Think back to your favorite fantasy story. Were you entranced by the magical lands, the extravagant livelihoods, creative names of places and people, and fulfilling storyline? If so, then you would be familiar with the significance of designing a fantasy world. In writing your own fantasy novel, you must create such a world for your own fascinating characters. This article will present details and advice to consider while doing so!
What Does a Fantasy Setting Consist Of?
Before developing a fantasy world, writers must be familiar with the real world. In your own life, how large of a role do your surroundings play? Perhaps you work in fashion because you live in New York, or you go to the beach in the mornings because it’s ten minutes from your home. These factors that influence your choices and will all play the same part in your novel, so it is important to consider the logistics when creating a world for your characters.
Realistically: Time, Place, and Mood
Time, place, and mood are crucial in building a realistic setting. Before establishing any other details, deciding when the characters exist is paramount. Does your story exist one hundred years in the past, yesterday, or three decades in the future? If you have chosen a time period in the past, research trends, phrases, food, and other features of life that exist in that era and incorporate them into your writing. Your readers will notice when you incorporate accurate details, and it will build your credibility and confidence even when writing in the future.
It should also be clarified that setting and location act differently in writing. The Content Authority defines setting as “the physical location, time period, and social context in which the events occur,” or “the overall environment or atmosphere of a story.” Location is “a more concrete and specific aspect of the setting, focusing on the physical environment and geography of the story.” For example, writing your characters into a tranquil beach setting for a romantic scene is an example of setting, while placing their apartment in an urban town for easy access to city life is utilizing location.
Another vital aspect is the mood, which can be conveyed through the atmosphere you devise. Consider how your characters are feeling in each moment, and how you can use their surroundings to supplement it. Daisie specifies that “the gloom of a rainy day can underscore a character’s sadness, while the cheer of a sunny park can amplify their joy.” Using setting in this manner can aid in boosting the impact of your scene.
Daisie reminds readers that setting “is a character in its own right, one that interacts with your characters” and propels their development forward. Don’t think of it as an untouchable backdrop—use it as a tool for your plot.
Fictionally: 4 Elements to Focus On
Now that you are conscious of setting’s influence in both real life and fiction, you are prepared to begin making your own! When writing fantasy, you can organize the rules any way you want. However, there are some details specific to this type of world building that you must keep in mind. These include focusing on geography, society, history, and magic to ensure that they are not only fully developed and thoroughly explained, but also that they work together to provide the necessary backbone for designing a fantasy world.
Geography: Make a World Map
The first step in designing a fantasy world is making the physical world that it exists in. Taking the time to illustrate how different land masses connect or where the mountains and rivers are located will help both your planning and your writing. A story is most believable when it is built on a detailed foundation!
There are two ways to tackle this step. The first involves taking a piece of paper and drawing a map by hand. With this strategy, you have complete control over the shapes, sizes, and dimensions of each characteristic, and if you are armed with an eraser, can make as many changes as you would like. Taking the time to draw will also fuel your connection and passion for your world, as you must be thorough and careful in deciding how it will look.
If this method feels tedious, it can also be completed digitally. Many free world-building generators exist online, such as Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator. This website allows you to edit the map name, cultures, towns, religions, dimensions, and even the year and era. Playing around with tools such as these will make you the expert on your world, as you will have a hand in designing every characteristic of it.
Geography: Build it Physically
Now that you have a map, it is time to narrow in and add the details of how life exists within it. This will involve considering the climate, flora and fauna, terrain, and resources that your characters experience or will have access to.
To first establish the terrain, look at your own surroundings. Think of deserts, woodlands, valleys, or ice fields, and how they are characterized. Will your characters engage with natural barriers such as rivers, mountains, deserts, or chasms? How will their surroundings impact their journey? If your characters must cross an endless desert to find civilization, use the setting as part of the challenge.
Within the terrain will be flora and fauna, as well as natural resources. In your world, what life other than humans exists? Are animals friends or foe, hunted or hunters? Do they risk being poisoned by plants consumed in the wild, or are the green leaves safely edible? What resources does the land provide? Can your characters access fresh water, or timber, and use it?
Another influential aspect of your world is the climate. This is especially out of their control, and it is your choice to decide if it will be a hindrance, helpful, or both. If your characters travel to a region filled with dangerous storms, then they would struggle spending the night outdoors. Are there seasons? If so, what are they called, and how does the weather differ between them?
Society: Write the Rules
Another important element to consider when designing a fantasy world is your society. As Master Class says, “the inhabitants who live in this world you’ve created will have their own independent existence.” The laws and fundamentals for how society operates are entirely in your control, so use this power wisely. Ask yourself questions about these features within our world, and how your story may benefit from changes or similarities. How are the people governed? What jobs exist? What do people go to prison for? Is there a prison at all? As you write, thinking of these details can lead you to new ideas that will make your fantasy world more believable.
History: Who Lives There?
The rules you will write, as previously explored, all must originate from some events or choices made. Consider how such governing systems, populations, or ways of life came to be. Was there a massive war fifteen years ago during which the monarchy took over the peaceful people with a democracy? Were farmers from one land forced to migrate into a land driven by factories last month due to a natural disaster? Build your people and their culture so that they have firm backstories and reasons for the way they live whether that is recently, decades, or thousands of years ago.
Magic: Where’s the Magic?
Making your fantasy world magical is arguably one of the most enjoyable parts of creating it. However, it is also easy to overlook the attention this step requires. Torshie Torto from explains three steps to write magic successfully, in which the author must “choose your magic wisely, set rules and abide by them religiously,” and “weave the magic into the plot seamlessly.”
Begin by asking questions about the magic itself. Where does it come from, how is it used, what form does it take, and where did it originate from? Perhaps ancient warriors once walked your planet and discovered a magical tree that produced sap with powers. This backstory not only explains where the magic originated, but also prevents an opportunity for a challenge, such as tree being cut down by enemies, or the sap running out.
Once such details are considered, rules must be set to establish order and meaning within your world. Does only your main character harness special abilities, or is it commonplace? Are displays of magic illegal, and a cause for arrest? Outside of society, also ensure that the use of magic makes sense. Do their powers have limits? Do they need objects such as wands or staffs to operate, or does the ability come from within? Creating these rules will also help dissipate any confusion over your plans for your world.
Perhaps the most important step to focus on in adding magic to your world is establishing its purpose and weaving it into the plot. Torto tells writers to think “of magic as another one of your main characters that shapes the very fabric of your story,” similarly to setting. These aspects within your world shouldn’t exist because they must, but because they play an important and interesting role.
Connect It to Your Story
Designing a fantasy world is your chance to be creative, ridiculous, and imaginative. While designing a fantasy world with as much detail and evolution as possible is vital, it is also important to keep your story and purpose in mind. Write your setting so that it contributes to and works along with your plot, rather than taking it over. For instance, if you drop your characters in a world with no fresh water accessible, make it their mission to find some before everyone perishes of thirst.
Ultimately, these elements should work together to guide you towards a magnificent piece of fantasy writing, so let them! Practice and exposure are the most valuable methods of preparation. Reread your favorite fantasy stories and pay special attention to the techniques used by authors. Experiment with your ideas, whether in drawing different maps, testing how names of people and places sound, and drafting laws or rules. Only you will know when all these aspects have finally come together in a way that satisfies your imagination while making sense to the readers, so take the time to figure it out and be confident in your plans!
“Creating Your Believable Fantasy World” is written by Lauren Ullman, a junior Honors English student at the University of Delaware. She has written two novels of her own and hopes to pursue a career in writing, editing, and/or publishing.