Nations are important to a fantasy setting. The conflict between different empires and kingdoms can give the story a vast scale, while also providing challenges for the protagonists. It’s relatively easy to create a nation. Make a flag, design the army and political system and it’s done? NOPE! In order to make the nation feel real and alive, we have to create a culture for it. How do the people of the kingdom feast? What are their greatest celebrations? What are their religions and social norms? What is seen as good and bad in the kingdom? These are the questions we have to figure out if we want to create a truly fantastical experience for our readers!
My first tip: Think about the basic structures.
What’s the political system of your kingdom or nation? Who rules? Who has the ultimate power when regarding laws and justice? Is there a king? An emperor? A god? Figuring out the political system helps a lot and it offers many story possibilities as well! For example, The king could have turned mad and the heroes must try to wake him up from the corruption. Or the emperor could be driven by revenge and lust for control, thus, he would lead his people into many wars, bringing death and conflict into the world.
Fundamentally, try to figure this out as early as possible! You’ll thank me later!
For more information about political systems, you should take a look at this Wikipedia article: Political system.
My second word of advice: Figure out the beliefs and norms of your kingdom and society!
When I was creating the kingdom of Valnoria, I had many strong themes in mind. I wanted the Valnorian people to believe in honor and justice. I also wanted them to be righteous people, who follow the laws and advise of the Gods without question. Thus, these things affect the norms of the people. It affects everything! It affects architecture, the way people see good and evil, how people act in certain situations, and how they see their kings and queens. In my case, Valnorians accept the Valnorian family to be the royal family, for the Gods chose them thousands of years ago.
So as I was saying: You should figure out how religious your kingdom is. What things do they admire? Is it brute strength? Or is it the skill to use one’s mind to its fullest? This shapes the culture and creates the norms for your kingdom and the good thing is, it’s pretty easy to figure these out if you have a theme figured out!
Tip number three: Create festivals and events your people celebrate!
We all celebrate something. Birthdays, independence days, Christmas… we have celebrations we celebrate annually and you have to figure out what your fictional people celebrate. Otherwise, their lives would be filled with ordinary routines, never having a touch of something special!
My Valnorian people celebrate the landing of the Gods in summer. This celebration has its roots in the myth that the Gods arrived from the sea after falling from the sky. They then forged humanity at the beaches of Valnoria. This celebration is filled with music and food, taking place at the very beaches the Gods once stood.
They also celebrate the birth of different people, who forged the current kingdom of Valnoria. One of these people is the first human king, Valnor. There’s also the tradition to send the body of the dead kings at the sea, where it’s believed the Gods will take him and bring him to the skies.
Figure out the basic celebrations your people celebrate. Create traditions they talk about and are eager to witness again and again. This gives meaning and specialty into the lives of the common folk, which in turn makes your worldbuilding more alive!
Fourth tip: Think about the natural resources your kingdom has. What’s their specialty?
A good addition is to think about the natural landscape of your kingdom. Is it near the sea? If so, what trade routes are available? Or is your kingdom surrounded by forests, thus, giving them a lot of wood to work with.
These things also affect the culture of your kingdom, while also offering new and interesting conflicts to be born. For example, a foreign nation could be running low on metals and your kingdom has an abundance of it. This could lead to a war, which will allow your protagonists to get into the conflict! Be clever!
I like to think about the specialties of my peoples too! My Rashal lords are excellent smiths, while Valnorians are more focused on architecture, magic, and siege weapons! Nations can trade with each other, creating friendships and alliances! The possibilities are endless!
Fifth and the last tip: Add details!
Create flags, sigils, national songs… create tons of things! What king od uniforms do the soldiers use? What are the tactics the nation complies with during war? There are so many things to create and so many things to add, even when you feel like everything is done. Trust me: When you think you’re done, there’s still much to do!
Remember to have fun and don’t stress yourself too much! I’ve done the mistake of creating a fictional world and then reading something like Game of Thrones, after which, feeling inferior in regards to worldbuilding. Your world doesn’t have to have dragons and hundreds of different nations. It’s your world and no matter the choices you make, it will be great and an amazing journey for the reader to take! Don’t compare yourself to others! Focus on your craft and keep honing it until you’re fully satisfied!
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See you next week, with a new short story coming on Monday!