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’ve been 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’ve used The Lord of the Rings as my example series, with 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.
And today, as you well know, we’ve reached our finale! We’ve made our map, we’ve named our regions, countries, cities, rivers, mountain ranges, and everything in between, we’ve determined what races exist in our world and decided what regions they live in (or come from), and we’ve gone through and determined even the tiniest of details for every city or country in our world… now, at last, it’s time we get to the people themselves.
Step 4: Using It All To Make Your Characters Come Alive
I’m sure you’re wondering how everything we’ve done so far will really affect the characters in your story. I’m sure you’ve wondered why all of this matters, if characters are what you like to focus on in your story (I should know; I’m the same way). I’m sure some of you have even tuned me out and are waiting for next month, when Tammy returns. But you know what? I’m here to tell you that without putting all that work into your setting, your characters will never be as real as they should be.
Let’s start with places.
Depending on what country your character is from, they’ll behave differently. Think of it like the difference between Boromir and Eomer. Boromir came from Gonder, and was greedy in his want of the ring. Eomer, though never directly capable of attaining the ring, wasn’t the sort of character who would want to take it. The lands they were from helped to define this.
One could even think of it in terms of Denethor and Theoden. Denethor would never have come to the aid of Rohan in Helm’s Deep. It wasn’t in his character. But Theoden, even when given the option not to go to the aid of Gondor, couldn’t deny the need within him to go to their aid, to honor their treaty. That speaks not only of their characters, but of the lands which they come from. If their roles had been reversed, if it was Rohan who’d come to the aid of Gondor at Helm’s Deep, and Gonder who’d denied aid to Rohan in the final battle, how differently the story would’ve ended!
But what about simply cities, versus townships?
This also plays a large role, in defining your character. A man from a big city has different morals than one from a country town, does he not? Just like a queen thinks differently from a single mother who works in the fields all day.
You must know where your characters come from, in order to determine how they think, how they perceive, how they feel. Without knowing this, you risk your character coming upon something you won’t know their response to—which usually means you’ll end up inserting yourself, in their place.
The role of race, in character development:
Think of it as the difference between Elrond, who would’ve thrown the ring into the fires of Mount Doom without a second thought, and Isildur, who was overcome and took the ring for himself, even after holding it only a short time.
The race of your character will decide a great deal of their personality. If they’re a dwarf, they likely laugh heartily and loudly, but if they’re an elf, they might contain themselves and hold themselves with higher regard. Hobbits have a love of growing things and eating good food, which decides a great deal of their personality. Gnomes are similar, in many ways. Humans are the catch-all here, honestly. We do all the things. We like to have our fingers in all the pies, as it were. But in any case, without knowing the race of your character, it’s hard to know how they innately react to many everyday situations—not to mention the strains your story will put them through.
But what about religion, you ask?
I’ll use the real world, for this one. In the real world, religions are everywhere—and do determine a great deal about a person’s innate nature. If you hadn’t already realized that, then I suggest you do some more people watching.
There’s a reason why Jews are well-known for being amazing with money. A reason why Islam is seen by many as going hand in hand with terrorism. A reason why many people turn to Buddhism to find a type of calmness in their lives. The same should be true of your world. There should be religions most people deem as violent. Others that most consider calm and rational. Still others that nobody seems to be able to put their finger on or really understand. Why? Because that’s a part of life, and can often become a large part of your character’s nature, from the very start.
But all of this information, every tiny little scrap of it, was information that we came upon by world building. It’s information that we wouldn’t have gathered any other way (or if we did, we’re probably going to have to work backwards now and fill in some holes). It’s information that we need, in order to even get a few chapters into our story—and I hope that I’ve helped you along the way, as you’ve started your own fantasy worlds.
Me? I’m still in the throes of making my latest world, but I’m having far too much fun along the way.
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