To Build a World, Part Six

Over the weeks, I have been posting segments on fantasy world-building.

Here are the past segments –

  1. How to Build a World, Part One.
  2. How to Build a World, Part Two.
  3. How to Build a World, Part Three.
  4. How to Build a World, Part Four.
  5. How to Build a World, Part Five

This week will be the last segment for the To Build A World Series, and I will be focusing on the Place and setting for fantasy.

Place and Setting

Place and setting are one of the key aspects of fantasy novels. Some places are created through magic or discovered through a parallel cupboard or train platform.

In fantasy, we strongly experience both characters’ effects on their world and their worlds influence them.  World-building is an important process, particularly if you want to make your world believable to the reader (be wary of info-dumping, I mentioned this in an earlier post, here).

Tolkien, in his fantasy cycle, gives each place its distinctive character. The land of the elves is full of majesty and a timeless sense of peace. The Shire, the home of the hobbits, is full of family histories, pranks, and merriment. It’s a typical example of intimate, community-based rural life. Mordor is full of volcanic, dark rocks and treacherous terrain.

Yet each of these characters world is woven in so that it is relevant to whatever the characters are experiencing at the time.

Practical ideas for using place in fantasy novels.

  1. Add relevant detail: What fauna and flora are there in your world? What do characters have to do manually because magic can’t solve every problem? Think about the small details along with the big things.
  2. Give places different levels and sources of tension and intrigue: Authors like Rowling use place well because some places are full of discoveries waiting to be made while others are drab, mundane, yet intriguing by contrast to this world.
  3. Know the rules of place in your world: Understanding what characters can and can’t do in certain settings, where they may and may not go, helps to place some limits. For example, Rowling creates the Ministry of Magic that penalizes wizards for displays of magic around ordinary, non-magical people.

There are many more elements of fantasy, yet the above gives a basic overview of common features. Think about the power, learning, adventure, and conflict with the characters and place – how is place relevant to the characters? Give place its own intriguing character. Remember to give your reader reasons to wish, wonder and marvel.

“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.” J. R. R. Tolkien.

This is the last of my How to Build A World Series, I hope they have been helpful to fantasy writers/ authors.

Post your comments and answers below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view and answer, please invite them or share this post with them.

#DWTSmith #howtobuildaworld


5 thoughts on “To Build a World, Part Six

  1. I have a series of stories about a people known as the Mutlit – a dog like people. I don’t know if it could be categorized as fantasy. I am debating whether to have a spirit world or not. If there is one, I am thinking of a similar one to the eskimo as I have derived character names from the eskimo language. My stories about the Mutlit take place during their winters. Some Mutlit lives happen to take place entirely during their winters. What are your thoughts on this? I would to hear from you on my own blog.

    • I think it could be categorized under Urban Fantasy. It seems like a different story told other than the European based fantasy, I think it sounds interesting and I would definitely read it. My biggest advice for introducing a new cultural influence is info dumping. If you can do this successfully, you’ll have no dramas with the other pillars of story. Good luck with it all and I shall keep my eye out on your blog 😃

  2. The mutlit are a primitive people. They walk everywhere. They build buildings with local materials, their communities I call settlements for lack of a better term.I will eventually get around to the stories.

  3. I looked up urban fantasy. There are no humans in the world of the Mutlit. Most of my stories about tend to involve traveling and expansion than in urban areas. Any urban areas tend to be more like the settlements of colonial America. I am loosely basing their culture on the eskimos.