Fantasy is my favorite genre. I’ve been a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan for as long as I can remember, I grew up playing The Legend of Zelda, and my favorite book series is A Song of Ice and Fire, which was then adapted into my favorite television series, Game of Thrones. Good fantasy has everything one could want from a story: epic action, engaging characters, heartfelt romance, and no shortage of betrayal and tragedy. But, in my opinion, the aspect of fantasy that makes it so much more enthralling than the average narrative is the setting. Modern fantasy works, in particular, are set in worlds with such comprehensive lore that they almost convince us they are real places.
Even in non-fantasy works, having a believable setting is crucial. Creating a plausible yet still imaginary world is a daunting task – one that, hopefully, the following tips can help you with.
- Familiar Elements: The beauty of world-building is that you are not beholden to the history and rules of reality. However, it is a good idea to at least loosely base your world on existing cultures as a way of grounding your readers in familiar territory. Most fantasy works tend to imitate medieval Europe, likely because that is where the genre was conceived, but this is not at all mandatory. In fact, it would be better to include a variety of different cultures, as it would make your world seem that much more real.
- Put Story First: It can be easy to get lost in the process of fleshing out your world and its history, but the more time you spend on the historical details, the more limitations you’ll have when you actually start telling your tale. Think of the story you want to write first, letting the world build itself as the plot advances. Once you know how your main story is going to go, then you can go back and fill in the gaps. Otherwise, you may find yourself constantly tweaking details to make everything fit together.
- Make a Map: Not all of us are skilled in illustrations or cartography, but knowing the lay of your land is essential, especially if your characters are going to embark on some kind of quest. Knowing where the landmarks of your world are and how far apart everything is will help you– and, subsequently, your readers– keep track of where and when the events of the story are taking place.
- Establish Lore: I know I said not to get bogged down in your world’s historical details, but establishing some lore is important for making your world believable. Think of your setting like you would a character. Every character needs a backstory, so ask yourself, what past events have transpired that have shaped the world as it is in your story?