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Worldbuilding for Fantasy Authors

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

“How do you come up with fantasy worlds?” I was recently at a book festival, speaking on a panel with a couple other fantasy authors, and this was the question posed to us. It got me thinking a lot about worldbuilding. The truth is, coming up with new worlds, with new environments, creatures, cultures, and technologies, isn’t easy for me. It’s probably the hardest part of the writing process. But I’ve learned a lot through forcing myself to do it, and it’s been rewarding. Every author has their own process, but for me, worldbuilding is about two things: wanting and wondering. Fantasy for me is about wish-fulfilment. I think about places I want to go and things I’d like to experience, and then I build worlds where my characters can experience those things. I love deserts, for instance. They’ve always fascinated me. It’s no coincidence I made my fictional planet Lyria be mostly desert, and then got my protagonist lost there. Giant dunes. Rippling mirages. Blazing suns. In writing it, I got to experience the beauty and majesty of deserts—without any danger of actually, you know, dying. I’ve also always wanted to explore other planets, so I put my characters into a spaceship and sent them off. I can live vicariously through them. That's the reason I like to read fantasy and sci-fi--to escape--and it's also one of the major reasons I write it. When I’m developing worlds, I also ask plenty of “what-if” questions. My current novel series began with a “what if”—what if a planet orbited conjoined binary stars? Could such a planet feasibly have life, and what would that life be like? (The answer is probably NO, realistically, but I don’t write straight science fiction.) You can ask any number of questions to spark your imagination and develop the seeds of a fantastic world. “What if people stopped aging?” “What if the dead could be brought back to life?” “What if a planet was entirely ocean?” “What if people could perform music-based magic?” Keep asking questions, and then ask about the implications of your answers. What conflicts might develop in such a world? How can you create characters who embody those conflicts?

Getting started may be the hardest part. I find that once I work out the basics of a fantasy world, the rest begins to fall into place as I sort out the details. It's not easy to bring a new world to life, but there are few things that engender such a sense of creative triumph.

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