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Writing Tips: Building a Fantasy or Science Fiction World

Fantasy and Science Fiction are two of the hardest genres to write, especially if you plan to create an entirely new world. The first step in world building is making note of all the necessary components a world needs. The easiest way to accomplish this is to start with our country for comparison.

The United States

  1. Government: Democratic Republic

  2. Geography: Rockies in the west, Atlantic Ocean to the east, Pacific Ocean to the west, deserts in Arizona, the Mississippi river, big cities like New York and Chicago, farmland for crops, suburbs.

  3. History: New country. Gained independence from Britain. Land of the free.

  4. People: Large middle class. Races – Asian, African American, White, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian. Accents – New York, Southern accent.

  5. Religion: Mostly Christian. Other groups – Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, Hindu.

  6. Education: large school system from K-12th. College is a priority.

  7. Travel: planes, buses, cars, bikes, motorcycles, ships.

  8. Technology: communication, internet, phones, entertainment

  9. Magic: none

  10. Health Care: Hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses, surgeries.

  11. Style: girls – skinny jeans, t-shirts, scarfs. boys – jeans, shirts, sweatshirts.

The list could certainly go on! I think starting with a rough outline is smart, then you can decide what you need or don’t need depending on your individual story. Remember, the more you add the more realistic your story will be to your readers; but there is a balance. Avoid getting bogged down with excessive details that don’t contribute to overall plot or character development. Also, don’t force explanations that don’t fit in context with your chapter or passage because readers will notice. Your characters already understand their world because they have been living in it and should not overly narrate or explain everything to the audience. Readers should learn about this new world naturally through experiences, dialogue, characters, and events; riding a giant bird should be as natural as taking a drive in a pickup truck!

J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the perfect example of extensive world building. In fact, Tolkien even created an entire language for his series! Many fantasy writer’s today have built off of Tolkien’s ideas by including similar elements such as elves, dwarfs, evil kings, and magic into their novels. After finishing a fantasy story that I started writing in high school, I realized that I had essentially rewrote The Lord of Rings. Writers are avid readers, making similarities between novels bound to happen.

But I want to challenge writers!

There is SO much room for creativity with fantasy and science fiction. Don’t settle for the ideas of other authors. Keep brainstorming and I’m sure you will come up with a species more original than elves!

Here is an example of a world I created using the same outline above.

Country name: Alpina

  1. Government: Anarchy

  2. Geography: Skinny country. Shaped like a U. The Spruce Mountains in the north. Beaches and numerous islands along the curve of the southern coast. Marline is the capital located on the curve of the U (used to be where the king lived).

  3. History: Corruption had been brewing for a long time. After the weak, passive King Nathan was overthrown by a rebellion, the country collapsed into chaos.

  4. People: There are over thirty different pure breeds of humans and hundreds of different hybrids. People – lots of poor, numerous criminals and pirates, some special groups working to make peace.

  5. Religion: There is a faith in one God they call Abba. Many others serve idols.

  6. Education: Taught by parents or private tutors.

  7. Travel: horses, dragons, giant birds, pegasus, carriage (travel by air a lot).

  8. Magic: Different breeds have special abilities, but not magical.

  9. Health Care: Some breeds have ability to heal people (Can put people in deep unconscious state for nor surgeries).

  10. Style: men and women – leggings, tunics, trousers, boots, cloaks.

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