Creating Believable Fantasy Worlds
Fantasy is the ultimate form of escapism in literature. Your characters can be anyone, do anything. They don`t even have to be human. The fantasy genre allows our imaginations to run riot through time, space and other planes of existence. The history, politics, and science that define our reality don’t constrain the inhabitants of fantastic realms. Anything goes, right? Nope. Not really.
[bctt tweet=”Your fantasy world can be tailored to your specifications, but it still has to make sense.” ]
Sure, your fantasy world can be tailored to your specifications, but it still has to make sense. The greatest advantage of fantasy is also its greatest danger. You are asking the reader to suspend disbelief beyond what most genres require. While this gives a writer a good deal of freedom it also means that your world building must be that much more consistent and logical. You don’t want to pull your reader out of the story with a lapse in believability. In the same way that a character benefits from a backstory, a world benefits from having a story of its own. I have a process I’ve developed for world creation that helps build cohesion and maintain continuity. By filling out the details in the categories listed below, your world’s reality will reveal itself to you. Most of these details will never make it into your story or will only be mentioned in passing. Nonetheless, they give your characters a rich environment which shapes their lives, just as our world shapes us. Below is a simple list I use to build a world. The more in-depth you get, the more interesting and believable your world will be.
It’s no secret that where we are has a lot to do with who we are. Mountain people will develop a culture and set of values radically different than those of desert people or people who live by the sea. Societies in areas with an abundance of resources will evolve differently than those used to scarcity. You don’t have to make all of those decisions at once. Experiment with your world’s terrain, draw a map, describe the weather.
Your story doesn’t start on day one. Just as our history has brought us to where we are today, your world’s past will play a significant role in its present. Some writers complete an entire world history before writing one word of the story itself. Think of this as your world’s backstory. For more on writing character backstories see my post Six Reasons Your Characters Need A Backstory
For as long as there have been people, there’s been politics. The political structure of your world is fertile ground for conflict and plot lines. This can include gender, religious, racial, economic and geopolitics as well. This is a great area to chart out the varying political systems your society might have in place.
Is your world primitive, tribal, technologically advanced, focused on war or art or scientific advancement? You may have numerous societies in your world. How they interact and perhaps clash can be important factors that drive your story.
Don’t forget to give your world a mythos. The gods and goddesses might play a tangible role in your characters’ lives, even in a post-religious society. We can see in our own lives that even if we’re not religious ourselves, our world has been greatly influenced by it.
Your world can be very different from Earth but make sure things work according to your world’s logic. If your characters can fly, consider how a society and its technology would develop to accommodate a race that has the power of flight. What conditions would hinder flight and how would those individuals be treated by society? Does your world have less gravity or a dimmer sun? What would life be like within those parameters? Keep true to the physics of that world.
Language develops according to a people’s need. Geography, lore, physics, politics will all come into play. You can tell a lot about a world and its people by its place names and even the naming system people use for themselves. The Norse devised surnames that indicated their paternal lineage, medieval Europeans named people according to their location or occupation. I like to play around with the Roll For Fantasy Language Generator and the RinkWorks Name Generator to get a basic set of vocabulary to describe my created world.
These are the basics, feel free to create your own list or add to this one and let me know what tools you use to build your worlds.