It is true, there is a lot that needs to be considered when writing a fantasy. From plot to characterization to magic systems, the list seems never-ending.
I find, however, that one of the most integral parts of a good fantasy, a believable fantasy, is the world that it is set in. Is the world believable, does the existence of a magic system throw the world into the realm of the absurd, or does it fit so comfortably in the world that has been created that it seems natural?
There are multiple ways in which to world-build and it is entirely author preference as to which to use.
The first is to write the story, focus on the characters and the plot, on the magic ( if the story includes a magic system) and flesh out the impact these have on the intricacies of the world afterwards before editing.
The second, is to plan your world in its entirety and then fit your story and characters into it afterwards. This can initially be done with broad strokes regarding the histories, lands, classes etc. and later revised with more detail.
To build a believable world, consider the world we live in. What would make your world believable?
There is the obvious; What does your world look like? Are you writing across a single continent in a globe? Do the character’s know this? Is your world part of a solar system like ours, or is there something different about it?
Don’t forget the size of places in relation to one another. If your character comes from a small island that was easily traveled within a day and now finds themselves on a spaceship staring into a sea of stars, how would this affect them? In your world, does your land have mountain ranges, plains and deserts? What is the weather like?
What about food, water, shelter. What are these, how do they grow? Where are they found, what are they built of?
Yes, there are many questions that you end up asking yourself when building a world, and yes, it can become tedious at times, but bear with me.
Once you have the appearances of your world and the basics down, you can start to flesh out those that live in it and how they interact.
I have always found that the religions and the social classes are easiest to start with, but that is personal preference.
Social classes, for me, are an easy way to both define the governance structure in a world and introduce religion. For example a world that is based on the Medieval social classes (nobles, clergy, peasants) opens up to a monarchy with the representatives of the various religions that are present at court.
Remember that even within social classes, there may be further divisions.
Certain professions may only be available to people within a certain social class, such as careers requiring a formal education being open only to the clergy and to the nobles whereas the more menial jobs such as a blacksmith or field laborer would be reserved for the peasants.
How do you show the different social classes in your world? Do they dress differently? Are their diets different?
An author that has a wonderful social class system is William Nicholson, who wrote the Wind on Fire trilogy. His classes are identified by the colour of the clothing they wear, their jobs are assigned based on their classes and even the type of housing they have access to is dictated by their status. They have the opportunity to ‘better’ themselves and change their colour, but they also have the risk of being knocked back down the social ladder.
Does your world have any technology? What is it used for?
How do people travel, what weapons do they use and do they all speak the same language?
And one of the biggest questions; does your world have magic?
I will speak about building a magic system in a future post, but as a brief overview, is this magic accessible to all or only a certain few? How does it effect your world overall?
World- Building can become overwhelming, and this is often one of the reasons it is done so poorly in a lot of cases, much to the detriment to excellent stories.
There is so much to think about, but not all of it needs to be included in the text on the page your readers will see at the end of the day. A lot of what you design will be for your own personal use, think of The Silmarillion by Tolkein. It is not an easy read, fascinating yes, but it is so detailed on the world he has created that at times it reads like a textbook and there are a lot of people who will not continue if that is the case. It did, however, provide him with such a strong foundation on which The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings was built that it is still one of the most intricate and fascinating fictional worlds in literature. How many authors go so far as to create an entire language? He continued fine- tuning Quenya and building on the grammar and history of just this language until his death. Now that is dedication.
Your comprehensive World-Building is for those times when you decide to return to the world for another adventure, or for when fans ask a question, there is no mad scramble to figure out a detail that you may have forgotten. It is also for those times when your character does something stupid like insult the wrong person (yes they sometimes have a mind of their own, we all know this) and you need to figure out how this tiny incident will play out in the grand scheme of things.
All in all, it is worth sticking out, a well designed, well fleshed out world will add a depth to your story that will lend an air of realism to it. You and your readers will be thankful.