Writing in a fantasy world is no easy task. World building is tricky – too much, too soon and you’re ‘info dumping’. Too little, too late and the reader will have very little idea of what the world is like.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about designing the world in the first place, before you write the story. In fantasy, the world is often the first thing readers look at when deciding if it’s a book they would like to read, so it’s important to make it a good one.
Five stages of creating a new world:
Step 1: The Premise
After the first exercise, you will know what the basic premise of your world is. Maybe you want to write about dragon riders vs. necromancers, for example. So drill down into these things first. Is there a military element to the dragon riders and if so, what’s it like? How many types of dragon are there? Are necromancers born with the ability, or is it taught?
Exercises: Describe your world in one or two sentences, then write down four elements that explore the basic premise of the world you are designing.
Step 2: The Wider World
Once you have the main stage set, ask yourself, how does this affect the day to day of the wider world? Are there dragon transports, carrying goods back and forth? Do people no longer fear death, knowing they can return as the undead? Is this a medieval fantasy, or are there gunpowder weapons powerful enough to take down a dragon? These are the things you need to explore before you begin writing. It will add detail and colour to the world you build, and the story will be all the richer for it.
Exercise: Write down four ways your premise impacts on the wider world.
Step 3: The People
Quite simply, a world is only as good as the people in it. It is somewhat an extension of Step 2, with more focus on the different groups of people who populate the world. Their history and motivations can even add a political element. Are undead slaves doing all the work? Perhaps there are activists, campaigning for undead rights. What are dragon riders like? Do other troops support them, or do they fight alone? Are there royal and noble families? Again, these questions will not only allow you to build a more coherent world, but also allow you to develop the characters that will feature in your book.
Exercise: Write down four groups of people in your world.
Step 4: The Geography
The fantasy map is always fun to design. But it also serves as an important backdrop for your world. Is it a tropical paradise, full of mountains for dragons to roost in? Or is it a flat wasteland, perfect for roving hordes of zombies.
The landscape the world takes place in is important. Although great swathes of purple prose describing the landscape can be irritating. Find the right balance and your work takes on a cinematic quality. Laying this all out early will help you when developing your world and the plot itself. Do the distances involved have an impact? Are some places impassable, requiring the hero to take a certain route? Think about how important geography is in The Lord of the Rings.
Again, Step 2 comes into play here. With zombies everywhere, you might have enormous walled cities, the last bastions for humanity’s survival. Or maybe it is the dragons that are the real threat, scaring people into living in underground cities.
Exercise: Write down four ways geography impacts your world.
Step 5: Choosing What Belongs and What Doesn’t.
Be ambitious, but realistic. At the same time, try to stay flexible.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have more ideas than you can count. Keep them all in the back of your mind as you write, but always be aware of one thing:
Sometimes, a world can be too complex and creative. You’ll find yourself bogged down in lengthy explanations, or exploring some aspect of the world’s intricacies that throws the plot off course. Be wary of your book becoming an encyclopaedic exploration of a world, rather than a story.
Finally, don’t be afraid to adapt as you write. Maybe some aspect of the world doesn’t fit, or you can’t do it justice in the text you can spare to feature it in. Perhaps it has no relevance to the story, serving as a distraction rather than a backdrop. When writing, it’s important to keep to the core of the world first and filter in the rest when it feels natural. Your writer instincts might warn you that something isn’t quite working. Listen to them if they do.
About Taran Matharu
Taran was born in London in 1990 and found a passion for reading at a very early age. His love for stories developed into a desire to create his own, writing his first book at nine years old. At twenty-two, while taking time off to travel, Taran began to write Summoner, taking part in Nanowrimo 2013. Thanks to Wattpad.com and updating daily, its popularity dramatically increased, reaching over three million reads in less than six months. After being featured by NBC News, Taran decided to launch his professional writing career and has never looked back.
The Summoner series has now been published in 15 territories and is a New York Times Bestseller. The Contender series is his second epic trilogy. The Contender: The Challenger published on 11th February 2021 with Hodder Children’s Books.
You can find Taran on Twitter @TaranMatharu1 or via his website https://authortaranmatharu.com/