Over the last year I have been reading writing guides and attending the odd writing webinar. It’s always good to keep learning the craft no matter where you are in your writing journey and that’s why when Desiree offered to write a guest post for me about fantasy worldbuilding, I thought it was a great idea. Read on for some very interesting tips…
5 Must-Know Tips for Fantasy Worldbuilding
Many of the best fantasy novels are considered such because their authors have painstakingly attended to every detail of their fictional worlds — from character names to the mechanics of each battle scene. Indeed, a truly immersive piece of fantasy is no mean feat, and often requires a fine balance between fabrication and reality, smaller details and broader brushstrokes. If you’d like to learn more, have a look at the tips below!
Reading esteemed fantasy fiction is a surefire way to learn the ropes of worldbuilding. Authors who have found success with their fictional worlds will attune you to readers’ tastes and teach you the conventions of fantasy writing. You’ll learn how the experts incorporate detail into imagined worlds, as well as tips for portraying villainous and heroic characters in the context of those worlds (not to mention you’ll see firsthand what doesn’t work as well).
We’re not suggesting you rip off Harry Potter. For starters, you’re unlikely to ever get a book deal if your book is a warmed-over version of somebody else’s work — but also, the best fantasy is always the product of a person’s unique imagination. Having knowledge of your genre will simply help you carve out your own niche (and prevent you from unintentionally writing a story that’s been done a dozen times already). You’ll be able to blend tried-and-trusted conventions with your own fresh takes for the perfect reader experience of your fantasy world.
Fantasy is often at its most gripping when its world contains eerie parallels to the world we live in — or if our world were to take a turn for the worst. Take Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: a macabre story exploring what life might be like if women were brutally subjugated and forced to work within the confines of childbearing. It might feel pretty far from contemporary times, but there’s no doubt that women have struggled for emancipation, and still do, in many facets of their lives — especially when it comes to bodily autonomy. In this sense, Atwood has harnessed SFF to comment on a pertinent political issue, to great effect.
Atwood’s worldbuilding is so powerful because it takes an aspect of reality to an extreme (yet comprehensible) conclusion. It’s the type of writing that makes your spine tingle because one day it might just become a reality. If you can apply this sort of connection to your own worldbuilding, you absolutely should!
A lot of fantasy is inspired by a particular time period or setting. Before you attempt to counsel your readers on the technicalities of shooting a poisoned bow and arrow, or describe the minutiae of Medieval court life, you’ll need to brush up on your knowledge of the subject at play.
Sometimes it’s as simple as scrolling through a Reddit thread; other times you’ll need to consult more serious literature, especially when the topic is fairly specialized (don’t make the same mistake John Boyne did!). Research will help you write confidently about the ins and outs of how something works, or everyday life in the world you’re basing yours on. Of course, fantasy is necessarily fantastical, but your worldbuilding will fall flat if your story is located on an ancient battleship and your descriptions are completely unrealistic w/r/t how battleships operate.
All that said, if you’re a new writer, don’t go overboard with the research. You don’t have to be a complete stickler with the facts (you’re not writing a history book, after all!), and there is always opportunity to make things up — but it’s important to give your work a degree of accuracy and credibility. This way, readers won’t switch off because your story seems too bizarre to be true.
There’s a reason people don’t just love Lord of the Rings, but are committed to keeping its lore alive on internet forums and at conventions across the globe: Tolkien spent so many years developing the detailed, complex world of Middle-Earth that it has transcended the texts themselves. It’s what every fantasy writer dreams of — but that doesn’t make it easy.
If you’re secretly hankering after a devoted fanbase for your work, it’s worth putting the extra effort into details that go beyond the sweeping brushstrokes. Thoughtful character and place names are a good start, but think about how you could develop other quirky bits of information that readers can analyze, discuss, and dissect. This could be anything from architecture to flora and fauna, particular music instruments to a customary greeting; the possibilities are endless.
Keeping the details of your novel consistent is good advice for authors of all genres, but it’s particularly important for fantasy writers. Why? Because, again, fiction that transcends reality requires the reader to buy into the world you’re selling them — and that includes every last bit of it. Chopping and changing details will look sloppy in any piece of literature, but in fantasy could turn readers off entirely.
To that end, try to keep a document (separate from your manuscript) where you keep track of character names, places, the functions of certain objects, and other features of your lore. This might include the rules and regulations that exist in your kingdom, the historic events that have taken place there, and the makeup of its people. This way, you’ll always have something to refer back to when these details come up again — not to mention you can write faster when you don’t have to keep paging back and forth in your manuscript to hunt them down.
Hopefully, these tips will make the process of creating your fictional universe a little smoother. But the most important tip of all is to have faith that your own imagination will take you (and your characters) to exciting and unexpected places. Happy worldbuilding!
About the author of this post – Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.
Suzanne Rogerson – Author of epic fantasy and heart-warming romance
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