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Writing

How to Write a Fantasy World That Works for Readers

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Fantasy worldbuilding is a way for creators to establish and track all the different details that make up their fictional world. While initially, all this information is the most important for the fantasy writer, they can choose to include and reveal choice elements that help generate a fuller picture for the audience and fill in specifics to make the world feel whole.

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5 Essential Elements of a Fantasy World

The fantasy genre often contains elements of science fiction, magic, or imaginative creatures—but it’s more than just writing every fictional element you can think up. The world of your fantasy novel, video game, television show, or film has to make sense in order for the rest of its parts to work in harmony.

Some elements to consider when crafting your fantasy world:

  1. Magic: Decide if there is a magic system in place, then set the rules of it. What powers it? Is it a secret? Can anyone use it?
  2. Geography: It may be helpful to create a fantasy map. Identify major landmasses and historic sites. How does the landscape impact the plot or the characters? What is the climate like? You can get as specific as identifying the indigenous flora and fauna, even if you don’t use those details. As a world-builder, you can include as much or as little in your process and final version as you like—as long as your story comes together in a way that makes sense for the audience.
  3. Society: Figure out the inhabitants of your fantasy world. What language do they speak? What do they look like? Are they humanlike? Are they creaturelike? What sort of culture do they have? How have previous historical events impacted the way they live now?
  4. History: While you don’t have to outline the beginning of your world’s history to the end, it’s useful to know of any key events like wars, plagues, political strife, extraterrestrial invasions, or anything else that had an effect on the way your world operates now.
  5. Time: How does it flow in your world? Is there a calendar? Are there seasons? What affects the light and the darkness?

How to Create a Fantasy World

There are many avenues for writing fantasy worlds, and you can start with whichever aspect you like first:

  1. Use real life as inspiration. That doesn’t mean taking people from existing ethnic groups and putting costumes on them—but observe how other cultures live, how they interact with their environments and each other. By incorporating real-life into your fantasy book, you can avoid falling into tropes and clichés, and create a richer template for your characters and plot to thrive in.
  2. Define the setting. A good starting point when creating a fantasy story is the universe itself. Is this an imaginary world existing within our own world, like Black Panther’s Wakanda? Is it a fictionalized version of a real world place, like Britain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series? Or is it its own entirely new world, like Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia? Describe what the landscape looks like, what colors it contains, or how many suns and moons it has. Any details that can help make your fantasy world feel more like real-life in order to help ground it in something believable will make a difference in how your audience feels and experiences it.
  3. Create inhabitants. A fantasy world has more than one type of inhabitant. They can be vastly different from one another, or only have subtle contrasts between them. For example, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the magical world setting of middle-earth has both Dwarves and Hobbits, which, despite both being the smaller races, contain many differences between them. They each have their own origins and backstories, temperaments, key aesthetics, daily life routines, and various other aspects that enrich and define the separate races. Inhabitants include the antagonists as well. Make them more than one-dimensional bad guys—give them a motivation that’s relevant to the world they live in.
  4. Make magic. Implement your magic system, if there is one. Write its limits, along with its capabilities. For instance, in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the magic in the world seemingly gets stronger when the main character Daenerys Targaryen brings about the birth of her dragons. Or, how in Harry Potter, magic interferes with the performance of electronics, which is why technological devices powered by electricity don’t work at Hogwarts. Magic needs rules in order to function properly in your fantasy world, and while you don’t need to include a list of laws in your writing, the use of it must make them apparent.
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