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 is a screenshot from Ponyo (Japan, 2008). Whimsical and mysterious, this "fusion" of cosmos and the waterworld channels the legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. His naively-optimistic and unashamedly beautiful ‘worlds’ are explored in the interactive edition of Fictional Worlds.

story-telling and Fictional World-building:

ideas and publications on Narrative media, film, VIdeogames, and Screenwriting

This website features the books and articles on storytelling media, focusing on the COMPARATIVE AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES. For more on the author, Lily Alexander, please see page BIO. This page, ABOUT, introduced the key ideas of the ongoing studies.

Recent discussions on fictional world-building (FWB)

The ongoing research on FWB is an evolving, branching and collaborative project. A follow-up to the four volumes of the Fictional Worlds set (2013) and its transmedia interactive edition, the four new essays by Lily Alexander on fictional world-building are recently released by Routledge:

  • "Fictional World-Building as Ritual, Drama and Medium"

  • "The Hero's Journey"

  • "Mythology"

  • "Genre"

The four essays are best considered in the above order. They explore the (interactive) storytelling media through the symbolic codes of world mythologies and narrative genres. More FWB-related subjects and case studies are available in the Fictional Worlds volumes.

Please find below (highlighted) the full texts of two new essays published by Routledge:

 "Fictional World-Building as Ritual, Drama, and Medium" (Revisiting Imaginary Worlds, 2017), “Mythology” and "Genres" (The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds, 2018).

The essays are posted with the Publisher's permission for a limited time (if you wish to read them, click on the titles to open). The posted papers represent the Publisher's effort in promoting the new interdisciplinary Routledge volumes on imaginary worlds.


See more topics and authors in the anthology on FWB theory and a collaborative companion volume: Revisiting Imaginary Worlds (2017) and the award-winning The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds (2018). Ed. Mark J.P.  Wolf, Routledge. (The 2018 book award in the category of '“the best scholarly books”  from The Mythopoeic Society).

To bring this project to fruition, about 70 scholars with diverse opinions and from different countries have been working in sync for several years. The coauthors are raising awareness of this collaborative study and ongoing dialogue on their professional networks. The Publisher allows downloading any essay in a pdf format via the Kindle editions of these Routledge volumes, including through a (university) library.

FWB is an activity of creating imaginary worlds, which encompasses mythology, folklore, (classical and emerging) literature, film, television, videogames, and other forms of interactive storytelling, particularly, in the virtual reality environments. The posted here introductory essay, "Fictional World-Building as Ritual, Drama, and Medium," is part of an ongoing dialogue with the FWB community, particularly, Henry Jenkins, Mary-Laurie Ryan, Mark Wolf, et al, on the emerging theory of fictional world-building. This paper specifically addresses the key points of current debates.

Is FWB a radically new phenomenon? Or does it follow powerful cultural algorithms as an integral part of the human condition? If it is both old and new, what is a qualitative change in the FWB of our era? Should FWB be discussed in the contexts of narratology, media studies, anthropology, social studies, virtual reality, or all of the above? Can Worlds exist without Stories, and what is primal? Can we consider FWB a component of an emerging forms of higher consciousness? The essays "Mythology," "The Hero's Journey" and "Genres" further explore the effective ways the symbolic narratives could be experimented with in fictional world-building.

Please note that the new "The Hero's Journey" essay - full text - is also available online, as per the Publisher's agreement with the Amazon platform (Kindle location 678-985). It can be downloaded as part of the free sample with the essays of two other authors on the amazon page promoting The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds.

The essay "The Hero's Journey" is a tribute to Joseph Campbell, also examining the poorly studied yet essential approaches, which add important angles to the paradigm articulated by Campbell. Particularly highlighted are the methods and ideas from anthropology, which preceded those of Campbell and developed outside of narratology, as well as the recent conceptions in narrative/media studies, which shaped up after Campbell had published his revised edition in the 1960s.


