Getting to create your own world is easily one of the best things about writing fantasy, but also one of the hardest. Whilst theoretically you can have anything you want in the world of your story – from talking horses who keep humans as pets, to people who can morph into trees – there has to be some sort of reason for all these things if you’re going to make it seem plausible.
So here are a few things that’s I personally think it’s essential to put some thought into when creating your own fantasy world:
- Races of people.
Presumably your fantasy world is going to be populated, so one of the first things you want to consider is who lives there. This could include different races of people – as in, people from different parts of your fantasy world and of differing ethnicities – or even people of different species, like elves and dwarves and fae.
However, you should probably be careful when using common fantasy species like elves and dwarves, and make sure that you’re making them truly your own. I know from experience that it’s so easy to think ‘I’ll write a story with elves in’, and then realise afterwards that you have essentially just ripped off Tolkien’s elves entirely.
Things To Consider: Where abouts do all the races in your story live? What do they look like? What is their culture and society like and how does that influence them? What is their history? What is their religion? Do they have any race/species specific magic? What language do they speak? What do they wear?
So you have your people, now you just need somewhere for them to live, whether that’s in a forest or on a mountainside, or in a sprawling city or barren wasteland. A common feature in most fantasy books is a map, and you may find it helpful to sketch one out to help you get the layout of the world in your mind. That way when your characters are journeying around you have an idea where everything is, and how long it will take your characters to get about.
After all, if your characters take two weeks to reach the dragon’s lair in one part of the book, and then two days to get back in another, your readers might get a little confused about your world’s geography!
Things to consider: Are there continents and countries in your fantasy world and what are they called? Any notable landscapes, like deserts, mountains or forests? What people live in all these different areas? What creatures? What are the histories of some of these places?
- The rules of magic.
An essential component of almost all fantasy worlds is magic, whether it’s a major factor, as in Harry Potter and A Darker Shade of Magic, or just in the background, as in A Song of Ice and Fire. And where there’s magic, there needs to be rules and limitations, because without them everything could just be fixed with the flick of a wand, and there would be no story. Not to mention having clearly defined rules helps you keep a sense of consistency throughout the story. If your wizard can only conjour a small flame in Chapter 1, but is incinerating entire cities by Chapter 5, then your readers may not be convinced (unless there is a good and fully explained reason for the wizard’s power having increased between chapters).
Things to consider: What does the magic do? Who can use it? What is the source of the magic (an object? A person?)? What are its’ limitations? Is there any price you have to pay for using it?
- Hierarchical system.
Another thing you’ll want to consider is the societal structure of your world. Are there kings and queens and noblemen? Or maybe a government or lone dictator, or some kind of law enforcement body that runs things? Or perhaps yours is a world in anarchy?
Whatever your hierarchical system looks like, you should probably decide on that before you start writing, so you know what position your character occupies within their society, and how they fit into your fantasy world.
Things to consider: Is your world going to have a monarchy, a government, or some kind of dictatorship at its’ head? What different ranks and positions are there that your character can occupy (eg. King, Captain, General, Head Magician, High Priest etc.)? What does the class system look like and how do people’s lives differ between the classes? Does having magic or the ability to use it affect your placing in society?
Religion is a key component in our society, and whether you consider yourself to be religious or identify as an atheist, our cultures are so entrenched in religion it effects us all, whether we notice it or not. For example, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, if you live in a predominantly Christian country, then in all likelihood you celebrate Christmas.
Therefore when you’re creating a fantasy world, it’s probably a good idea to consider your character’s religion and beliefs, whether or not it’s integral to the story. Religion adds another layer of richness and realism to your world, and can be used to spark conflict within your story, or even just provide comfort to your characters in trying times.
Things to consider: What are the different religions in your world called, and what do each of them believe? Does your fictional religion have one god, several, or none? Are there any rituals or actions your characters have to do on a regular basis as part of their religion (praying, for example?)? Any celebrations? Is there priests and churches etc., associated with the religion?
Technology might seem like a term better suited to science fiction, but it’s definitely applicable to fantasy worlds too. Not all fantasy is set in a medieval-esque world of swords and horse-drawn carts: genres like urban fantasy mean that full modern-day technology can now feature in fantasy stories, and sub genres like steampunk have specific levels of technology as a defining feature of the genre (Victorian in the case of steampunk).
Some fantasies are even set in seemingly classic fantasy worlds, but still have weapons like guns in them (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, for example), so it really is up to you how advanced or unadvanced your world is technologically.
Things to consider: What kind of era is your world set in (medieval? Modern day? Futuristic?)? What kind of transport and weapons are available? How does magic work alongside the technology, or is magic used instead of technology?
So how do you go about creating the worlds in your fantasy stories? How do you approach the aspects mentioned above, and do you think there are any other things it’s essential to consider?