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EelKat's Guide to
World Building For Fiction Writers -
Creating a Fantasy Realm

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By EelKat Wendy C Allen

Are you writing a fantasy novel? Have you joined NaNoWriMo and don't know what to do next? Do you need to know where your characters live? Need help creating that new world? You can find help here! In this series are some things that I do when creating a new world. My own genre is a blend of dark science fiction-fantasy romance. Over the past 30 odd years I've created not only alternate realms here on earth, but also two complete solar systems, with four planets capable of sustaining life.

The Twighlight Manor series started in 1978 with a the talking Diontite cat named EelKat and her Crystonite friend, Emperor Blue. By 1983, I had created an entire solar system for these two characters, and added more than 70 other characters, each complete with a family history. With hand drawn star charts and atlases lining my bedroom walls, my tiny little solar system jumped out of my head and went on paper, and at one point began to take over as a full scale 3-D model, complete with doll houses and dolls of the characters themselves. When it came to world building, I took my world building very seriously.

Well, in the 28 years since then (35 years as of 2013!), I have continued to expand on my Twighlight Manor Universe, which now holds multiple solar systems and a whole bevy of planets and races inhabiting them.

My fantasy realms for The Twighlight Manor series have ranged from:

The Twighlight Manor: a flesh-eating haunted house;

Planet Flame: a volcanic realm where water turns to lava by day;

Crystonia: a planet driven to apocalypse after a comet sent them into an instant ice age;

An unnamed undersea realm of merpeople;

Diona & Ptarmagin: a world with it's smaller twin planet: one ruled by science and the other by environmentalists cats;

In this series of articles I'll look at what it takes to make a fantasy world come to life.

*UPDATE: ADDED November 7, 2013 - I suppose one thing I should point out at this point, before we go any farther, is my use of the word fantasy throughout this series. The bulk of this set of articles was written 7 years ago in April of 2006, parts of it appearing on EK's Star Log and other parts of it appearing on my personal Squidoo account. In the 7 years since writing this I've received hundreds of emails regarding it. A common question asked being: "Why do you talk of building a fantasy world if you don't write Fantasy?"

ANSWER: Fantasy with a capital "F" is the name of a type of fiction, in other words Fantasy is a genre. I do not write Fantasy fiction of the Fantasy genre, that is correct. I do however create fantasy realms for my Science Fiction and Horror works.

Did you see it? No? Let me point it out: I write about fantasy worls as the exist in Horror and Sci-Fi but I do not write about fantasy world as they exist in Fantasy Fiction.

If it is not real it is fiction, if it exists only in fiction it it fantastical, if it is fantastical it is a fantasy item, because it is not a real item, however being fantastical does not make it part of the Fantasy genre, just as not everything in the Fantasy genre is always fantastical in nature.

The word "fantasy" with a lower case "f" is a word that means "not real" and has nothing to do with the Fantasy genre (capital "F") at all. And therefore when I say "fantasy realm" I mean a world that is NOT the Earth on which you and I live on in the real world, and am in no way, shape, or form referring to the Fantasy genre.

The methods I use to create my fantasy realms can be applied to ANY genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Romance, Western, etc.

(Due to issues with content scraping, outright plagiarism, some of my articles appearing on Squidoo without my permission, and many of my "Squidoo articles" being stolen off Squidoo and posted without my permission on various  blogs and sites including Wikipedia and Helium; all of my articles are in the process of being removed from Squidoo. This series of World Building articles in one that has been heavily plagiarized over the years and as of September 2013, it can only OFFICIALLY be found here on EelKat.com - if you find it posted elsewhere, know it was stolen and I am not receiving royalties for it.)

When creating a fantasy realm for your story, the first thing you must ask yourself is: Why?

Why are you going to create a fantasy realm? Are there any real benefits to creating a fantasy realm? Why would I need to create a fantasy realm when there are so any billions of REAL places to write about?

