How to Create a Fantasy World – Tips on Worldbuilding
Fantasy is not a creation of the modern world. In fact the roots of fantasy go back thousands of years to an age of myths and legends, when wandering storytellers sat by a fire and recounted fantastic tales of wondrous worlds, populated by gods, heroes and monsters. Starting from the ancient epic of Gilgamesh and The Tales of King Arthur to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan; fantasy is the longest surviving genre in the world of stories.
One of the most important aspects of writing fantasy is the creation of your world. It could be a vast land with many kingdoms like in Lord of the Rings or a world that is hidden and exists within our very own, like the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Enid Blyton wrote about worlds at the top of the Faraway tree, magical lands that could only be reached by climbing a ladder into the clouds. And C.S. Lewis’ Narnia is a childhood classic.
In order to write a fantasy novel, it is important to first have a complete idea of what your world is going to be like. There are a few basic steps that can be used to build a believable and consistent world. Although your fantasy world is a creation of your mind, and can be anything that you desire it to be, there are certain rules that we must follow to make sure that the world makes sense. Otherwise when you start writing your book, inconsistencies in the details of your world can lead to greater problems later on.
First we look at the type and setting of your world. You have to decide what kind of world you want your characters to live in. Is it a pseudo-medieval sort of world, is it a dystopia, or an alternate history. It could also be a modern fantasy set in our world and in the present time.
The most popular fantasy setting is usually a pseudo-medieval world, where there is lack of technology. Riding horses, fighting with swords and encountering magic has an adventurous appea,l that readers enjoy.
Medieval settings should be properly researched. But it is not necessary for the society to be based on an European medieval society. It could be Norse, Celtic, Asian or even Indian; what matters is that it is well constructed and suspends belief.
Magic is one of the most important parts of constructing your world. Remember, magic always has consequences. There have to be restraints, or a price that has to be paid. Otherwise the magical system can quickly become unbelievable and your readers will lose interest.
Who Does Magic? You can start with which people or races in your world are capable of wielding magic. It could be a world where everyone has magic, or only a select few, like the wizards of Harry Potter. There are some magic systems that only have an elite few like Gandalf, Sauron and Saruman in Lord of the Rings
How Do They Do It? Then we can look at how that magic is wielded. The technique used if it were. How do you use magic in your world? Do your magic wielders need a wand or potions to perform magic like in Hogwarts or do they have certain innate powers like in Percy Jackson? It could be that magic is much more rare and unique without an actual understanding as to how it works, like Aslan’s magic in The Chronicles of Narnia or the wonderful magic of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree.
How Did They Become Magical? Another aspect of magic that we must look at is how do magic users study magic. Do they need to go to a special school or do they just pick it up on their own. It could be that they have a mentor or a master that they learn from or become an assistant to.
Magic with Obstructions: When you create your world, you can do anything with magic, but you have to be consistent. Your magical system should follow a set of rules. If your mage or fae is too powerful and can do anything with their magic there is no conflict within the story. But if your character has some sort of limitation to their magic, like Aurora does with the amulet, it helps to move the story forward.
Maps: One of the most important things you can do for your world is to draw a map. Even if you don’t use it in your book, it is always good to have one handy when you are plotting your story.
Plot the Canvas: First you can look at creating mountains and forests, plot the roads and mountain passes, lakes, rivers, deserts, towns, villages etc. You can also roughly plot old ruins, major castles and palaces, as well as create different kingdoms and countries.
Plan the Resources: Next you have to look at resources for the amount of people who live in your world. Your population, races and species will determine what kind of environment you create for them. If your world has a multitude of magical creatures or large predators for example, they will need a lot of forest to survive. Towns and villages must have some sort of water source and are usually built close to lakes or rivers.
Be Practical in the Magic Land too: Some of your lands need to be fertile for growing crops too. How do your villagers feed themselves? Are they farmers, hunters, nomads, or gatherers? How many people can the ecology of your world support? What kind of transport does your world have? Are there roads for transporting trade-able goods, do they use boats, or ships? Can they transport food to different parts of your world?
Society and Politics: The way people in your world live their daily lives is also very important to plan out when you are creating your fantasy world.
The Governing Body: What type of government system does your world have? Is it a democracy, do they have an absolute ruler, a dictator, or a council.
The Economy: What kind of money system is in place? Is there a currency, or different currencies? Do they have a barter system?
The Judiciary: What kind of law enforcement is there in your world? Are there soldiers who keep the peace, do they have magic?
Religious/ Spiritual Power: Is there a religious system in place? Who do the people worship? If they have a religion then are there priests and churches, or do they have temples and shrines? How important is religion in the government of your world? Do the priests or religious heads have absolute authority, or does the king or dictator wield all the power.
Trade: Trade is an important part of your world society. Do your different kingdoms trade with each other? Do they have unions or guilds? What kind of businesses do people have in your world?
Research: One thing that you must never do is create your world without doing research. Your basic facts should be correct. If you are writing about castles, go and research a bunch of castles so you know what you are talking about. The terminology used when referring to certain aspects of a castle like the moat and the drawbridge etc. if your world is in a medieval type setting and horses are involved, research how far a horse can travel in a day, what are the different parts of a horse. These are some of the things that if they are wrong can seriously jar the reader out of believing the authenticity of your world.
Finally, all you have created will help you when you are plotting your story and moving your characters around from place to place. It will help you to have a whole picture of your world so that the characters that live there have a setting and function accordingly. But although we all love our world we must resist packing in too much of that information into your book. The purpose of world building is to give your book a firm setting but your readers will not want long drawn out explanations about your world. You have to weave it into the story creating a picture that the characters move about in, while letting the reader immerse themselves effortlessly into the story.
Article contributed by: Farah Oomerbhoy
For Farah Oomerbhoy, writing is a passion and reading her solace. She is a firm believer in the fantastic and magical, and often dreams of living in Narnia, Neverland, or the Enchanted Forest.
When she was pregnant with her first child ten years ago, a story popped into her head she could not ignore. “I was at my grandmother’s house, and as I looked at the image of a beautiful forest with a castle in the distance on a tapestry hanging on the wall, I imagined myself being whisked away into another world,” she said. It was at that moment the world of Avalonia, with its powerful mages and fae and the evil Queen Morgana, was born. Farah Oomerbhoy’s debut novel, The Last of the Firedrakes, was released in the summer of 2015.
Farah lives with her husband and three children in their family home in Mumbai, India. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Mumbai. Her first novel is The Last of the Firedrakes, Book 1 of the Avalonia Chronicles. More about Farah at: http://farahoomerbhoy.com/