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 3: The Little Things
So far, we’ve set up our map, named places and countries, determined what races exist in our world, and placed them within the map. Whew! That was a lot to do as it was. Now, we’re going to zoom it in a bit.
Remember, this series is all about making a realistic fantasy world. A fantasy world that anyone might think they could simply step into without skipping a beat. If it wasn’t for that… I might not even suggest doing much of this.
Now, these are the teeniest and tiniest of details, to the point that you probably didn’t even know your favorite authors went so far as to figure out these details in their worlds, their books. Why? Because if you’ve done all of this stuff, no reader will ever even think to ask this sort of question about your world. And yes, that makes this part both extremely technical and mildly tedious, but you know what? It’s worth it, if you want a fully immersive and completely believable world in the end.
To that end, I have a few questions I want you to ask yourself. I want you to ask yourself these questions about every region in your world, just like Tolkien did for Rohan, for Gondor, even for Mordor. How do I know he did so? Because, like I said, I’ve never thought to ask any of these questions, of any of his works.
What does the architecture look like?
How big are the cities?
How long does a person have to live in a country to be considered a citizen? Can humans be citizens of non-human regions (and vice-versa)?
What do people eat? Where do they get their food?
What do people drink? Where does their water come from?
What happens to waste?
Where do crops grow?
What are the primary modes of travel, and how fast are they?
What are the primary jobs people have?
In what kind of buildings do people live?
What's the population of your main city(s)?
What happens to the poor? Where do they live? How do they survive?
Where do people buy goods?
What do people do for fun?
What is the monetary system like? Is it consistent, throughout the world, or are there different monetary systems between countries (like there are in the real world)?
What are the primary religions? (and, if religion will be an important factor in your story, how did those religions begin?)
I know, I know, it’s a lot to do. It’s a lot of thinking, a lot of detail you probably didn’t think you would have to do. But like I keep saying: it’s worth it.
Adding all this detail now means not having to think about these things later on down the line. It means knowing your world inside and out. It means never having to question something small in your story, ever, because you’ve already thought through the answer. Doing all this work now, means you won’t ever get stuck in a scene and wonder what the answer to one of these questions is—because you already figured that out, from the beginning.
Next week, the finale in our series! We’ll be talking about finally adding some characters into our world, and using all the information we’ve amassed so far to really make those characters shine.
Associate Editor, etc.