Creating a fantasy realms is fun. For many the act of creating a fantasy realm is so fun and becomes so time consuming that they never get anything written down story wise. This a very common problem, especially with writers of High Fantasy and Science Fiction, where the realms are inherently more fantastical than realms one would find say in Romance or Westerns.

All to often authors will get hung up on drawing fashion designed, charting maps, inventing new languages, writing recipes, building cities, and setting up government systems that they forget the reason they were doing this was to write a story.

The problem is compounded when writers can not tell the difference between creating a fantasy realm and writing a story. Charles Dickens was famous for this, Tolkien had this problem and so does Stephen King. It's the reason why everybody buys every Tolkien and Stephen King book they see, but than never actually reads though to the end of the book.

Tolkien and King are both great storytellers and fabulous world builders, however, their stories always end up being 200 to 400 pages longer than needs be, because they simply can not stop describing every detail of every branch on every tree, every wrinkle on every face, every caw of every crow, every word of every song every character signs while they are at the tavern, every detail of every person sitting at every table in the tavern...they just go on and on and on and the reader can't stop asking "So when are we gonna get back to the story? I know the Hobbits are signing, I know the tavern is crowded, why is he telling me every word of the song, are the lyrics giving me hidden clues about the Ring? Why is he describing all these dwarfs and elves, will they ever be seen again outside of the tavern?"

No, and No.

The song lyrics are nice and we are all glad Tolkien had such a song writing talent, but the song lyrics have no bearing on the plot at all, and removing them could easily have cut 50 to 80 pages of utterly pointless text. And the Hobbits only meet one person in the tavern who will be a character the reader needs to be aware of, so a simple "the tavern was filled to the gills with patrons of every race and size" would easily have sufficed and cut another 15 to 20 page of pointless text. There is no reason why the Lord of the Rings need be longer than 200 pages and yet, it tops out at just under 800 pages, because Tolkien could not tell the difference between story telling and world building.

This is an important thing for you the writer to be aware of this when writing your story. Sure, you want to weave in details and let your reader know facts about the world your characters live in, but not at the expense of story flow.

When you sit down to write your story, think about this. If you find yourself writing page after page of detailed descriptions about what color the leaves are this time of year, stop an ask yourself is there any reason the reader NEEDS to know this?

If your characters is describing every ripple of the river, ask yourself "Do I really want to bore my readers the same way Charles Dickens did?"

If you really feel it is important for readers to know every detail of the world then write a reference book to sell with your story an let the readers go look stuff up on their own.

But than, one thing to ask yourself is: Do I NEED to create a world at all? Unless you are writing High Fantasy or Space Opera, you very likely have no real reason to create a fantasy realm at all.

In a Western, you'll only need a single town or group of towns. In a Romance you'll likely only need a single neighborhood or even only a single house, and at most 4 characters.

For MOST stories creating a fantasy realm may be as simple as visiting a local state park or Googling a tourist town and making note of what they look like, who's there and changing the names. If your characters living in a fishing village, drive to the nearest port and make notes of the locals, the location of buildings, and the workings of the lobster boats, than give them all new names and your down and ready to write your story.

Or you could do what I do: head to Art.com or AllPosters.com and look at the landscape prints. Just look at the mill print here. ---> (NOTE added April 4, 2017 - Art.com no longer does affiliate links to posters so the original pictures that appeared here in 2006 are removed)

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I could easily come up with several stories set here at this mill, without any need to create anything more than a history of the mill.

Now I'm not telling you not to do massive detailed world building. If that's what you want to do, than by all means do it. I'm simply pointing out that it's not essential for every story. I point this out because, often I'll receive emails saying:

"You build such detailed worlds for your characters. I could never do that. I don't think I'll ever be a writer. It discourages me because I want to write this story but I'm not good at world building."

My point is, yes, you can build worlds as big and as detailed as you want, but you don't have to feel obligated to build worlds in order to write a story.


This article was originally written on: April 2006

This page was added to EelKat.com: November 2013

This page last updated on: April 2017

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