by Tegwyn Hughes, Canada Blogger, jaBlog!
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
Some famous fantasy series, like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, are famous not only for their amazing plots and characters but for the worlds the authors have built up from scratch. These books include new cultures, languages, and countries that make the stories unique and interesting for readers. World-building can be one of the most challenging things about writing fantasy, but this list provides five requisite details that must be included in building believable and detailed fantasy settings.
The first thing you want to think about is how large your fantasy setting is and its characteristics. In The Hunger Games, we only see Panem, the dystopian version of North America, and that works perfectly because Katniss Everdeen never visits other countries. Once you’ve figured out whether or not your characters will be travelling around a city, country, world, or even universe, then you can begin fleshing out the geography.
Your new land needs a lot of things to seem realistic to a reader. What is the weather like? Does it snow in winter and is it warm in summer, or does summer not exist at all? Are there mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans? Is there a giant volcano in the middle of the country? Ask yourself as many questions as you can, and then answer them in your story. While you can make up anything you want, it has to be detailed for readers to truly immerse themselves in this new realm.
If you’re set on building a completely new universe, world or country, you may be ready to create new languages for your characters––remembering that you are writing in English, so the majority of your speech should magically be in a language understandable to your readers. In fantasy settings there are often new races such as Elves, Dwarves or Aliens who speak a language that wouldn’t exist in the real world.
There are many ways to incorporate this into a story, but for young authors I would recommend that you do not try to live up to the standards set by LotR or GoT and translate every English word or phrase into a new language. While this is an amazing feat, it can take months or years to do. I recommend creating a dictionary for yourself of the words and phrases that are relevant to your story and making new ones when you need them. Obviously, you need to be consistent in the language you use, but as long as you have a running list of the words you have created, a full language won’t be necessary.
This is a broad topic that ranges from social etiquette to fashion, but it must be included at every stage of your story. If you are writing a fantasy story set in a medieval world, you can simply base your world’s culture off of European history, as well as the clichés we see in stories like these. Even Game of Thrones has kings and queens, fancy dresses and curtsying, which a reader already understands.
If you would rather stray from the beaten path, then you must explain the kinds of things that are commonplace in your new universe. If women wear red hats if they aren’t married, or if children are only allowed to have names after the age of three, these are fun details that can create a unique culture in your story.
This is an especially important detail that a lot of authors want to avoid. Creating a story for the present day is one thing, but having to sit down and think of the wars, conflicts, and events that happened in the years leading up to your story is a lot of work. Despite this, history is vital to a good story.
Before you make up a battle mid-paragraph, I recommend creating a full history for your world well before you put the first word of your story on the page. This allows you to flesh out who has a history of hatred with who, how the ruler came to be in power, or why a certain race is hated by all others. Having this reference in hand while writing will let you reference history in a more realistic way.
This is more of a fun detail than a vital one, but it’s easy to make a lot of mistakes with it as well. If your characters live next to the ocean, they will most likely eat a lot of seafood, but alternatively, a desert setting should not feature sushi. Food can also give hints into political tension––if your princess is used to eating beef at dinner, but the farm workers are on strike, she may have to settle for a soufflé instead.
You can also have fun with food. Create a new type of creature and make its brain a delicacy, or invent a type of plant that tastes the same as modern-day Pepsi. Food not only gives more insight into the new world you create, but it is also something you can play around with.
Though it may seem like a lot of work creating fantasy settings, thinking about them ahead of time will enhance your fantasy or sci-fi story and make it more realistic for your readers.