Can you close your eyes and visualize your favorite fantasy world? What are some of the things you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste? Who are you, and who is around you? Why do you think these details were the first to come to mind?
Strong worldbuilding is essential to laying the groundwork for every fantasy novel. The environment or setting often acts like a character with its own motivations, mannerisms, and personality.
World-building is an unavoidable step in writing, regardless of genre, but it can especially make or break a story set in a fictional world. You have to convince your readers to care about a place that does not exist.
Here are five important things to remember when crafting a whole new world from scratch.
- Start broad and then narrow your worldview down with specificity and memorable details.
When you’re first starting out, it’s okay to be general when describing what your fantasy world will be like. But as you get further into the process, focus on two to three categories to hone in on that would make sense or be most relevant to delve into to develop your plot properly. This could be anything from the government to the education system to the different magical abilities that some people may have. What will be the main draw to your world? What will capture and maintain people’s interest?
- Have a thorough understanding of how the magic or technology is unique and how it works and influences the world it operates in.
Will the magic system in your world have clearly laid out rules and guidelines, or will it be presented as a mystery that will reveal itself page by page? How does the technology in your world work? Is access to this technology a privilege given to a select few or a right exercised by many? Is the magic or technology in your fictional world similar to what other fantasy authors have written in the past? How will the magic or technology evolve or change throughout the story? Stay as consistent as possible, and be sure to have a reason for why there may be an exception to the rules. Your world should ultimately be cohesive and have its own internal logic that readers can rely on.
- Balance “novelty and familiarity” to make your world enticing but rooted in reality.
Too much novelty can be overwhelming. Too much familiarity can be boring. Striking a strong balance between the two helps you create a world that is both relatable and compelling. It gives your readers the space to determine how they would fit into your world and how their lives would be better or worse. Does your world draw inspiration from ancient civilizations or modern-day countries? Take time and care when researching and expanding upon real-life cultures and customs.
- Weave how politics and social constructs frame and drive conflicts.
There are many policies and systemic issues whose effects are felt for generations. Incorporating practices such as colonialism and segregation as driving forces to create tension and conflict is common. While your fantasy may be seen as an escape from the real world, it should not shy away from real-world issues. Your fantasy may appear more advanced or fantastical than the real world, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a utopia. Corrupting influences of power and money unfortunately prevail everywhere.
- Recognize and respect diversity however that may manifest within your world and allow your readers, whomever they may be, to see themselves within the world you created.
A world that only features one kind of person or being is not only uninteresting but also unrealistic. Your world may not necessarily reflect what diversity looks like in our world exactly, but it should include people and/or beings of all types—just as there are people of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, genders, sexualities, and varying communities in the world we live in. It’s also important to recognize the diversity of one’s readers and welcome them into your world by allowing them to see themselves as multifaceted individuals, even in fantasy.
Born and raised in Queens, Caitlin Taylor So is a Chinese-Vietnamese writer who is passionate about prioritizing and amplifying marginalized voices. She graduated from Emerson College with a degree in publishing and marketing. Her writing can be found on Business Insider, PopSugar, WebMD, and Her Campus Media.