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World Building in Fantasy Fiction

When I first started writing, my stories were a mixture between fantasy and mystery/suspense. Therefore, I still mingle with mystery writers. A few years ago, I told people the benefit of writing fantasy is I don’t have as much research. Mystery writers need to know the difference between a revolver and a pistol. They need to know how detectives typically conduct investigations. It might even benefit them to stay up to date on the new technology trends in solving crime. So, they not only have to come up with a good plot, but they need to do a lot of research to make solving it believable. Fantasy…we just make it up.

But fantasy is not without its effort. The most important aspect of fantasy fiction is something we call world building. Readers expect a civilization with a culture already set up. Think of J.R.R. Tolkien. He has a whole book published just on his world building research. He went into such depth, he even created his own language called Elvish. He knew the politics between each creature as well as the layout of the land. None of this had to do with the ring, but it helped when the characters interacted on the journey.

I read a blog this week in which the author said he plotted out three centuries worth of history for a book that takes place over the course of four years. World building is part of why fantasy novels are so big. Where most books let fans escape in another’s story, fantasy lets them escape into a completely different world. Therefore, this place has to feel real. The author has to know every aspect of their world. Most of this research will never make it into the novel because that would be boring. Yet, if the author knows it, then events will reflect a culture and history that spans beyond a plot.

When creating The Curse of Atlantis, I began with the kings of Atlantis. I even drew little pictures of each. No, I will not post them here because my expertise is stick figures. From there, I set up the countries. What are their names, culture, education, beliefs? Basing on reality helps the believability. I did geography next, something I need to learn more about. The trouble is that I tend to research in parts as my story progresses. Otherwise, I can see an endless bout of research that never leads to an actual novel. Therefore, remembering how these countries were set up to begin with is difficult. I discovered this difficulty turning the book into a series. In each novel, I want to examine the countries in more depth. So, the second novel takes place in Zeus and the third (I’m currently writing) goes into Artemis. I find my lack of notes challenging.

So, my recommendation for world building: be very thorough and very organized. It’s a lot of effort, but the end result is a new, rich world readers will enjoy.