Fantasy worldbuilding is one of the most important things when it comes to writing a fantasy novel.
Good worldbuilding can offer story opportunities, create an immersive setting for your characters to explore, and just make your story seem alive.
While good worldbuilding can give you many great benefits, when done badly, the lack of good worldbuilding can absolutely destroy a story, no matter how good the plot or the characters are.
So, today, I’m going to give you worldbuilding to-do list that you can use as a kind of map to figure out where you are in your worldbuilding journey.
I have many years of experience when it comes to writing fictional stories. I’ve created hundreds of pages of history for my Jalten world as well as created unique and working fantasy languages.
I’ll write an article about creating fictional languages soon, so be sure to follow my blog so you won’t miss that amazing worldbuilding opportunity!
Worldbuilding To-Do List
When I begin to work on a world, there are a few things I’ll consider before I start doing anything else.
- The races and creatures that will live in my world
- The actual map of the world
- Basic nature systems. (Does your world’s gravity work differently than it does on earth)
- Magic and how it’s used
When you look at these four things, you might say, “that seems like a huge amount of work!”
Well, you’re correct, but worry not!
When you are first getting started, it’s important to resist the urge to go too deep on these four points.
At the early stages, your main goal should be to establish the foundations of your world, after which you can actually start expanding your worldbuilding on those foundations.
So, let’s get to the first point in our to-do list.
(You don’t necessarily need to fill the to-do list in the exact order as presented.)
Worldbuilding Races And Creatures
This is maybe the most common place people start when they’re figuring out their fictional world and I don’t blame them.
It’s good to know what kind of beings and creatures are actually living in your world, for this can have an effect in your map, your kingdoms, and even your magic systems, just to give as an example.
As you probably know, the common races are elves, orcs, dwarfs, and of course, humans.
It might be tempting to just take those races and slap them in without changing anything from the days of Tolkien, but I’m here to keep you in the path of light.
I highly suggest you forget these cliche races and create your own unique creatures.
I know how hard it can be to move out of this “norm” when it comes to fantasy, but actually having a unique race or a creature in your story makes it even more immersive and interesting to the reader.
For example, I’ve created a race called “Charitar,” who are basically spirits, wrapped in silk-like cloths and they can use their energetic powers to manifest objects, made of that same energy.
I’m very proud of my creation and it makes my world seem more like–well–my world.
If we as authors keep slamming those elves into the woods and those orcs under the servitude of the dark lord, the realm of fantasy will just be the same worlds over and over again.
It’s our responsibility and in your best interest to shake things up, to really explore the imagination and create something truly fantastical and magical.
Allow your imagination to flow here, for it’s ultimately where those sweet ideas come from.
And if you really want those elves into your story, try to change the normal traits a bit. Don’t make the elves live in forests, for example. Make your elves the miners of the world, the technicians and explorers.
Try to add something new and interesting, for then the fact that you have elves running around won’t feel like a cliche anymore!
Creating Your Fantasy Map
A fantasy world without a map is like a knight without armour.
By creating a detailed map for your fantasy world, you’ll create a huge difference in the quality of the story and the actual worldbuilding.
Maps help you figure out where everything is. It helps you remain organized and consistent with the locations of your world.
Maps can also be a source of great inspiration!
By drawing that map, you can find out different things about your world, for example, you might create a mountain range somewhere and your imagination begins to fly.
Soon, you’ve created a new myth for that location and your worldbuilding just got more interesting.
I won’t go into actually drawing a map in this post, for I’ll write an entire article about that subject, for it truly deserves it.
In a nutshell, the map allows your readers to get a better understanding of your world, while also allowing you to create a more consistent world with actual distances and interesting locations.
Plus, I just think fantasy maps looks super cool!
Go ahead, draw them! You’ll get better at it as you go!
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Worldbuilding Natural Laws
This is something that can be overlooked at times.
The usual route when it comes to worldbuilding is basically to just take the physics from our world and copy-paste them into your fantasy world.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but I’ve learned that creating something unique in this matter as well makes your world so much more interesting.
Maybe your world is just a collection of floating landmasses? Maybe the world itself is in space? Maybe your world is not a globe, but a flat disk with a hole in a middle?
There are so many opportunities for great worldbuilding and storytelling here. You just have to allow your imagination to fly.
I liked the thought of creating a flat world, from which a mortal soul could fall into the abyss where the dark creatures would wait.
By making your world flat, for example, you’re changing the entirety of the inner logic your world operates in.
Think about it. If you can fall off the edge of the world, traders can’t sail around the world, which creates limitations. People might create myths about the edge simply because they fear it.
There are endless chances for great worldbuilding here, though it might take time to create a strong foundation for it.
It will be worth the while. Trust me!
This is one of those big subjects of worldbuilding.
Magic and spells are a big part of fantasy, while also being one of the most fun things to write about.
But there are also many pitfalls one can make when writing about magic.
I’ll write an entire article about magic systems later on, but for now, I’ll give you a quick idea what we’re dealing with here.
Basically, the first tip of worldbuilding magic is to actually figure out the level of complexity you want to your magic system.
“A wizard must learn the complex laws and rules of magic in order to use it. Using magic requires a form of sacrifice or a ritual. Using magic requires the user to sacrifice his/her soul to a god in order to gain access to magi.”
Those are examples of Hard Magic Systems.
Hard magic systems are basically magic systems with highly detailed laws and rules the sorcerers must comply to.
A good example of a hard magic system would be Harry Potter, for the students must learn the different spells and wand movements in order to use magic.
These kinds of magic systems are usually explained to the audience, so they know what to expect of magic. This helps build consistency.
“A wandering old man walked into the tavern. As he sat down, a group of bandits demanded his coins, but the old man only tapped his staff on the ground and the bandits moved on as if they had never seen him.”
The other type of magic system is Soft Magic System.
This basically means that you don’t go too deep into how the magic works.
I suggest using this system if your story doesn’t focus highly on magic, for you’ll save your own time and sanity.
But there’s also a danger in the soft magic system. It might cause a medical condition called
A WIZARD DID IT!
By not ruling out the limitations and capabilities of the magic in your world, you might use magic to write yourself out of difficult situations.
This can come off as cheap and ruin the immersion for your reader.
Thus, I think it’s as important to figure out the rules of the magic, at least to yourself in a way that keeps you from using magic as a crutch solution for your heroes to abuse.
It’s also important to think how magic actually affects the societies in your fantasy world. I know for a fact that the world would be a bit different if people could cast fireballs around…
You can also create your magic system in the middle ground between these two, which is something that I used for my project.
In the end, it’s about figuring out that attracts you and what works best for your story and your world!
Those were the four things you should consider when starting your worldbuilding journey.
Keep in mind that you can go extremely deep within every point I made here, for worldbuilding is almost an endless marathon. It never ends, for you will always figure out new ideas and ways to make your world even more immersive.
But it’s also important to remember to not stress about your worldbuilding.
It can be easy to compare your world to someone’s else’s and feel like your world is inferior because it doesn’t have a full bible of backstory.
Every fictional world is different and it’s good to keep that in mind.
Don’t stress about worldbuilding. Take your time. Have fun with it, for it’s ultimately one of the most enjoyable things you can do as a fantasy author.
Let your imagination fly and you will forge a great world for your heroes to live in and your readers to explore!