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World Building in Fantasy Fiction – The Basics

Creating a whole world from scratch is easily one of my favourite parts of being an author – but it’s also one of the trickiest ones. There are so many things to consider and get right that it can seem overwhelming. Where do you start? What does your world actually need?

This first chapter of my “master classes” *ahem* is focused on world building. In today’s post I’ll go over the very basics of your world with you, so that by the end of it the task won’t be quite as daunting! 🙂

Your world needs to be realistic enough that people will believe it and enjoy it, but how do you do that when magic is the norm and whole mountain ranges only exist because some ancient dragon says so?

I won’t go into too much detail now because I’ve got a post planned about this very topic in two weeks. The only thing you need to know for now is that your world doesn’t just suddenly begin when your book does. Your world has existed before Chapter One, before the prologue. Chances are it has also existed long before your main character was born, and showing your readers some of that rich history will make your world far more believable! I love intricate lore and discovering it slowly as the plot progresses – just be careful not to dump too much information on your readers at once!

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I’m agnostic myself, but a lot of my characters are religious and for some of them their beliefs play a huge part in their lives. You may not be religious, either – you may even be strictly against religion – but a world without any religion whatsoever is unrealistic. You don’t have to make it similar to our world’s religion if you don’t want to – you don’t have to use God, Satan, or the Afterlife if you don’t want those in your book. In fact, your religion doesn’t have to resemble ours at all! But it needs to be there, and it needs to make sense.

For example, a lone wanderer might have walked your world searching for meaning. He came to a forest, and got lost. Days later – thirsty and ravenous – he spotted a deer. The deer seemed to want this lone wanderer to follow him, and so he followed the animal until they reached clean water, and bushes full of berries! From there it’s not a long stretch to assume that the lone wanderer might have believed the deer to be a higher being looking out for him. Perhaps he settled down by the stream, invited some friends he met through his travels who also sought peace, and began to worship the deer that led him there. Or maybe they simply pay their respects to the wildlife by offering it berries and a bowl of fresh water at a shrine to the deer. Or by not hunting all the deer to extinction. Or perhaps they consume the deer and drinks its blood to be closer to their chosen diety? Either way, you’ve got a lot of wiggle room!

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It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to explain your world’s greatest mysteries – not all religions do.

Not every country in your world is going to work in the same way. Some countries will be poorer than others, some will have stricter trading laws than others, and so on. For example, say Country 1 places a high value on money and respects those who know how to do well for themselves. What impact does this have on this country’s beggars? On poorer families who can’t afford to go into business with some rich merchant?

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When you first start to think about your world, you might accidentally make every country similar. Your own background might reflect heavily in your world; for example, if you’re from northern Europe than your world might feature countries very similar to yours, simply because that’s what you’re used to. Don’t worry about it – it’s an easy mistake to make! Be sure to include different cultures in your world, and make sure that people from different countries speak different languages, have different habits and traditions – and consider that not all countries are likely to get along.

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Eventually you might start to draw the first outlines of your own world (we’ll get to why you want a map in a few weeks). If you’re anything like me and have no idea what you’re doing, you might do this by just drawing, well… something. I mean, how do you draw a country you made up? Not with smooth borders, for one (unless you have a very convincing argument somewhere in your plot that explains it). Countries and the borders between them are curved, edged, zig-zaggy – and definitely not straight! This is one aspect where you can let your need for perfection go!

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This is perhaps the most important point. Without the people populating them, your countries wouldn’t exist. You wouldn’t have a MC screaming at you to tell his/her story (random writing prompt: What if you character is the only character still alive? What killed the others?). The people make your countries what they are – rich, poor, proud, violent, profit-driven, pious, military strongholds. While not every single person in Country A is going to be devout, religion will still have played an important role in everyone’s lives if the country as a whole is religious. This could show through upbringing (some people go to church every Sunday and pray before they go to bed), festivals (Christmas, for example, or harvest festivals) and even speech habits (never saying ‘God’, ‘Maker’ or similar terms without good reason, or outright fearing their counter parts)

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Truth be told, creating your world from scratch is exciting but it takes work, too. All of the above points are going to take more consideration than a brief glance and a shrug if you want your readers to be invested in your book baby, but they’re a start! From here you can create anything. ANYTHING!

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What are the basics of your world? Are there any aspects you have to include, or else it doesn’t feel real to you? Grab a cookie and a tea, and let’s talk about world building!


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Published inA Writer's Musings

3 Comments

  1. Great post! I agree on all points. 🙂

  2. This is a wonderful post, my dear! What a great overlook at creating the fantasy world! I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say about creating the history. That’s always one of my favourite parts. Actually, I just finished writing out the beginning mythos for my new fantasy script. Such a wonderful feeling <3

Get a tea and a cookie, and let's chat!

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