Building a Fantasy World

Posted: April 2, 2013 by cherylmahoney in Cheryl's Words
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I love a good fantasy world.  I live in the real world (and I assume you do too!), so I love the chance to visit different worlds when I read.  When I look at my favorite fantasy books, many are favorites at least in part because I love visiting the place where they’re set.

As a reader, I love elaborate worlds–but as a writer, I must admit that my first thoughts are usually around characters and plot, and much less about the details of where those characters live.  Fortunately, I found a very helpful resource to get me thinking in those directions: Patricia C. Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions.

This is a great tool for anyone trying to jump-start thoughts about creating a new world.  The list provides dozens of questions, often on things I never really thought about–but which spark all sorts of ideas once they’re brought up!

It starts with the basics about the world itself, like physical laws and whether you’re even on Earth.  There’s a section with questions about the magic system, and another one for people and culture: What do people wear, do they have special holidays, what foods do they eat and how do they buy that food?  Do they have culture-specific greetings, and are they friendly to foreigners?  There are also questions about government, geography, and languages…to just scratch the surface.

There are tons of questions on all sorts of aspects of the world.  You may not want to answer every question, but I find that even just reading them helped me to at least keep some concepts at the back of my mind as I write.  And sometimes it was helpful noticing which questions weren’t so relevant–for instance, my novel isn’t about large-scale conflict between countries, so generally all my kingdoms get along reasonably well, and questions about political tensions aren’t so relevant.  But thinking about what a story isn’t can sometimes be as helpful as thinking about what it is.

These questions helped me notice that I have a prevalence of evil magicians in my world, and I’d better explain why so many magicians are evil.  I also had to sit back and look at just how common I wanted magic to be, and decided that for most people in my countries, any magic more powerful than a trinket or a charm was fairly unusual–but not a shock to anyone either.  So they probably don’t cook their dinner using magic, but if they live near a dark forest, an attack by a rogue hippogryph has about the same likelihood as an attack by a pack of wolves.  And they don’t see talking cats every day, but might every year or so.

We know so many details about the culture we live in, but they’re familiar so we take them for granted.  These worldbuilding questions are immensely helpful for making you think about the aspects of the world that we generally don’t need to think about–so that you can decide what they might be like in another world.  If you’re creating a fantasy world or even considering it, then you should explore the Worldbuilding Questions.

And two more suggestions at the end of this post: not only did Patricia C. Wrede write the Worldbuilding Questions, she also wrote the brilliant Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which I highly recommend if you enjoy light-hearted fantasy.

If you enjoy fantasy of any kind, then I also have to tell you about the Once Upon a Time reading experience currently being held by one of my favorite bloggers, Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings.  All you have to do to participate is read and review some fantasy during the spring–and it’s much more fun if you also read other people’s reviews, which are all linked here.  It’s a great community of readers, and a fantastic way to find some new books to read…and new fantasy worlds to explore!

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Comments
  1. […] Building a Fantasy World (stonehengewriters.wordpress.com) […]

  2. dianem57 says:

    What an interesting concept. I’m sure it would be helpful for a writer. I never thought about somebody putting that together for writers to use. Good suggestion.

  3. Dennis says:

    This was a very good summary of what it takes to create a magical world. Much of ot also applies to creating a sci fi future history, where the trick is to explore the potential as well as the limitations of your new technology and new discoveries.

    • Definitely–a lot of the questions could be used as-is or slightly modified for a science fiction world as well. A lot would probably even apply for historical fiction…though then it would be a matter of researching rather than inventing. And no magic, of course!

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