For the Love of Writing #2.1 - How I develop (and destroy) Fantasy Worlds


Along with being a voracious reader, I'm also a pretty crazy writer who'd love to one day become a published author. For the Love of Writing will be a regular feature on my blog where I will be talking about my writing process, the resources I use and I will also be sharing wonderful posts about writing from across the blogosphere! Let me know how you like this new feature in the comments!

By popular demand, in my second post in this series, I talk about World Building!

Prerequisites 

I strongly suggest you know the plot of your story before you create the world. I'm not saying you should know exactly what happens on every chapter ( You obviously can't know that without having created the world first!). I'm saying you have to know enough to decide how your world is going to be. 

Is your story mainly about pirates? Then you got to focus on the seas and oceans; does the entire story take place in a single country/empire or is it spread across continents? Is it inspired by an actual place? (I'm working on a world culturally inspired by India.) Is it inspired by a fictional place? (this mostly happens with retellings. Eg- Neverland, Oz etc.) Try to put down these 'factors' in front of you before you actually get started with World Building.

[ At the end of each step, I've added my related Pinterest Boards and/or links to related blogposts. Hope you'll find them helpful.]


So let's get started!!

Step One - Draw the Map

I swear I'm not kidding. This is really my very first step. And it really helps with the rest of the process to have the physical aspects of the world laid out in front of me. While I draw the map by hand on paper, you could also take a technological approach too this. Read more about Map Generators and how to use them on Faerie Fits.

I draw my maps on paper. Since I love drawing maps, I draw the entire World even if my story is going to be completely set in only a particular Empire. I don't name the places right at the beginning. I sketch out everything at first. As to how to actually draw a map, the best way is to BRING OUT THE ATLAS! Just pore over the maps and you'll get an idea of how to shape your continents. And also go pore over fantasy maps! ( I suggest the maps in Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, Six of Crowns by Leigh Bardugo and An Ember in The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir as they are all really inspiring.)

You can have your own 'rules' and 'scaling' for the map.

For example I use dotted lines (- - - - -) to denote different cities, a pair of dotted lines to denote the boundaries between countries, small solid triangles (▲) to denote temples and so on. I have a wide range of symbols to denote palaces, castles, mountains etc. Use what works for you but do create a reference so you don't get confused. At the same time make certain symbols somewhat recognizable. Don't draw vertical rectangles and expect them to be recognized as mountains! 










 (This is a map I drew a couple months ago for a story I'm working on. Open the image in new tab to see clearly!)

Google different geographical features to get an idea as to how to incorporate them into your map. Not all geographical features need to be there but do make your world physically/geographically diverse to make them more realistic. Also these features are great plot devices and help add dimension to your story.

Mountain ranges that act as a protective wall against enemies
Gulfs that have natural harbors
More Plains in a country probably means more agriculture of crops such as paddy, wheat etc.
Large rivers that need a bridge to cross. (Bridges are great micro settings for various incidents.) 
AND SO MUCH MORE!!

Some common landforms and geographical features to incorporate in your world are - Mountains, rivers, islands, forests, lagoons, lakes, plains, peninsulas etc.

The way I go with maps is in the following order-
  • Outline (the whole world) - This includes outer features such as gulfs, bays etc.
  • Mountains and Rivers
  • Other geographical features 
  • Boundaries between countries
  • Boundaries between cities (just the important ones)
  • Artificial structures (Palaces, castles, ports, bridges etc.)
  • Then I start to micromanage things like currents in the ocean (This step is definitely NOT NECESSARY!)
And even though I go by this order when I'm drawing, I form an idea of what goes where in my head before I put it down on the map.  You can either name the places as you go or do them at the very end. 

TADA! There you have your map! (Hopefully!) Hopefully I didn't end up confusing you even more. 



Step Two - Religion and Magic

I determine these two aspects before I even completely flesh out my cities and everything. That is because these two factors play a huge role in determining so many other factors and nuances in a fantasy world.

