On the creation of fantasy worlds

For years I've been kicking around the idea of writing a fantasy novel.  The ideas swirl around in my head and, over time, some of them stick.  They build on each other and become something real.  Or if not quite real, something special.

The "world" is a key element in fantasy literature.  Most fantasy novels are driven by the worlds their authors have created.  The characters are important, as is the plot, but without a well-crafted world, stories fail.  You need a well-crafted world to enter into, to lose yourself in, for the fantasy project to work.

So, how do you create fantasy worlds?

1) Make one change to our world

Imagine that the world is the same as ours, except for one small change.  That change could be as simple as "Wizards are real" as in Harry Potter or "Greek gods are real" as in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

A big part of the appeal of series like this is that the fantasy world is so similar to the world we inhabit.  Around any corner you could encounter this other world.  The small distance between the two worlds and easy passage between them makes for great storytelling.

2) Limit one resource and build a world without it

Imagine a world without death, without light, without dry land, without water.  These limitations mold and shape society and humanity, providing opportunities for new adventures and heroism.

Frank Herbert accomplished this in his Dune series, creating a planet without water, then asking why there is no water and how humans would live in a world without water and what sort of culture would arise in such a world. 

3) Build from the ground up

Begin at the beginning.  Write a creation narrative.  Create a history. 

This is what JRR Tolkien did.  From the AinulindalĂ« into the Silmarillion and then into the more familiar Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy he created and unrolled an entire world, including history and language.  A more thorough fantasy creation is hard to imagine.

What other ways can you think of to create a fantasy world?

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