There are writers who can sit down and fashion an entire world in their minds, put it on paper, and you would swear it was real. We, as fiction writers, must imagine worlds and situations that seem real to the reader. It’s a challenge, to say the least.
Fiction—the word—means something made up. You use imaginary information to piece together something that could, or could not, be real. But everyone will agree that fiction is a creation that is made up.
This is an amazing genre for world building. Some authors start by using a place they have already lived in or visited, then create from there. Others just make it up as they go, relying on that overactive imagination we writers have.
Create the Place
Creating your fantasy world starts with creating it first. Do this before you start your story; that way a true place is already fully-formed and there for your characters to play around in. Laws, places, land masses, forests, mountains, streams, and everything else that makes sense to have. Use maps to create by cutting and pasting parts together until it forms what you are looking for.
We all have our own versions of reality, impacted by laws, governed by philosophies and customs, and grounded by real life. This is called society, and accepted as normal. But you create what is normal in your fantasy world.
The Spear series starts in a town Fisheries—many huts and small homes around a fishing village and transportation hub crossing to Capital located on a peninsula. To start it, I drew an outline of the story and then sketched the land mass, culture, underground society, different places and people. This built my world and made it easy to have the children run around from one spot to another.
I needed a place where rules governed the lives of everyone, but where there were areas of lawlessness. Those became the destitute areas of the Realm. My imagination sang as several legends of the land formed from the rough drawing of the map. Hobs formed from Hobgoblins and the legend of a famous Spear came to life.
Draw a Map
I can’t draw. Yes, lines on a piece of paper is definitely drawing, but I personally have a hard time drawing something worth sharing, so I won’t share.
With your information in hand, draw a map of the fantasy world you envision. Put lines on paper, mountains, streams, rivers, valleys, shorelines, and anything else you can imagine. Then put it to scale. This way you know how far things are and if they have to travel 100 miles, you know it’s not going to happen in a day (unless they teleport). It will help you add realism to the story. Definite features and regions mean more interaction, better chances of narrative description, and a cleaner story.
But this is just the start of your world. Making it believable is the next step. You need to invent societies and build differing qualities of life. One area may have a stigma about eyebrows while another, knees. Religion is as differing as people. Customs, rites, traditions, beliefs, and dogma can change from village to village. Make sure you have something set for each area your characters travel through.
Religion, and Other Beliefs
Do you believe in the Old Gods or New Gods? That is the question everyone in the world of Game of Thrones is asked. The religions across the world built by George RR Martin are vast. I’d bet he stayed up all night thinking of them all, from the stones on the eyes (reminiscent of paying to cross the river Styx) to the Lord of Light (bringing to mind Judaism) or Great Shepherd (more Catholic than anything else).
What you need to do is figure out what the people of your land believe and why. It is important, for you never know when one character will start spouting out religious rhetoric at someone. Myths and legends need to come alive, and like Samson’s hair, be cut only to show it was the strength within.
The fun starts to come into play when you think of volcanoes to add drama. Mountain ranges, deserts, jungles, forests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and deltas all add realism to the area, bringing to life wild creatures and hiding places. You could have a temple near the volcano where they push interlopers in, or those followers of the Sun God crying every morning as he hurls the glowing orb of light into the sky. These are some of the things you need to add in order to build your world.
Transportation is always something people take for granted. How long does it take to cross a city from end to end on foot? Think of how fast you walk. Most people can travel around three to five mph, so if you live 40 miles from town, that would take you ten hours to walk! Even on horseback, a trek like that would take hours (and a lot of soreness) to complete. Why did the dog stay in their village? Because it took so long to run away. Think of this, it took Columbus how long to cross the ocean to find the Americas? Two months and eight days. So how long will it take your characters to travel across the land?
Think of clothing, for what the world is like will tell you what they wear. Is it cold? Then they wear furs. Is it warm? Loin cloths and little more. The way they are seen by others will tell you how they are judged by travelers. Like the Native Americans of old being seen as savages by the Europeans coming across the great ocean, they could either be seen as backward or equal.
With all fantasy works, you will want to add some dabbling of the fantastical. There could be wells of magical power, dragons, mythical creatures, unicorns, hoarded gold of the ages, or swords of such power only the righteous can wield them.
It’s a lot of work, but if your story only exists in your imagination, you need to do it to make the place real. Part of your job as a writer is to envision the place where everyone lives and make it come alive, even if half of what you do does not end up on the page with the published part of the story.
So, with the fundamentals set, you can now start writing until the story is finished, referring to your notes and the amazing mapped world you have in the back pocket of your favourite jeans.
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