I’m in the very early stages of planning a fantasy trilogy. It’s been running through my head for a while now, but life and other projects just keep getting in the way. (Note that I’m not complaining about that stuff. A writer’s life involves a constant juggling of priorities between the family, day job, and other writing things.)
As I sat down and outline the major plot points and start writing a few scene, I instantly ran into a huge problem that I never saw coming. I realized that I don’t have very good world-building skills. Everything I ever written or had published has been–in one way or another–Earth based.
Sure I’ve come up with the occasional angel, demon, or alien, but for the most part, all of the characters, and all of the settings have been derived from our current time and place. Here’s a quick list of things that need to be better developed in my (and possibly your) fantasy world.
Maybe I’m making this more difficult than it needs to be, but I’m having a terrible time coming up with names that don’t sound like they are straight out of Tolkien fan fiction. I suppose naming is easy enough to do with humans; you can just use medieval-sounding European-sound names, since that’s what everyone has done in fantasy since the beginning of time. But what of non-human races? In a lot of ways, you still need to base them off the language your novel is written in, otherwise they may be difficult for the reader to pronounce, which will hurt the overall product.
This is pretty similar to names. Your towns, cities, countries, etc. need to have name. But unlike the character naming problem above, naming locations doesn’t have to be as difficult. You can use geography to name them if you want. In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, for example, the primary region of the first book is “Two Rivers.”
I guess another potential problem creating places is that you might need to develop nations, kingdoms, and other governments. This isn’t such a big deal, however, since just about any form of government or monarchy can work in just about any type of fiction.
Time and dates
How long is a day? How does your fantasy world track time? How long do your characters live, and how do they measure age? This could be extremely relevant, and it’s hard to imagine other cultures coming up with arbituary things like “weeks” and “months”, but maybe I’m wrong and it’s perfectly acceptable to use a calendar based on our own.
This might be a small detail that doesn’t matter in most cases, but when I’m reading a book, I like to know that a mile is a mile. How do we measure distance in a way that the reader can find relevant.
Wild boars, Minotaurs, Dragons, Ogres…At what point do you abandon the traditional fantasy creatures and create your own? Or on the other hand, is it okay to fill your world with animals from our real world? Horses, chickens, sheep, and cows. I suppose it depends on the purpose. If a large bird exists that people raise only to eat, it might make more sense to just call it a chicken, instead of creating a new creature for the reader to learn.
Is the standard copper-silver-gold-platinum formula of currency okay to use? I think so, but however you choose to create currency in your world, just make sure it’s consistent within itself. I don’t see a big problem using our current system as a model.
Finally, to close things out, I’ll admit that I used to laugh at people who seemed to spend years worldbuilding, but now I’m starting to understand. Either way, I guess this post had more questions than answers, but sometimes that’s what a blog is for. Ask the questions and hope to find the answers. So if you’ve got any, leave a comment and let us know!