If you’ve ever attempted to write a high fantasy story, you may have encountered the dreaded experience of world building. Actually, there are many genres that require world building besides high fantasy, but this sticks out as being one of the largest genres where writers have trouble getting that perfect feeling for their world.
I want you to picture yourself as an anthropologist. Imagine you are coming to the world you are writing about for the first time to study the people and environments. My background in anthropology has made me hyper aware of cultural differences even within my own society that many people don’t even notice. Without getting too deep into anthropological theory, you want to examine the culture of your world and have a pretty distinct notion of how it differs from our own.
For example; we are used to having cars around. They are loud, clunking, metal machines that spew horrible puffs of polluting gasses. We know what to expect with cars, as many of us drive one every day of our life. But what if you’ve never seen a car before? Every little sound you hear would put you on edge. The different smells and jerking motions would have you in such a state of anxiety you’d constantly be asking your otherworldly guide “Uhhh…why is it doing that? Is that normal? Are we going to die?”
Similarly, if you encounter an alien species in a sci fi world that casually clucks its tongue in the back of its throat and cries at nothing, you may really be concerned for the alien’s health. Is it choking? Did I do something to upset it? Why does it sound like a garbage disposal when it’s happy?
To build a convincing world, a writer must take into account all those small details that really bring a world to life.
Now, I’m sorry. I jumped into the little details first. Let’s take a step back to the anthropologist example. What does an anthropologist study when encountering a new culture? If you said art, language, religion, sex, architecture, funeral customs, marriage customs, healing techniques, or culture jokes, you’d only be scraping the surface of all the many different topics an anthropologist could study.
As a writer, you have the opportunity to flesh out all of the aforementioned areas, plus thousands of others! It’s this fact that really gives me a literary hard on.
Take a look at this list for ideas on how to start building your fantasy world:
- What mythologies and legends do they tell stories about?
- What is their God system like?
- How do they engage in combat (if at all)?
- What are the season like and how do they protect against the elements?
- What sort of government does your world have?
- What festivals are celebrated? Are there different festivals for different areas?
- What is a joke that everyone would understand in that world?
- What language do they speak? Are there different languages?
- Do they have their own alphabet?
- How advanced are your societies?
- What do the houses look like?
- Are they sedentary or nomadic?
- Are they superstitious or practical?
- How do they communicate with each other besides speaking?
- What do they give high value to? Low value?
- What is considered the most atrocious thing to say to someone else in that culture?
- How do they dress?
- How does their environment shape their social interactions? (i.e. Do the ladies meet at the water fountain to gossip about their partners?)
- Is it a matriarch or patriarch?
- How does currency or legal tender work in this world?
- What does their money look like?
- Is there a class system?
- Does your culture experience death? What do they do with their dead?
- What is a crude gesture in their culture?
- Do they have coming of age rituals?
- Does magic exist? How does it work? What is the magic system like?
- What regions exist in your world and how do the cultures differ?
- What laws are in place? What is the consequence for breaking those laws? Does it differ by region?
Thank you for reading. I hope you find these tips helpful in crafting your drafts! Do you have any other advice for world building? Leave your thoughts in a comment!
Next, take a look at World Building Beyond Basics to learn how to add depth and intrigue to your stories through the use of legends.
Similar Posts: World Building Beyond Basics: Part I – Legends
Talk to you later,