How to Create a Fiction Fantasy World
When writing fantasy, it is impossible to skim over the world-building process. Everything that happens in your book, all the characters of your story, reside in your world. Imagine if JRR Tolkien had rushed through the creation of his fantasy world. As loveable as Bilbo is, and as horrifying as the Trolls are, The Hobbit just wouldn’t be the same. The goal of any good fantasy novel-and albeit the reason most read fantasy-is to be taken from the world they are in and be transported to a new one. If your world can’t be distinguished from a plot of country acreage in Montana, than your book isn’t likely to be a success.
The process of world-building is, in my opinion, one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing fantasy; others do not view it so kindly. Whatever your preference, the process of creation need not be tedious or time consuming. Below I’ll detail the process I have developed for creating a fantasy world in the most time efficient and thorough way possible.
The first thing to remember is that in fantasy, you are free to do whatever you want. Anything goes. You are not confined to the ideals of time and location that other genre’s. The main reason fantasy is read is to escape this world and enter another, entirely different world. If you would like your world two have two or three moons instead of one, then give your world three moons. It is that simple. Grass may not exist in your world. Perhaps the ground is covered by a straw like substance that is hollow and brittle, or the ground is barren and tree roots grow matted just above the surface. Just remember that you can’t have an animal that grazes on grass in a world without any.
One of the most famous locations for a fantasy novel is a pseudo-medieval setting. When the word medieval appears in conjunction with fantasy, most people assume the story contains evil dragons and noble knights in silver armor. This is not the case (unless you wish it to be). When a novel is set in a pseudo-medieval setting, it essentially means that it is devoid of all technology. There are no machines, no electricity, and no modern day luxuries.
With this stated, the pseudo-medieval world does not have to contain horse riding knights and damsels in distress. I personally do not enjoy reading these types of novels because of the clichÃ?Â©s they are forced to house. No, I encourage writers to be creative. Do your civilians ride horses? Or do they ride a creature you have invented? While there is nothing wrong with horses, there is also nothing wrong with creating a new creature for your hero to ride upon. However, realize that if the creature you have created greatly resembles a horse, then simply call it horse. Giving a foreign name to a familiar animal will only succeed in making the reader feel cheated.
If you want to place your fantasy novel in the true medieval setting of a ancient Norse or Celtic or Scottish setting, than be sure to do your research on that location AND time period, because a great deal of the people who read your books will know a great deal from this time period and feel passionately about it. Incorrect information will turn readers away from your work. Here are some links you may find useful: www.castlewales.com/life.html ; www.medieval-life.net ; http://www.kyrene.k12.az.us/schools/brisas/sunda/ma/mahome.htm ;
Another option for a fantasy world is an alternate history. Alternate history is fantasy that takes place in our modern day world, but minus (or plus) and event that changed the outcome of what is the modern world. For example, in your alternate history fantasy novel, the world may have been hit by several atomic bombs centuries before the time that your novel takes place, and the outcome of the world is based upon that; perhaps most of the world perished, and the off springs of those who survived have an immunity to radiation; or perhaps the radiation changed the genetics of the humans and the off springs have magical powers or something to that effect. Be careful if your intention is to remove a major event that happened in history, because removing that even can be a slap to the face for some people, and may turn many people from writing. If you are going to remove the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, or 9/11, tread cautiously and remain conscious of the way your story will be viewed.
After you have decided the setting of your world, its time to look at the smaller (but no less important) details of that world. A major factor in a fantasy world is magic. Does your world contain magic? Or is it completely devoid of magic? If your world does contain magic, what kind is it, and how is it used? Does everyone use magic, or do only a few rare and special people possess these capabilities? It is very important to for you to learn every aspect of your magic system, to develop rules of its use, etc. If your magic is used to get your hero out of sticky situations, there seems to be no rhythm or reason to your magic, and there is no limitations on the kind, then your reader will not only be confused but likely angry that you did not give your magic system more than a passing glance.
First, define how commonplace your magic is; does everyone in your novel possess magic, or only a select few? If only a select few posses magic, what is unique about them that they have it? Is it genetic? Is it a gift from God?
If everyone in your world has access to magic, is all the magic the same? Are some people more powerful than others? Do certain races possess certain powers, something to the affect of Gifts by Ursula K Le Guin? How are these magical powers ruled over? Are there authorative limitations on the use of magic? Can magic only be used for certain tasks, or only during certain days/times?
Another very important aspect of your magic system is how it is used. Is the magic in your story used simply by will, much the same as a person would scream or smack someone? Or do you have to speak certain words, or have certain knowledge to use magic? Can the magic be learned, or is a person inherently born with everything they will need to know?
These are very important questions to answer. By simply forming a complete, thorough magic system, your novel will become more focused and enjoyable to read. Your hard work will be noticed, and your readers will appreciate you for it.
The ecology of your world is very important. As I said before, you don’t want a grass grazing animal in a world without grass. The same is true for the food chain; you don’t want to put a rabbit in a world where rabbits have no natural predators. Be careful when creating large specie creatures that do nothing more than eat; you must be sure that there is enough food to feed these creatures. Luckily, if you do not liberally sprinkle a huge amount of massive meat eaters throughout your story, this will not be too difficult. For example, if you have tons of little dragons in your book, then you can just happen to create another race of creatures in your story which are quite populous and that the dragons find quite tasty. Pretend these creatures are called borks. Everyone finds borks annoying because they make a lot of noise and smell. Bork’s feast upon plants, insects, and small rodents once a week, and then mindlessly amble about making a lot of noise and producing peculiar stenches. Dragons love to eat borks; borks breed fast and never seem to die out. Problem solved. The borks don’t eat a lot, there’s always a supply of them, the dragons love to eat them, and the villagers love to let the dragons have them. A nice ecology system where everyone (except possibly the borks) are happy.
Your ecology systems will also be dependant upon the seasons. If you world have a very cold winter, and the borks are burrow deep under ground and hibernate through it, then what happens with the dragons? To they migrate south for the winter?
Structures are an important aspect of your societal world. What do you civilians live in? Does everyone own an elaborate tent? Are the houses communal or individual? Are there different structures for different social classes? The types of structures your characters reside in depend greatly upon their location/monetary allowance. Needless to say, if you live in a desert, you will not live in an igloo. Make sure that the location of your people can account for the types of structures they live in. If your village is in the middle of a desert without a mountain anywhere nearby, they can’t all live in rock houses. Where’d the rock come from?
Lastly, and entirely optional, are maps. Do you wish to draw a map for your world? Many, many fantasy books are accompanied by maps, usually because of the sheer size of your land and number of locations you create. Maps can be very useful to the reader. Creating maps aren’t as difficult as some may assume, and not as simple as most think. When drawing a map, you must keep in mind location and distance. If in your book it takes character X three days to get from A to B, yet the map shows A and B as ten thousand miles apart, then you’ve just succeeded in losing credibly and confusing your reader. Here are some links for info on map making: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/6902/ (scroll down past the updates, there’s an impressive list of links.); http://www.oneofus.co.uk/features/creating_fantasy_worlds.htm (very nice links/info)
While we have reached the extent of this article, there are still many more aspects of world building, including: monetary issues, populations, authority figures, economy, etc. After you have figured out the basics set forth in this article, begin to narrow down the more specific details of your world and do plenty of research, being careful to get timelines, histories, and events correct. This process may seem cumbersome, but you and your book will benefit greatly from it.