.

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