craft, fantasy, fiction, inspiration, legend, novel, Writing

On Fantasy – Pt. V: The Nitty-Gritty of World Building

This is part five of our ongoing series on writing in the fantasy genre. If you’re interested, check out parts I, II, III, and IV.

Yeesh. It’s been almost a month since we last posted on this topic. We’ve sort of been swept up in actually writing the story and forgot to make note of what we’ve been struggling with. Time to fix that!

We re-examined our earlier posts, and found that we’ve pretty much tackled the broad, general difficulties we’ve faced as we’ve begun writing in the fantasy genre. This post is going to provide a bit of an overview for what we’re going to be discussing in subsequent posts. Namely, we’re going to be examining the difficulties we face in world-building.

We’re going to break “world-building” up into five different categories because…we can. These five arbitrary categories are as follows:

  1. History
  2. Culture
  3. Religion/mythology
  4. Government
  5. A weird clump of stuff like technology and ethics/laws and economies.

This list (while by no means exhaustive), provides a somewhat-solid framework for all the different things that are necessary when creating a world out of nothing.

  1. History: perhaps the most important aspect of world-building. What is the backstory of the world? We’re both quasi-Tolkien geeks, but we always found that one of the most interesting parts of the Lord of the Rings was the historical backdrop of Middle-Earth. No world ever emerges from a vacuum. The difficult part is understanding how the past of a fantastical world influences its “present.”
  2. Culture: What sort of art do the people of a fantastical world make? How do they tell their stories? What songs do they sing? What are their buildings like?
  3. Religion/Mythology: religions are wickedly complicated things, often informing everything a character says and does. For now, we’ll just say it’s been difficult and leave it at that.
  4. Government: Kingdoms are easy. But just because those were some of the earliest forms of government here on planet earth, does that necessarily mean this would play out similarly in a different world?
  5. Mish-mash: where is a society at technologically? Does it have an established code of law? What informs that legal framework? How are issues like property and contracts resolved? How does the economic system work? Is there currency? Do people simply barter with goods? What kinds of goods even exist?

If this seems like overkill, or like we’re getting lost in the weeds, we’re wholly prepared to agree with you. And yet, part of the difficulty we’ve found when writing fantasy is that we can’t seem to take anything for granted. So many things in our own time are actually pretty arbitrary, or at the very least not necessarily the way things have to be. Frankly, a lot of it often seems to boil down to fate. As we’ve been writing this novel, we keep questioning everything, trying to figure out why things are the way they are. Of course, over half the stuff we write probably won’t be included in the final cut, because it’s really for our own amusement and to sort of provide a logical framework for these characters to exist in. But it still seems important, at least to us, to create a plausible world, where things like the past, religion, and systems of government influence and motivate the characters.

Anyway, enough rambling. Writers: what do you find to be the most difficult part of world-building? Readers of all stripes: do you enjoy a detailed history in the books you read? Do you think it’s important to understand the various ways in which characters are shaped by their environments? Let us know in the comments below!

Finally, we’re not quite sure what’s going on, but there’s been an appreciable spike in traffic here over the last couple of days. It goes without saying that both of us are incredibly grateful for all of your support, and we sincerely want to thank you for stopping by. As always, thank you so much for reading,

W & W Sawday


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