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World Building In Fantasy

Jennifer is a writer, reader, blogger, and all things books-type individual. No wonder we are friends! We highly recommend you check out her website here.

When writing fantasy, one of the best parts is being able to create your own world, inhabited by your own races and creatures, each with their own laws and culture. It can be so much fun to let your imagination just run rampant, and see what you come up with!

But it’s also one of the most difficult things to do. When writing about the real world, there are so many things that you can refer to without even thinking about it, which adds to the depth of the story.

With a fantasy world, you need to be able to do the same if you want the readers to get the same feeling. In order to do so, you need to have a very specific idea about many aspects of your world that might never make it into your story.

But it doesn’t matter. You, the author, need to know these things; even if they are never mentioned, the reader will feel that you are obeying the laws of your own fictional world, and it will make a huge difference.

As mentioned, there are many aspects that need to be taken into account. They can be separated into two main categories; those relating to the world, and those relating to the inhabitants.

Here are some of the most important:

World:

  • Geography and climate: You need to have a very clear idea of the world’s geography, topography, climate etc. Does your world have different climate zones, like our own? Or is it a desert world? Are there mountains? Where are they, and how high are they? How is the climate at the top of the mountain vs at the foot? Are there forests, wide open plains, swamps? Many authors will map out their world; I believe this is one of the best ways to approach this, as it ensures you don’t end up with contradictory information in your book and remain consistent throughout. If you are artistically challenged, just draw a rough draft; no one but yourself needs to see it!

  • Flora and fauna: This will help readers feel like there is life in your world beyond your main characters. So think about what animals inhabit your world. Are they similar to ours, or are they different? In what ways? Remember to stay consistent with your world’s climate and topography. Also think about their food source; what do they eat? If your world is an ice world, then your animals need to have warm fur coats, and will probably be carnivore, as no plants can grow in those conditions. And what about the plants and trees? If you decide to go against Earth’s biology, and create plant species that thrive in the cold, make sure it’s believable! Your plants will still need a food source, and protection from the cold; think about what would be necessary for them to grow in such harsh conditions. Always keep in mind your world’s climate and topography when creating the fauna and flora; don’t make the mistake of going with desert animals and plants, only to remember your world is a wet, swampy world!

Inhabitants:

  • Species, races: Think about who will inhabit your world. Once again, you need to be very clear on who they are, where they live, what they eat, how they survive their world’s climate. Are they humanoid? What are their physical characteristics? Are they peaceful, fun loving races, or are they warriors? Are they social, or do they live on their own? Do they get along with other races? Be very clear on all these aspects; they are interconnected and will influence each other. For example, if a race is peaceful, they likely get along with other races and are sociable. On the other hand, if they are warriors, they will most likely be territorial and won’t take kindly to other races coming near. They might still be social, but only with their own kind. Or perhaps they have allies among other races, forged many years ago.

  • Languages: Different races will likely speak different languages, especially if the habitable part of your world is large. If your races live in very different parts of your world, there is close to no chance that they speak the same language. Even if somehow they all started as one nation, which split up to give birth to many diverse cultures, the language will have evolved, and in some case no longer be recognizable as the same, though there may be similarities. If you are not a linguist, and feel like inventing a complete language is daunting (it is!), then don’t. Just keep in mind that when your races meet, there will be trouble communicating, and misunderstandings are likely to occur.

  • Religion: Most evolved species will have some form of religion or belief system. If it’s not a unique god, perhaps it is in several deities. Or perhaps no god at all but some superstitions, like a ritual before combat or going on a hunt, or for fertility or good crops. Also remember, your belief system doesn’t have to be homogenous throughout a specific race. Humans have many belief systems, including atheists, inside a single race. What is important is creating a system that makes sense for your inhabitants. If they are nomads, then it’s unlikely they will go to a specific place to pray; rather they will perform rituals or pray to gods in nature.

  • History and culture: Your world didn’t simply begin when your story does. Events have happened in the past that have shaped the world. What are they? How did they impact your characters on a personal level?

  • Technology: What kind of technology does the world have? This will be largely influenced by what time-period you chose to place your world in, and once again does not have to be homogenous among your races, if they live far enough apart. If they live close together, though, chances are their technology will be somewhat similar. If it isn’t, make sure that it makes sense as to why not.

  • Politics, ruling system: Who rules your world? Are there multiple rulers? How do they relate? Are the relations tense, or are they peaceful? Think of this one the level of the nation, one with another, but also on a smaller level. How do the people relate to their ruler? Do they like them, respect them? Or is there unhappiness that might lead to an uprising? Why? Make sure the reasons are valid; it’s unlikely there will be an uprising because people have been hungry for a couple of days, especially if the ruling class is cruel and punishes people at the drop of a hat.

The key to creating a deep, believable world is consistency. Each and every element in your world needs to work and make sense with the others. Even in fantasy, you need to obey certain laws of physics and biology. The hard part is to know which rules can be bent or even broken, and which need to be respected. Play around with your world, ask friends and family for feedback, and make adjustments!

You’ll soon end up with a world that feels fleshy and real to readers.

Happy world building!

#worldbuilding #writingtips #writing #fantasy

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