Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fantasy Fiction Writing - Believable World Building

Wishful Thinking by K. Crumley, fantasy novella available in Kindle or print
I welcome today a guest post from fantasy author K. Crumley. Her enthusiasm for writing reminds me of myself. Like her, I chose to pursue my writing seriously in my twenties and even changed my major at college to support that goal. Find out more about K. Crumley's publication credits after her detailed article about fantasy world buidling. She is currently promoting her novella Wishful Thinking (Daughters of Oberia Book 1).

Guide to Fantasy World Building by K. Crumley
One of the biggest challenges in writing fiction—particularly fantasy fiction—is creating a believable, plausible realm that is different from our own. Even if we write urban fantasy or modern fantasy we need to create a world in which our fantasy character came from before they were magically (or otherwise) transported into our “real world.”

This world could be small, like a typical medieval kingdom. Or it could be large—like an entire galaxy.

There are several key elements to consider when creating your world:

Map it out: It is helpful to draw a map; not necessarily a map to put on the front page of your book. It’s a useful tool to help you in the writing process. You don’t have to be a skilled artist—just a series of squares or circles in a set pattern, all labeled with the appropriate named place can help you in your storytelling process and avoid inconsistencies. I did this for the upcoming fantasy series The Corithian Trilogy, which is one of my current works in progress.

Races and species: I found it helpful to draw up a “cheat sheet” for the different races/species in each story. I detailed each element from whether or not it is sentient, natural habitat, what each creature/race eats, languages spoken, etc.

Try not to “clutter” your story with too many varieties of races and/or species. Keep it well-proportioned to the realm and to the story itself.

Languages: Different languages for the characters in your realm can come into play—but do this with caution. If you use a lot of overly-complicated words that are consonant-heavy, you run the risk of turning readers off. Keep it simple, and use it sparingly. If necessary, you can include a mini-glossary of words used on the last page.

It helps to say the names of places, people, and spells aloud to yourself (even read aloud those sections of your story in which you include these) to make sure everything sounds all right. Keep these words all in the same “family” for unity, clarity, and believability. For example: I used the words “Trelijah” and “Treshana” in my Wishful Thinking (Daughters of Oberia Book I). Both words are overpowering spells, which might accompany another spell. Two varieties of flora with magical properties found in Oberia are Yasminea and Sharana.

If you have a fantasy realm with many kingdoms, and each kingdom/city has its own language…you should keep each language in its own “family.” If one continent’s language is vowel-heavy, then maybe another continent could be consonant-heavy. Maybe each country in your own realm is different, but has similarities in language. Something at it’s core—but varies slightly from nation to nation.

Profanity, slang, and jargon: A common pet peeve amongst fantasy readers (and as I’ve discovered, movie fans) is “over-modernization” in medieval fantasy. For example, an elfin archer uttering words like “dude” or “whatevs.” A medieval knight should not sound like a 14 year-old skateboarder (However, if you want to transport said skateboarding teen into a medieval world, go for it!)

Sometimes the modernization of jargon is appropriate (like for urban fantasy, and even PNR) but other times, it comes across…well, like that scene in Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers where Legolas used a shield to “skateboard” down the stairs while he shot arrows at Orcs. It’s prone to throw the readers off, and pull them out of the story.

You can, however create your own appropriate jargon within your realm; invent your own series of expressions—maybe even used by the youth in your culture. You can even create, within your languages, it’s very own profanity. Not only does this function to keep your world very separate and distinct, but you can do this tastefully and tactfully without worrying about offending your readership. For example, the characters in the Farscape series using the word “Frell.”

Cultures and sub-cultures: Think about culture—how your characters act, dress, what form of transportation they use (if any). Maybe each location or city in your realm (or Kingdom if you prefer) has its own subculture, its own dress code their manner of talking and acting. Perhaps they each have their own government. Maybe their governments are at war with each other. Maybe each culture worships a different god; each sub-culture worships the same God with very different rituals. I really admire China Meiville's world building technique in The City & The City. And, the way his two cities each had their own culture and manner of dress. The way they behaved…it really fit in well with the plot and theme of the story, as a whole.

Ecology and geology: Keep everything possible, and within the laws of nature. A tundra cannot exist on either side of a desert plane (unless there is some magic within your story making that possible, if so it should be explained well in your story—or maybe that is part of your plot?).

Magic and the use of spells: Keep in mind what I said about language, and keeping it simple. Create “rules” for your magic, as well as “obstacles.” I think the most believable stories contain spells that just don’t work—or realms where certain magic does not work in (as I did with Wishful Thinking). Counter-spells and antidotes to magic exist in just about every believable fantasy story; as well as non-magical sentient creatures. The “muggles” in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, for instance. Is there dark magic and light magic? Flesh out your magic and spells as much as you do for your protagonist.

Consistency: Keep all of the details about your fantasy world consistent. Take a lot of notes, draw up charts and “cheat sheets” and follow them throughout your storytelling process. Refer to them often. It may even become necessary to tweak them from time to time, as your story unfolds.

Dare to be different: Don’t worry about taking risks by doing something different than what everybody else is doing. Not all fantasy worlds have to be carbon copies of Tolkien’s Middle Earth (nor should they). Create your own realm with your own ideas.

During the early stages of writing Wishful Thinking, I was told that my faerie characters were “too large.” That they should be tiny, Barbie-sized beings that flit around and land on people’s shoulders and they should “glow.” Well, my faeries were not Tinkerbell—and I was not going for the Peter Pan style of Faerie. I wrote an urban fantasy in which faeries blend in with real people, keeping their fae nature and homeworld of Oberia a secret from those in the Outer Realm (aka the “real world”).

Oberia is part of my fantasy world, and I created it the way I saw fit. I have fleshed it out and developed to suit my own needs, and the story telling of the trilogy.

I think that within the mind's eye of each fantasy writer, there are beautiful and mysterious new worlds to explore. Each book is a journey into each realm.

About K. Crumley

I have been an avid reader and writer of fantasy fiction since I was a child. I started pursuing it seriously, and with passion in my early twenties, when I had changed my college majors from dance to Psychology and English Writing. I also completed Writers Digest’s short fiction writing course.

My earliest stories were children’s picture books (which I wrote with my sister, who is an artist), short stories and spiritual poems. I have had poetry and short stories published in small press periodicals and ezines, as I started to branch out in my writing career and work on a variety of projects—including my long-time epic fantasy project The Corithian Saga.

I’m a member and former moderator of the website, and publisher and editor of the fledgling periodical Full Armor Magazine.

My short stories:

Black Widow & Other Tales

My Novella:
Wishful Thinking (Daughters of Oberia book 1)
Available in kindle and in print.

Fantasy readers can find out more about K. Crumley at her many web pages.

Amazon author page  

Imprint website  

Author website 

Author blog