Building a fantasy world presents its own complications. Theoretically, we’re beginning with a blank slate to build a whole new world, except this isn’t entirely true. Although it’s a new world readers are likely to have preconceived notions of what a fantasy world will be like based on the genre of fantasy or stereotypes. For insistence, epic fantasy might suggest large scope, journeys across a variety of lands, and magic. This doesn’t mean we have to use these elements in our world, we can have epic fantasy limited to one area. Similarly, there’s a cliché that in paranormal worlds human women are always being saved by muscular male vampires, werewolves, and so forth but this isn’t true either. There are stories that match these points but that doesn’t mean we have to confine our stories to these, there are plenty of stories in both genres that don’t match assumptions.
We also should consider real world logic when constructing our worlds. This doesn’t mean we have to stick strictly to this logic but it’s things like why settlements build up in areas. Big commercial towns and cities are likely to have ports, or your world’s travel equivalent, to make trade easier. If not why did so many people settle in this area? What’s special about it? If it’s difficult to reach how did so many people get there, or why did they go there to begin with?
Do they have any religious buildings or don’t they have religion? If they don’t have a religion what do they have in its place? What do these people believe and why do they believe it? If we look at American Gods by Neil Gaiman we can say Mr Wednesday and his allies don’t have religion in the same sense as the humans around them might because they are the gods. Or do they have religion because they believe in gods? But they believe they are gods, this is perhaps a complex philosophical question that might not have an answer but the point is the old gods want to stoke humanities belief so we can argue they don’t have religion and that’s why. There’s a line of logic even if it isn’t strictly real world logic.
Our fantastical world might also have magic so we would need to consider a logical system for this. Once again this might not be real world logic but we need to consider the limitations, why some characters can do some things and others can’t, or even why some people can do magic and others can’t do any. This is as much a narrative issue as well as a world building issue. If there are no limits to magic what stops characters from using magic to solve every narrative issue easily so there’s no challenge or risk to them?
While we need to consider the elements there’s then trying to describe these things. What people need to know and when, what can be implied and what needs to be explained, while telling the story at the same time. With so much information it’s possible to end up over explaining and slowing down the story or muddling the narrative. A lot of elements can be implied, for instance if we mention there’s a large port or the place is near the sea we immediately imply that’s why the city is where it is. Whereas we might need to explain why a character can’t do something with their magic, this doesn’t necessarily need to be a huge explanation. This need is one of the reasons there’s a cliché of a wise old teacher in fantasy because having a character who doesn’t know the rules and has to learn them can be a good way to communicate this information to a reader.
Most important to remember is that we don’t have to know all of this when we begin the first draft, we can try things and develop elements as we write and edit. Whether we plan in detail first or work it out as we go we’ll probably know a lot more about the world of our story by the time we finish our first draft than we did when we began it.
NOTE: Each article series comes in four parts published between Tuesday and Friday. This is the final article.