No matter what type of fiction you write, you must create a world, be it real or fantasy. In many of my books, I blend the real world into my fantasy by using real locations. For example, my Ancient Blood: The Amazon novel, at one point, takes my characters to Iguaçu Fall which is on the borders of Argentina and Brazil. By using that locale, the reader already knows what to expect and I don't have to spend as much time describing the details. But, in my current novel, title yet unknown, I'm creating the landscape and villages and therfore must spend more time explaining the nuances of details necessary for the reader to see what I telling.
In other words, the more familiar the world, the less details of background and more time spent on characters. Of course, the exact opposite is true.
1. Learn the Layout
Create a map of the world as you see it. The world can be as simple as the layout of a house or be as complicated as a geographical map of a continent. Your novel's world is what you perceive and want the reader to see. Sometimes there can be several "worlds" within a story. One of my current work-in-progress has several maps: grandma's house, the farm, co-worker's farm, the city (which by the way is a real city - Shipshewana, IN) and surprisingly, a grocery store. Without these maps, the characters may flounder from room to room with complete disregard to actual layout. In other words, one time a character may walk from the living room into the kitchen, the next time they may have to pass through the dining room to get to the kitchen from the living room. This confuses the reader, especially if there is a hallway from the front door to the kitchen in the back. Or, on a larger map, one must realize that distances must be transversed and that takes time. If your character travels by horse and spends a full week getting to a location, then it stands to reason, they can't return — at full speed — in one day!
2. The Players
You have your world, now you must populate it with characters. What type of people or animals are there. For me, using Shipshewana, IN, as a location, I need to have Amish. Why? It is an Amish settlement. In your fictitious world, it must have some rules regarding the flora and fauna of the area. There are beliefs, histories, governments and society, in general that must be dealt with. The characters must eat, drink, be clothed, speak a language or two and have some sort of monetary finances. Are there beasts of burden? Who's in charge? Is it a monarchy, tribunal or otherwise?
3. A Past
Everything that has ever existed has had a history, a past. Even your newly created world must have a past. Trust me, it didn't just "poof" into existence. Is that village old with the dust of several centuries or is it relatively new, only a few decades under its belt? Each will have a different look. In fact, the characters must have some idea of how they came to be and how their lineage existed. Each main character should have a past to provide their future a reason for being. If you don't know who you are, how can you figure out who you will be?
4. Playing Dressup
Part of a character identity is their clothing. In my current WIP, my lead is young man of Chicago and comes from a well-to-do family so he is slightly rebellious with hoodie and jeans but enjoys the luxury of a Rolex watch. Another character is an Amish lad who wears typical clothes of dark blue trousers and white or blue shirts, suspenders and boots. In another WIP, my lead, a female warrior-type, wears more manly clothes in addition to having a sword and dagger at her side. Her companion, a more ambivalent sexual type, wears clothes to show off his body, but also carries swords and daggers. As you write your tale, you must make sure to take into account your character's personality and sexual preferences to match the apparel. Nobody is going to believe a young, sexy female is wearing a housedress to the mall, or even just a black skirt and white blouse. She will probably wear a short, black skirt which hugs her hips and a white blouse that accents her attributes, the top button undone to reveal the cleavage. That Conan-type barbarian had best be enjoying some beast's hide as part of his daily wear, or at least have very large muscles.
Now is the time to put all the factors together to create the final product. Your world has a society but as with any society, there has to be turmoil. Even your character has to face the reality of turmoil. If not, what is the purpose of your story? A character must grow as the tale unfolds. For a character to have conflict, more than likely, the conflict will be driven by society or life, itself. This is what will drive the story: the life of your world and the characters that inhabit it.
The complexity of the tale is yours and how you allow the tale be told is the difference between a ho-hum reading of words OR the exciting explosion of images within the reader's mind. It's your world, think it through and let the reader be concerned about the characters within it.
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~ COMMENTS ~
Really great blog this week - I think people sometimes write a fantasy story, but they don't spend the time needed to develop a real world, with rules and mood and the society and all the things that exist in real life. Because even though the fantasy world is, well, fantasy, you must act like you can actually live there. Great post.
@Elyse. That's the problem with many novels and the worlds the author has built. They don't live in it and it's not real to the author and therefore is just cardboard. Tolkien made you feel the world he'd created and I feel the movies caught 90% of the essence of the book's descriptions. An author needs to know each nuance of the created world down to the science of its existence.
Bob, Do you actually publish a map in the books or is the map in your mind? I've thought about publishing a map in my sci-fi but I'm not good at drawing maps. I still try to have a mental map so I keep my directions correct for the story.
@Diane. I actually will draw a rough map for MY own use. I've learned my memory will float and things don't always remain the same from time to time. lol. For one novel, I'm considering a 'world' map to help the reader know where everything is located but I'll probably have it done by somebody else. As in my maps, like the house, it is just circles with markings so I know what room is what and where windows, furniture is located. I mean, can a character sit on a couch, look out the window directly across from him AND also see the French doors leading to the dining room on that same wall? Maybe, but they both couldn't be directly across from him.
Great article Bob! #4 was a new idea for me. I think I need some new hats. :) I have a book that takes world building to a whole new level. It is by an author named Lee Killough. It is the BEST world building book I have ever read.
Thank you for the inspiration to finally get down to drawing that map of my fantasy world. I've been ignoring the need to do so for far too long. The problem is, the book is a series. I have the beginning and the end complete in my head, but it's the "in-between" I'm struggling with (how many books in the series, how extensive will the other dimension become from what it is in book 1...Thank you for challenging me to start putting it all together!