How to Make a Realistic Fantasy World (part 2)

Have you ever wondered what all goes into the creation of a fantasy world? Have you ever sat there stupefied while you’re reading The Lord of the Rings, wondering how on earth Tolkien came up with this whole world and made everything fit together so flawlessly? Well this month in the RADblog, I’m going to be answering some of your questions about creating a beautiful world of fantasy, a world where everything fits together and everything feels real, a world where your readers will feel like they can step right off the pages of your book and into the world you’ve created.

Now, for the sake of ease and because I’m sure every single one of you is familiar with the series, I’ll be using The Lord of the Rings as my example series, and Middle Earth as my example fantasy world. Tolkien, however, was a master at this kind of thing. He literally created languages to fit into his world. He made those languages. They can be spoken. They have correct syntax. And I’m in no way suggesting that you go that far. No, in fact, I think most of the time you won’t need to.


Step 2: The People


Last time, we got our map set up—and we even started thinking about place names, countries, and maybe even some cities. This time, let’s talk about the people going in those places.

One of the first things you’ll have to know, of course, is what races you intend to have in your world. Is it primarily human? Are there elves? Dwarves? Goblins? Orcs? Gnomes? Hobbits? Or are there other creatures, ones you’ve made all your own? I’m sure you had an idea of all this, before you even started working on your world map—but now’s the time when you’ll need to really flesh it out.

For The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had a great mix of beings across his world. Sure, there were a lot of humans, but there were different factions of humans all over his world. And there were a whole lot of other things, too. Hobbits played a central role in the story, so he did a lot of work on defining and creating them as a people. Elves were the same way—and in some ways required a lot more attention from him. Then there were the Dwarves, the orcs and goblins, and even the wizards.

So that’s what I want you to do now. I want you to sit down and determine what races exist in your world. I’m not talking about dragons or mythical creatures, unless you intend on having a civilization of them. No, I just want to know what people exist in your world.

Once you know what people you have, you can start to fit them into that map we made last week (by now I’m sure you’re seeing how this week’s and last week’s topics intersect and overlap). This is where Tolkien would’ve decided that the elves lived in the woodlands, that the ents were a treeish civilization that herded the forests—and were awakened by the elves. It’s where he determined that Hobbits have a love of growing things (and eating them), that humans liked to have their fingers in everybody’s business, that the orcs were under the command of Sauron, and even what forms of magic existed throughout his world.

Again, your map will help to define and determine a lot of this for you. Knowing what peoples you have, it should be relatively easy to insert them into the world you’ve made. If it isn’t, then maybe you need to rethink your work—or rethink whether or not you need these beings in your world at all.

But to take it one step further, I want to know more about your people groups at this point, too. I want to know what they believe. I want to know what code of conduct they follow. What are their morals? How do they feel about magic? Do they practice it? Is it safe to do so? What people groups don’t get along, and why? Who are allied? Why? Really go into detail here. Decide that the corsairs would side with Sauron, that the elves and men of Gondor and Rohan would band together to ward off evil, that the hobbits would try to stay out of it in general.

For the book I’m working on now, I’m actually trying to create a different mythos and lore for every species in my world—and I’m basing each one off a different mythos on Earth. It won’t be exactly the same, but it’ll be along those lines. It’s a way to make the world more real, to introduce a realism that isn’t often seen in fantasy books. And it’s actually something I highly recommend, because knowing the lore of each people group will help to determine some of your characterization, because the lore you grew up with will always partially define how you seen the world around you.


Next week, we’ll start zooming in on that map of ours!


Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.