Creating the world where your fantasy novel is set, is one of the most important parts of writing a successfull fantasy story. And this world must be pretty detailed before you move on to creating characters and plotting your novel. Why you ask? Because just as Earth has rules that cannot be violated (for example the law of gravity), your fictional world needs to have laws, too. It will also need to have it’s own geography, weather, animals and/or fantasy creatures, or even different races of people. If you begin writing your novel without considering any of these, you will find yourself in a situation where you need to rewrite in order to avoid contradictions once your world if fully created.
Whatever you do, you always need to remember that you are the ultimate creator of your fictional world. No matter where or when your story is set, regardless of the events and conflicts in your story, and despite the characters you introduce to your readers, everything is a product of your own unique imagination. And your imagination can create anything you want. There is endless possibility in writing fantasy and that’s what I love the most about it. Unlike other genres, there are few limitations of where your imagination can go, which gives you the pefrect opportunity to test the limits of your creativity. In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of writing fantasy is research. You need to learn your material before you start writing. Creating settings for a science fiction or fantasy world is an exhilarating task but it can also be a daunting one and you’re going to need all the help you can get.
Start first by determining where your story takes place. Is it an Earth based society? Is it one set in a futuristic world or one set in the past, like the medieval times? Which brings me to the when. Apart from the location it is also very important to determine the time in which your novel takes place. The time in which your world exists will also determine many aspects of its society, like the level of technology available for example. Are you using a prehistoric, medieval, present-day or futuristic time frame? Like I said, the possibilities are endless.
Moving on to inhabitants, another vital component of world building. Who’s going to live in your world? Will they be human or not? What kind of animals exist? Are they earth-based, mythological or something entirely new? Are there non-human creatures mingling with the local populations? What kind of different species exist? Keep in mind that you easily combine any of the above. In Chritopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle series, you can find common animals like horses next to mythological creatures like dragons, which creates a rather magnificent effect. Mix and match and try to figure out what best suits your world and story.
Once you determine your inhabitants, you need to consider their society. What kind of goverment rules your world? Is it a political or hierarchical system? Maybe there’s monarchy but maybe there’s democracy. Does education or religion play an important part in this society? Are there superstitious or religious beliefs? Is your world a rich one or is there poverty? Are there different classes in which the people are divided?
The questions are endless. You don’t need to have the answer to all of them right away, but you do need to establish the most important aspects of your world before you start doing the actual writing. Here are a few more things that are essential to world building:
- Ecology: What’s the weather like in your world? Are the seasons consistent? Is it usually warm or cold? Is the weather a factor in your story? Does it play an important part in the events unfolding?
- Topography: Are there a lot of mountains or a lot of valleys? What about forests, rivers and lakes? Is your land surrounded by sea? Does the scenery change with the seasons? It is important to remember that topography is also going to determine many of the professions in your society. For example, a world with a lot of valleys would be inhabited by a population the majority of which would be farmers. A world with a lot of rivers would have its focus on fishing e.t.c. (If your world is set in the future, you might need to determine what kind of professions exist and whether there are new ones created with the technological bloom.)
- Transportation: How do your characters travel? Is there a usual mode of transport? Do your characters have to travel on animals like horses or are there faster means of transportation (trains, cars, planes e.t.c.) like in our world?
If you’re creating a fantasy world, chances are you’re going to want to put magic magic in it. But before you start writing about it, you need to determine the rules for its use. You need to decide its limits, its costs, the required actions to use it (spells, rituals, incantations) and its possible uses. And above all you need to make it believable.
Creating a magic system for your world can be a really fun process but, as always, there are things to consider. First of all, you need to decide who or what, will possess or use magic. Is it limited to a select few (like in Harry Potter) or is it a commonplace trait and considered completely normal? Keep in mind that fantasy writers usually limit the magic available to the characters to create more conflict. If everyone can posssess unlimited power and do anything, what’s the point in creating conflict in the first place? Then, you need to consider its saurce. Where does the magic in your world come from? Is it a universal power, God/deity given or does it come from nature? And also, what’s the amount of power someone can possess? Like I said, it’s probably a good idea to limit this. And lastly, you’ll need to determine whether magic is openly accepted or feared and outlawed. In which case you could create more conflict if your main character can wield magic in a world where it’s unacceptable or the other way around.
Before you get your fictional world to come alive in your readers minds you need to first get it to come alive in your own. It has to be plausible and it has to be grounded. The best way to do that is to draw a map. If you read a lot of epic fantasy like I do, chances are you’ve looked at the maps that come with many of these books. They are a wonderful addition to the writing and a valuable part of the reading experience. Maps are something the readers refer to, but they can also be very helpful to the writers. Chances are your characters will have to travel around the world you’ve created and maps can help you a lot with that. Where are the rivers? How far apart are the cities and towns? What does the landscape look like? Are there mountains or forests? How long would it take to get from one place to another? A good map can help you answer all these questions and is an undoubted bonus to your story. Worlds like Middle Earth and Westeros have come alive because their creators made sure they could be clearly envisioned by their readers. You don’t even need to have much skill with drawing. Anything you create can be useful. And who knows? Your map might be good enough to actually be included in the final print version of your novel, too!
Below I’ve included some maps that are wonderful presentations of some equally wonderful worlds:
And like Will Kolif said in an article about writing fantasy I’ve read: “Epic fantasy and fantasy writing is by its very nature, a creative art form. But too often we as writers in the genre, tend to focus too much on either the physical action or the social interaction in the story. You must never forget that your story takes place in a world you created. And this world is the ground to which is tethered. It must be solid as stone and be clearly envisioned by you. And it must be clearly and vividly expressed to your reader. Building a physical presentation of your created world bring it to a whole new level and helps you convey its sense of reality to your reader.”
Hope I helped and good luck with your novel! And also, let me know if you want me to do more blog posts like this! 🙂