Fantasy Worlds – Creating Imagination
“The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes.”
― Lloyd Alexander
As a writer of fantasy, you are in control of your reader’s imagination. No other genre allows a writer to create a world for a story to exist in impossible ways. Consider a cloud city in science fiction story. Science fiction can suspend reality to a point, but the events, spaceships, and weapons involved require that there be some grounding in the laws of physics as we know them to be plausible. Those floating cities need anti-gravity machines to exist. Not so in fantasy, magic makes the cities float.
That is not to say that rules do not exist when world building in the fantasy genre. As discussed in a previous article, the magic selected or created for the story must have rules that are followed to be plausible.
Where to begin? You should begin with the plot of your story and your characters. Consider the adventures your character will have throughout the story and then imagine you are the reader. Where would you want the story to unfold? Let’s start with the basics.
Your story can exist anywhere. Create an entire world, a hidden realm, or a magical world existing within a mortal world. The sky can be orange, the grass purple or crystal, the possibilities are endless.
Build your world by considering the following:
- Time Period: Is your adventure in an ancient realm or a modern world? Much of the rest of your decisions regarding the world you create will be influenced by the time period you set it in. Agrarian, industrial or technological? Don’t forget to determine their calender.
- Where do your characters live, forest, mountain, valley, desert? Near a river or an ocean?
- Cold, hot, temperate. Does it rain or snow or is there endless heat? Are there major storms, with lightning, thunder, torrential rains, typhoons, whirlwinds? Or is the climate stable… perhaps due to magic?
- Inhabitants: Describe your characters. Color of hair, eyes, how they move. Decide the clothing they wear. What is their language and is there more than one language spoken? What is their diet?
- Flora and fauna: What animals exit? Are they used for food, burden, transportation, or recreation? Determine the trees, grasses, flowers, agricultural plants.
- Dwellings: Do they live in wooden or mud huts, stone houses, or palaces, suburbs or the city. Single-family units or tribes?
- How do they educate the population or those with magical skills?
- What is their social and family structures? Their beliefs? How do they interact with each other? How do they care for the sick? How do they entertain themselves? Do they have common values or are they in conflict? Are they militaristic or passive?
- History: How did their civilization evolve. Has magic always been a part of the world? What races of magical beings have been lost or still exist. If more than one realm, are they at war?
- Employment: Do they trade or barter? How do people make a living? How are they compensated?
- Transportation: Do they travel via magic, or beast, or in a mechanical vehicle?
Adam Johnson writes about the aspects of world building that often get overlooked.
Your world can be as fantastic as you want it to be. Never limit yourself when creating your world. However, you should start with physics that mirror our own. Meaning, gravity functions the same. Unless, your setting is an alien world but, the physics of that world must be consistent with what we understand about physics. This will keep the world at least somewhat familiar to the reader, making them more comfortable.
Consistency is key to plausibility. If you have made changes to your world, they cannot become an afterthought. Your world and your characters must be consistent, and any changes must be apparent and have solid reasoning for the change. Things should function as much like our world as it can while retaining the details that make your world special. (Such as the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The wizarding world had its own rules but, they were all consistent. Also, that world was hidden from the human world to show the difference and allow our minds to be more open to the concepts that she introduced after.)
It is your world but, it is not just about you. Your world should be somewhere that other people would want to live in. This means that your world should be so immersive that once the reader is finished, they are scrambling to find anything that will put them back in that world. It doesn’t just have to be friendly, it can be a treacherous world that no-one wants to find themselves in but, if you really capture that world in all its glory, the reader will be begging to come back.
Remember to ask yourself, who am I writing this for? Let’s not fool ourselves, we write stories because we love weaving a tale. There’s a story that we want to see come to life, and we take it upon ourselves to craft the story. With that being said, there is always an audience that we are writing for.
By Adam Johnson and Deborah Ratliff
Quotations from an article written by Adam Johnson for the Facebook group Writers Unite!
Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant chain management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.
Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.