The wonderful thing about writing a story set in a fantasy world is that you as the author have complete control and creativity. Fantasy takes its reader into another world where anything can be possible. Every author brings something new to the genre through worldbuilding, which keeps the stories entertaining and interesting. You never know exactly what you are going to get when you read fantasy, or what you are going to get when you write in the genre, because rules are unbound by reality. The author’s imagination can be limitless. But how do you create a fantasy world? How do you keep the world real and entertaining for the reader? How do you create an engaging, interesting, and believable world?
Understandably, worldbuilding can be a daunting process. Below are my tips to help you get started in creating a fantasy world.
Consider all aspects of the world.
Just as you create a backstory for your character/s, so too does the story’s world. What laws govern the world? Is there a government? How does it work? Is it a democracy? A totalitarian state? A dictatorship? What is the geography? Is it similar to our own world, an alien environment, or a dystopian landscape? What are the myths, the legends, and the lore that people believe in and identify with? Are there religious practices and ceremonies? Are there gods and goddesses? Is there technology, or is this world primitive?
Understanding the world is important. If you are thorough and intricate with your worldbuilding, it will reflect in the story. This doesn’t mean every detail needs to make it into the book, but you need to know and understand how the world works in order to make it real and believable for your reader.
Keep it simple by showing not telling.
After putting in so much effort and creativity into building your world, it is easy to want to share everything about it with your readers. Unfortunately, readers want story. They will quickly lose interest if they are swarmed by a convoluted history or environment where everything is explained in elaborate detail. This would be called an information dump. The world in your story is like another character. You need to develop it over time. Show the reader how the world works rather than tell it. Think of James Dashner’s The Maze Runner series, or Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. The worlds in these stories are revealed through the actions of the characters. The reader learnt about the Glade and the maze through Thomas’s discoveries as he tries to figure out where he is and who put him there. As readers, we learn about District 12 while Katniss wanders through her neighbourhood with her bow and arrow, ready to hunt for food in the woods. Readers are introduced to every place, detail, and experience first-hand through the main character. We learn through these details and character involvement that there is something very wrong happening in the world. It’s what keeps us intrigued and engaged to keep reading. Remember, its narrative detail, description, and development that creates the image of the world, not telling.
Draw inspiration from real life.
Is your world lacking credibility but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is? Maybe your world is simply “too out there” and no one, not even you as the author, can relate to it. Fantasy is often a reflection of our own world, so do some research. Things to consider researching are historical events and figures, customs, wars and battles, religions, ancient cultures, landmarks, and folklore. Delve into some real world history for inspiration. Drawing parallels to our world and bringing in real-world elements with allow your reader to identify with the story.
Design a map of your world.
Even if you aren’t going to have a map in your finished book, create one anyway and start pinpointing locations and cities. Start thinking about the geography of the landscape. Are there mountains? Woods? Rainforests? Dangerous seas and rivers? Distant islands? Volcanoes and craters? Deserts or wastelands? The possibilities are endless. Think about what kind of creatures would live in each environment. How do humans, or witches, or aliens, or whatever it is you are writing about, interact with the environment and the creatures that live there? What kind of names will the cities, towns, or villages have? Is there a certain naming convention you can use to identify the different cultures in your world? Designing a map gives you the building blocks to develop your world further, and you never know what new ideas might emerge.
Why is your story happening now?
This is probably one of the most important questions you will ask yourself. What has happened in your world that has caused your story to occur now? Has there been rising political tensions? Has a city suddenly been invaded or occupied? Is the world on the brink of a new ice-age? Have aliens arrived? Understand what is happening in your world. Your character/s drive the story, but there needs to be a reason why their journey/adventure begins.
“But this is fantasy” you argue. Yes it is. The imagination can create some amazing, crazy, totally unbelievable things, and that’s where the problem lies. Be sensible with what you create. A three headed lizard that breathes fire, has bird-like talons, tentacles out of its sides, and multicoloured skin sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? When you create a new element in your story, whether it’s a creature, magic, or a person, think about whether it’s sensible for the world you have created. Is it too bizarre? Will it break a reader’s suspension of disbelief? Is it too difficult to comprehend? By making your fantasy elements realistic to your story, this means a believable fantasy narrative.