World Building in Fantasy

There are many beginning writers who delve into the realm of fantasy and then have to think about the facets of building a fantasy world. What does into it and why? Some authors become quite detailed in scope and breadth using all elements to create a detailed world that adds to the plot and character development. Some writers use fewer details and rely more on reader imagination.

Imagination goes only so far on a fantastical world. This list will help writers consider the types of things to develop for their stories and worlds. I am not claiming this is a complete list, but definitely a good start, it’s something I learned from author Emma Bull in a fantasy writing class I took.

Sentient Races – How many sentient races does the world support? What do they look like? What sort of physical attributes and abilities do they have?

Nations – Are there countries and nations?

Political Systems – Consider the system they live in and does this system change from different nations?

Cultures – Not everyone is alike. Distance, features, resources, beliefs, systems all add to cultural development along with many more things. What are the cultures like?

Traditions – Traditions take on many shapes and forms and come from a variety of places, family, religion, cultural and so on.

Religions – Religions have “rules” and “traditions”. For believability, create limitations and guides for your constructs.

Holidays – These may be religious, or national, or cultural. What holidays if any does the world have?

Time – How does your world track time and it’s movement? How does time pass? Is it the same as Earth or different?

Calendars – Does the world have a calendar? If so, what?

Languages – In fantasy, languages create a level of realism to the world. However, if you’re not an accomplished conlanger or linguist, this can be a struggle for writers. Perhaps consider key phrases or words to lend authenticity without having to create a full language for each race, culture, or nation. It’s helpful to base the languages on real ones.

Commerce and Trade – How does trade work? What sort of economic system is in place?

Currency – What are the currencies of the world if any?

Education – What education systems are in place? How do they work?

Skills/Jobs – There are a number of established skills and jobs in any story, what are they in your world?

Science/Physics – Many fictional worlds have fictional sciences and physics in particular that defy the natural law we know and understand. To create fake science, it should have limitations and rules. Real science does. There are methods and practices for discovery and exploration. Real scientists have methods of testing and reasoning. Employ rules and limitations and it will become believable to the reader. It will make sense. If anything goes, there is nothing to worry about and nothing to get the reader invested in the characters.

History – Every place has history and what people know about it varies from place to place. A fantasy world should have history and lore, myths passed down, but these should be limited in scope and possibly even wrong sometimes. This may serve the story if a character must learn something from the past, but doesn’t figure it out or at least not right away.

Agriculture – How is food cultivated and distributed? Are there farms, technology to generate sustenance?

Magic – Fantasy and sci-fi do not require magic, but when it’s utilized in a story there should be limitations and rules. If anything goes, the reader has no reason to worry or become invested in the character arcs the writer presents. Create limitations and rules. Construct how the magic works.

Geography and Topography – What does the world look like? Where is everything? What sort of resources, animals and plants exist?

Technology – Does the world have technology and if so what?

I don’t consider this list a complete list on world building, but it may provide a starting point and generate questions for the writer to answer as they build their worlds.