Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Art of Fantasy: Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of the aspects that drew me into reading and writing fantasy. I'll admit it up front, I read fantasy to escape the real world. I'm just not a modern girl and I don't much like the modern world. I would love to go back to the days of long flowing dresses and swords. Yes, even without all the conveniences and yes I realize that the days of yore had their share of problems too. That's the beauty of fantasy. You can create your own secondary world taking or leaving whatever you want from the real one and adding to it whatever your imagination can supply. It could be a world of sunshine and rainbows called Happy Valley. Or it could be a world just as dark and dangerous as this one, but where you as the creator get to choose and control what kind of darkness and just how dangerous. And you get to choose who wins.

I love well created fantasy worlds. Middle-earth, of course, stands out as the shining beacon that I aspire to emulate. Narnia, Prydain, Discworld, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter... there's something about a well developed fantasy setting that has substance, that stays with you after you've finished reading. They feel like they could so easily be real. And maybe if we click our heels together or say the magic words... we could get there.

But worldbuilding isn't easy. Tolkien spent his entire life developing the world of Arda, of which Middle-earth is only a part. It paid off. There are people (not me, seriously) who learn to speak its languages fluently and know every single known detail about its history and peoples. Arda is a world that has substance and remains with people, but its level of depth and scope is a rare feat. (Possibly unique.) I aim for it tremulously.

Like Tolkien, I am inspired by various real world mythologies. Anyone who has read my blog even a little knows about my (somewhat obsessive) fascination with Ancient Egypt. It was the first mythology I fell in love with after learning about Egypt in grade school and one part of my world is based strongly on that culture. Other parts of the world will draw from other mythologies, such as Celtic and Greek. The question when being influenced by a real mythology is how much to utilize. How do I balance the bits I take from the real world with the bits from my own imagination? I don't pretend to have an answer. I'm just another storyteller trying and erring until I like what I see.

For the next month I'll be sharing much of what I've come up with while worldbuilding for my first novel. Since the first novel about my world is set entirely in the Egyptian inspired nation, I will focus on what I have developed of that country. (I haven't worked much on the other areas of the world yet.) This is for the A to Z blogging challenge so each day of April I will be taking a letter of the alphabet and sharing a bit about a worldbuilding aspect associated with that letter (like C is for Cuisine). I hope it will be fun for those stopping by, especially for anyone interested in worldbuilding. Tomorrow I'll post a list of all the topics I'll be covering for the next month.


  1. This will be a learning experience, or maybe a re-learning - I'm interested to see how much of what we learnt all those years ago we still remember.

  2. Ooh, looking forward to it. World-building is why fantasy writers write.

  3. Now that is a good idea. Sharing world building techniques. In my world, Gil-Lael, it is very much like this one at an earlier time with fantastical creatures. I envisioned what would happen if during the continental shifts, some of those continents went into an alternate reality already populated with people and animals.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

  4. Two of my favorite fictional worlds are Terry Prachett's Disk World and Clive Barker's Abarat (I'm so glad he's finally finishing the 3rd book in the series!). I'm looking forward to hearing what you have come up with in your own quest.

  5. I could use world-building tips, as I tend to focus more on characters.

  6. Just curious what you thought of James Cameron's world of Avatar. There is no greater dream I'd have than to spend the next four years helping to world build the sequels coming out in 2014 and 2015!

  7. I've actually never seen that movie, Eli. I've heard it suffers quite a bit on the story front.


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