How to Build a Fantasy World Readers Will Love
As a fantasy author, my favorite part about the process is creating my fantasy worlds. Setting is so important, especially in the fantasy genre, but creating a compelling and believable world can be tricky: you don't want your world to be so complex that readers get lost, but you also need to provide enough depth and detail to make it feel real.
If you're itching to escape into a fantastical world of your own, then I've got just the thing. Today, I’ll share the steps I took to create a fantasy world from scratch. It may seem like a daunting task, but with these simple steps, you'll be well on your way. So grab a cup of coffee (or your favorite magical beverage) and let's get started!
Start with the basics
You’ve got to start somewhere, so let’s answer some basic questions. What kind of world are you creating, and what are the main races and cultures that inhabit it? This might seem like a gigantic task, but it’s really not. Many fantasy worlds are loosely based on settings we have in the real world.
For example, my magical world of Faery is based loosely on the forests of Ireland that I visited a few years ago. I knew I wanted a forested land full of myth and magic, and the Fae are a huge part of Irish lore. Once I knew that much, it was a simple task to research and brainstorm from there.
Create a map of your world
This part of the process was really fun for me! It really helps to visualize the land you’re creating. There are lots of free map-building tools out there (just Google a few), but I used Campfire Pro to create my map and keep all the details straight. Once you have a generic idea of landscape features, you can break things down into regions and further explore the cultures in each region.
(All of this doesn’t have to make it into your book, by the way. No one likes a huge info dump! But the more you know as the author, the easier it will be to add small details into the story to really make the world come alive.)
Develop a backstory for your world
More bainstorming, here we come! Do your world’s inhabitants believe in a deity? How was their world created? If it was created by a deity, is the deity still alive? Does he or she have an impact on the world?
I found that the best way to brainstorm this stuff is just to open a Word document and start typing. Don’t worry about what comes out; just write whatever comes to mind in a giant mess and see what happens. That’s how I came up with the entire premise for the world of Faery and the deity, Seraphine, who created it.
Describe the customs and traditions of your world's people
Now that you know about the geographical data of your land and how it was created, it’s time to focus on the people or creatures who live there. What are the customs and traditions they’ve developed? What about their beliefs and religions? You can base this on something in the real world that you’re interested in, or you can come up with something completely new.
For example, my world of Faery is a large island in the sea. A trademark of my world is that everything is HUGE. The trees are the size of skyscrapers, and there’s a mountain with a giant waterfall that feeds water to the forest. At the top of the waterfall is Reya, where the queen and the five royal houses live. At the bottom of the waterfall is Thios, where the downworlders (AKA the commoners) live. The geography inspired this kind of literal hierarchy, and then it was simple brainstorming to ask myself, “What do the Reyans believe? What do the Thiosians believe? How do the Thiosians feel about living on the bottom? How does this affect their relationship with the royals?” One question leads to another and another until you’ve got thousands of words of back story about your world and the people who live there!
Create a cast of characters to inhabit your world
Now it’s time to hone in on the specifics. Think about specific characters that inhabit your world. What are their beliefs? Their trades? Their past experiences? These can be characters that will be featured in your story or just side characters that will help you flesh out the way the world works.
For me, I quickly came up with a few characters who became crucial to my story: Aki, the former royal who now lives below and leads the Thiosians in a rebellion against Reya. Mina, his loyal friend and inventor who creates gadgets for the rebels. Gideon, first lieutenant and Thios’s resident drunkard who is surprisingly capable. And lastly, Shadow… the rebellion’s spymaster and wolf shifter with a shady past and even shadier motives.
If you're like me and love getting lost in a good fantasy world, then you'll really enjoy creating your own. It's an incredibly fun process, and I have loved sharing my world with my readers. So what are you waiting for? Start building your world today!
What's your favorite fantasy world that you've read? Let me know in the comments – I'm always looking for new worlds to explore.