I don't go into detail about religion at this point but do determine an outline of the belief system. Theology gives you an idea of how the people in your story interact with the greater power. Do they believe in a single almighty? Do they have an entire pantheon of gods and Goddesses? (Like ancient Greek, Egyptian and Roman mythology etc.). Or do they not believe in a greater power at all (Atheism)? Or maybe religion and the presence of God is not important to your story? (Agnosticism). And of course, just like our world you could also create a fantasy world where people have different belief systems and religions. 
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Note - One question I've seen many ask is "Can I base the religion in my fantasy world on the real world or use real world religions?" YES YOU CAN. (I myself am working on an epic fantasy that is inspired by the Hindu religion and culture.) BUT. DO YOUR RESEARCH. I'd hate to pick up a book that represents my religion in a wrong way. Anyone would. So do your research and write respectfully
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If you're creating a fantasy religion, you need not go into every small detail at this point and can work on it more while working on the society. But Magic system is something you need to determine as clearly as you can at this point.

Do your character need wands to focus their magic? Do written spells or symbols invoke the magic? Or maybe Alchemy is the magic of your land? Do the people of your world invoke spirits to help them fight? Or maybe it's spirit magic (Chi)? Or maybe you want to go with the much used elemental magic?

When creating a magic system I ask myself 6 questions. (They are based from an infographic I saw a long time ago but can't find currently!)

Where does Magic come from?
How do users wield it?
Are magical powers hereditary or acquired?
Does everyone know and use magic or is it for the chosen few?
Is there a good or bad magic?
⏩(If there is technology in your world) Does magic replace technology or co exist with it? (Michelle at Faerie Fits has a great post about that!)

You need to decide how huge a part magic will play in your world and if everyone is allowed to perform magic. This will help you build the society and culture in Step Four.

The forums of Reddit discuss Magicbuilding
Brandon Sanderson talks about the Laws of Magic

Step Three - Biology and Climate

Before you create the society, you need to know who and what live in your world. The first thing you need to decide is whether you have humans in your story or not. If you definitely have humans in your story, I'd like to take a moment to tell you about Diversity in fantasy. I'm all for it. Here I tell you why diversity in fantasy is good world building

Are there other humanoid beings in your world such as elves, dwarves or goblins?

I'm sure you have animals other than humans in your world. Are the animals in your story found on Earth too? Or are they well known fantasy animals/ based on them? Or are they entirely your creation? Or all they a mix of all three? Decide these now and if you are creating your own fantasy creatures, now is the time to flesh them out.

Answer these questions to get a clear picture of your creations-

What do they look like?
What is their natural habitat?
Domestic animal or wild animal?
What do they eat?
Are they preyed on by other animals?

Of course your questions would change a bit if they are animals who behave more like humans (for eg ; the animals in Narnia.)

Also now is when you need to have a clear idea of climate. The really high mountains are going to snow capped and the coastal areas are going to be humid. Of course if you want to say the magic of the world keeps them in a perpetual summer; that's cool too. Although I for one don't recommend that unless you have a reasonable explanation as to WHY the magic affects the world so.

Also you need to understand that the climate and weather go hand in hand with biology. Cold places? the animals are going to have a lot of fur. And no, you can't have polar bears in the desert (Unless they're magical?)

Now the way I go about with this step is, I draw the creature first. THIS IS NOT NECESSARY! You could just describe your creatures if you want. You could simply answer the questions above or write a short essay describing your creature. I do the drawing part because I enjoy it.

I've added a broad with ideas and inspiration for creating fantasy animals. Please note that the pins in the board are meant for inspiration and not for copying! They are someone's hard work!

Don't forget that plants are a part of the world too. What are the edible plants? Are there medicinal plants? Poisonous plants? plants might play important roles in world having elemental magic. 

This might be a good place to decide agriculture in your story even though you haven't detailed upon society yet. At this point, I generally decide using the information from Step One as to which are the perfect places for agriculture and what can be grown where. My 10th grade geography textbook is extremely useful here!



That's it for today folks! I'll be talking about more aspects of World building in FTLOW #2.2 and 2.3 so stay tuned!

Did you like this post? Did you find it useful? What are your first steps in World Building? Do you do any of these things similar to me?



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