Consider the Fictional Worlds books for the multifaceted discussion of the Hero's Journey formula, including diverse protagonists and trajectories:

  • the journeys of underrepresented demographic groups (women and minorities)

  • the Second Journey, that of the mature man, the Symbolic Father (who gained new wisdom; or fails to do so, remaining unsure of his "Fatherhood" in various metaphorical ways, as for example, per Max Frisch's Home Faber, brilliantly portrayed by Sam Shepard in the 1991 screen version Voyager)

  • the journeys of those who would become "sages" -- the wise grand-fathers and grand-mothers, on their crucial quests, as in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea or the film Since Otar Left (France, 2003)

  • the multifaceted tales of "twin journeys" -- the parallel adventures in the opposite directions of two alternative or controversial heroes (see case studies of The Green Mile, The Departed)

  • the journeys custom-tailored by the modernist or postmodernist aesthetics, or designed for diverse genres, from Sci-Fi to the thriller and film noir

  • as well as the spectrum of the "journeys failed" because of the politics of the era, ideological positions of the authors, or the morally unfit, inadequate protagonist; who sometimes may refuse to Return from the Wonderworld, or does it consciously, in protest.

Take part in this discussion! Feel free to send comments and questions to the author via: contact (at) or use the contact form on this site.


Fictional Worlds: brief introduction

Fictional Worlds (L.A. Alexander, 2013) explores the best practices of fictional world-building and the rules defining the theory and experiences of designing storyworlds. Intended to be accessible and useful to all inquiring minds, FW is a motivational and practical resource for creative artists and educators.

Since its publication, Fictional Worlds has been effectively used as a textbook for graduate and undergraduate students in many courses at New York University, City University of New York, and other schools. Beyond the English-speaking universities, academic colleagues have reported employing Fictional Worlds in the classrooms in Italy, China, Israel, Netherlands, and South Korea.


From Reviews of Fictional Worlds

Print edition (2013 ) and digital editions (2014)

"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


"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


"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


"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


"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


"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


  Forthcoming book reviews of Fictional Worlds in academic journals will be posted under "Reviews." 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.

* * *

Each of the three formats has its advantages

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

An old-fashion print volume (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; however these analyses are elaborated upon in four digital 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, in Barnes and Noble, campus bookstores and other retailers.

A digital version (2014) as a set of 4 e-books on Kindle, is available on 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, is only the FIRST book of the four-book set. The Kindle set also includes Fictional Worlds, volumes II, III and IV.


A new expanded, illustrated, and interactive edition of Volume One is available on the iBookstore, part of the iTune Store (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 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). 

* * *

What you may find noteworthy or practical, Or What Fictional Worlds can 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. The Fictional Worlds set aspires to 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 the exploration 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 core story types work to support our social organization, and implicitly testing our "best communication options."

Case studies and brief analyses of cultural discourse in four books, particularly in the Conclusion, narrow down the discussion to a set of twenty persistently recurrent story formulas, which keep reminding us how to survive and strive together. Unsurprisingly, these timeless formulas continue to generate new and newer stories, movies and videogames.

The Fictional Worlds set has grown out of the author's doctoral and postdoctoral research,  public lectures, and the 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 designed manifold levels of complexity allow to use Fictional Worlds for a spectrum of learners, from the 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 topics and the instructor's interests, including 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.


Key ideas In Sum


*   storytelling is 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

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

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

*    effective dramatic writing for the screen (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 drama, screenplay and even a videogame

       - story loops, twists and reversals

       - effective formulas 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, creative techniques, and thefuture of storytelling, read Books Three and Four.

Fictional Worlds offers information on global cultural traditions; its numerous examples and case studies explore the works by great masters of storytelling.

The book is designed to enhance the authors' abilities to tell stories with passion, humor, astonishment, and enlightening lessons. Beyond useful tip and techniques, Fictional Worlds shares infectious enthusiasm for storytelling and offers new methods for creative writing.  It is hoped that Fictional Worlds becomes a 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.  

Meant for all readers who love storytelling and are intrigued by its place in culture, FW is also written with a hope to engage scholars in a productive dialogue. Fictional Worlds has been classroom-tested over the course of fifteen years. While gradually introduced to the no-nonsense, fiercely independent minds in my undergraduate and graduate classes, the book content has been growing with the support of my students. The FW project has been immensely enriched by their boundless curiosity and endless questions.


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 features interviews. In April 2014 Henry Jenkins was running a six-part interview series and a discussion of Fictional Worlds on his website (hosted by the University of Southern California). Feel free to send your comments and questions regarding these online dialogues between Lily Alexander and Henry Jenkins.

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

BIO page is "about the author."

FOR WRITERS focus on Lily Alexander's interaction with the creative writing community and offers numerous tips and techniques.

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.

NEWS See more on new formats, book projects, and recent information, publication and talks.

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