The First Step in Fantasy World Building

by | Jun 17, 2016

Last Updated:
May 27, 2017

What is the first step you take when creating a fantasy world?

If you read my post on Map Making 101, you know I like drawing a visual map. It creates a world that is entwined with my growing story faster than just about any technique.

But there is actually one step before that to really set the foundation for a novel.

And the good news is If you’ve thought of any aspect of your story you’ve already begun this. Really. You just haven’t realized it yet.

What do you need in this new world for your story to exist?

What I mean is are you thinking swords? Are they iron or bronze? Or is this a world where metals are rare or forging hasn’t been invented? Are there lots of trees so blades are resin/amber? Glass? Stone? Do people sail or travel by camel (or some other strange creature)?

Does that give you an “aha” moment?

Whether you purposefully chose some aspects like castles or a modern city to set your story, that choice was the first moment of world building. And it is the perfect place to start brainstorming what else is needed in your fantasy world.

Make an inventory of those little aspects that you’ve been thinking about and might not have even realized were important. Are people hunting with bows and arrows? Is this akin to our middle ages or older – Grecian? Ancient China? Or are we 100 years in the future with sky scrapers and space craft? Flesh out the era because if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what is in the past or what is going on in the present.

And choosing an era based on our world history will generate so many other ideas. Sure, you can tweak things, break rules and have togas with steam powered cars. But knowing that you are breaking expectations will help you prepare your reader for those surprise twists so they don’t fall out of the story wondering what the heck is going on.

How does choosing and era breed ideas?

When I wrote Born of Water, I wanted to create something different from the typical sword and sorcery. I didn’t want castles and knights. The idea of a Mediterranean/Grecian world inspired me. By choosing it a list of “installation options” popped to mind like I’d checked a box while ordering a custom car online (who hasn’t done that just once to see how much all those bells and whistles would really cost?).


Along the northern shore

Mediterranean … probably means a sea, warm weather, violent storms, and sailing. I’ll take all the above please. Togas? Nah. Horses? They exist. Swords? They are around but not everyone has one. Magic … hmmmm.

What kind of magic would exist in a Mediterranean style world?

I could have gone godlike with Medusa and Zeus. And I’m sure there are herbalist mixing spells … but when I think Mediterranean, I think lots of water, bright blazing sun in a vast sky, and sails filled with wind as ships face along rocky cliffs. Water. Fire. Air. Earth. Of course I used elemental magic!

The magic and the world choice went hand in hand. It fits the story, the characters, and the world I built. When I drew the map to further develop the cultures spread across my world of Myrrah, consideration for where the society lived and what elements were around them shaped the possible powers born to those people. That, in turn, shaped the story with prejudices, preferences, and problems.

So the first step is really determining the era, what expectations come with it, which you want to keep, which you want to break, and how all of it will affect the rest of your world and story.

Did you purposefully choose and era for your story? Or do you start your world building somewhere else? Let me know in the comments!



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Written by: Autumn

Autumn is a best selling indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical! She is currently settled in the wilds of Maine with her small dragonish dog and husband, searching for a portal to another world.

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