How to Create Fantasy Worlds
by Paul Nattress
More links and comments about this feature can be found in our Creating Fantasy Worlds Forum.
Fantasy and science fiction are great genres. They let the author and reader explore strange worlds and endless possibilities. Cultures, relationships and science can be pushed to their limits to find out what things could have been like if the laws of nature were different.
This feature will show you sites on the web that will help you to create your own fantasy world.
Writers who wish to write fantasy fiction will need to set their story in a world different to ours. The most famous fantasy world is Tolkein’s Middle Earth. It has it’s own kingdoms, races, languages and cultures. It has strange beasts, magic and heroes. Tolkein created a rich and wonderful world that was believable. Now, it’s your turn.
If you’ve read the Lord of the Rings books or have seen the movies, you will have seen a map of Middle Earth. Maps help the reader see the relationships between nations, and shows the great distance the heroes have travelled to get to the end of their journey. In fiction set on our Earth, we already have a knowledge of where places are. In fantasy worlds, you need a map.
Map your fantasy world
One of the best articles I have read about creating maps comes from Mark Rose - http://www.zompist.com/howto2.htm. It shows you how to make maps using a graphics program for your PC or Mac. The technique looks quite easy and produces good results.
Sinusoidal maps are those maps that look like an orange has been peeled and the peel laid out flat. Mark also shows you how to create those at http://www.zompist.com/howto3.htm.
Holly Lisle’s map making article is perhaps the easiest and most fun to complete. She suggests you start by drawing a few upside-down letter “v”s to show mountain ranges, then guides you through to building a story around your map. See her article at http://hollylisle.com/fm/Workshops/maps-workshop.html. Holly has a lot more useful information on creating maps and worlds on her site so take some time to explore her website.
VendorNation publish VistaPro 4 – a landscape rendering program. One of our forum regulars, Tomo, recommends this as a good tool to create 3D maps of your world. You can even take a fly through your creation! You can download a demo from the VendorNation website.
Creating your own earth-like world
Your fantasy world can be very much like our own planet. If you’re writing a fantasy story that requires a totally believable world, you may want to stick to conventions.
Geoff Eddy has created a wonderful guide to Creating an Earth-like Planet. He goes into some quite technical detail about astronomy but hold out for the section on climate. If you want your world to be believable, you don’t want rainforest at the poles.
Create fantasy creatures to populate your world
Your world needs to be populated by people. But this is a fantasy world! You need elves, dwarves and orcs don’t you? Well, no, actually. They’ve all been done before and I would argue that no one could do them better than Tolkein.
Be original in your writing and create new and wonderful baddies for your fantasy world. Take your inspiration from myths and folklore. Legends contain more wonderful creatures than just dragons, fairies and leprechauns. Take a look at http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk to discover more creatures for your world.
Cthulhu who? Names and languages for fantasy worlds
One fantasy author, who I won’t name, insists on giving characters names that are broken up by apostrophes. P’aul Na’ttre’ss, Ste’phen K’ing, Geo’ge Or’well. Not very easy on the eye are they? Try to use names that are pronounceable. It makes reading your story so much easier. Fantasy name generators are ten-a-penny on the web. Try this one for a start - http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/.
Tolkein created the Elvish language from a mixture of Celtic and Finnish. If you’re feeling ambitious, or you have a great interest in linguistics, you can make up your own languages too. Mark Rose has some advice on this subject in the form of a language creation kit at http://www.zompist.com/kit.html but remember that your readers are reading a story in English. Too much of a fantasy language can make your writing inaccessible to many people.
Enough about Middle Earth, what other fantasy worlds are there?
Hey, The Lord of the Rings is probably the best known fantasy world around. But you’re right, there are plenty of others. Check out the Wikipedia entry for fantasy worlds at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy_world as it list a few, and yes, the list includes Middle Earth. These worlds are popular and are believable so pick up a few novels and find out what makes them work.
More resources for building fantasy worlds
Penny Ehrenkranz’s has an article on creating a realistic fantasy world at http://www.writing-world.com/sf/world.shtml. Sara Douglass has a good article about this subject too at http://www.saradouglass.com/createw.html.
Check out Patricia C. Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions article at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website. It contains many questions to ask yourself about your fantasy world. Answering these questions will help you make a well fleshed-out world.
If you need some inspiration to get you started on writing the stories for your newly created world, you can read our feature on Strange Inspirations.
Good luck with your world and I hope we all get a chance to explore it in your stories one day.
On this site:
Comment on this feature in our forums: Creating Fantasy Worlds Forum
On the web:
Just want to check out one site? I’d recommend you look at Sara Douglas’ Creating the Fantasy World.
The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference by Writer’s Digest. “Covers varied aspects of fantasy fiction, including culture, magic, witchcraft, commerce, trade, law, mythical creatures, arms and armor, and castles.”
Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Lisa Tuttle. “A look at how to write fantasy and science fiction, dealing with ideas, world-building, language, structure, short stories, writing for children and finding an agent. The book also provides an insight into how publishers work and contains illuminating interviews with editors.”
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. “This award-winning classic on the art and craft of writing science fiction and fantasy provides invaluable advice for every science fiction and fantasy writer interested in constructing stories about people, worlds and events that stretch the boundaries of the possible - and the magical.”
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