Depending on your story, when you worldbuild for a fantasy novel, you may be starting from scratch. Obviously, if you are writing an urban fantasy (a fantasy set on earth), you have an established world, with its own rules and people groups and continents, etc. But you still need to establish the rules for your magic, the culture for your characters, the limitations of the magic and how the magic works.
Whatever type of fantasy novel you write, whether it’s high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk fantasy, fairytale fantasy or any of the other dozen subgenres, there are a few questions you need to ask at some point, whether it’s before you start, when you’re halfway through and your stuck or when you’ve already written the whole thing and you’re going back for a rewrite.
Personally, I get the basics down before I start and then I do a more complex version when I’m three or four chapters in and I work on more of it when I get stuck. Then, before I edit and rewrite, I make sure that it’s all cohesive.
Building Your Character’s World
To get yourself started, ask yourself some general questions about the place your character lives:
- Where is it located? What landmarks are nearby?
- Is it safe?
- What’s the atmosphere of the place? Warm? Friendly? Gloomy? Creepy? Welcoming?
- What’s the average temperature? Do the seasons change? How does temperature affect clothing choices?
- Who lives there?
- How big or small is it? What’s the population size?
- What is the landscape like?
- How is it governed?
- How do people earn a living? What’s the largest employer?
- Who is happiest about living there? Who’s the least happy?
- What are the annual celebrations?
- What religions are practiced?
- Is the place vulnerable to change?
- What is unfamiliar about the world?
Building Your Magical People
These are questions that should get you started thinking about the magical people living in your world and how they react to and interact with one another and the other people around them.
- What kind of magic abilities do they have?
- What are the different people groups? Who has magic? Who doesn’t?
- How does magic affect how people dress?
- How many hours do people work?
- What education do they have?
- Do they need training to use their magic?
- Where does the magic come from? Are they born with it?
- How do they use their magic? Magic words? An object, such as a wand? A combination of those things?
- Do non-magic people know about the magic people and creatures? (If not, how do they hide it?)
- What kind of magic creatures live there? How are they treated?
- What kind of rules govern magic usage and the magic peoples?
- How common is magic?
- What threats exist to the magical people?
- What conflicts exist between neighbors, both magic and non-magic?
Advantages of Worldbuilding
When you worldbuild, it can help you make your world more unique and it gives you insight into the people groups and cultures of the people living in your world. You can make them feel more real and where they live becomes real to you. It also gives you subplots, because you might learn about conflicts between two different groups of magic people or about conflicts within the magic populations. It’s also a lot of fun and can help you work through writer’s block, because you may realize that the reason your stuck is the scene you’re working on doesn’t fit or actually needs to reveal something you didn’t even know about yet.