Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fantasy Writing - The Setting

The Fantasy world can be on any world, in any climate, but invariably the classic form of an agrarian landscape, free of manufactured pollution comes to mind. Popular demands tend to prefer the simple lifestyle of pre-industrial society. Understandably, we seek to escape back to the good old days, so writers make use of the Arcadian idyll where life has the ability to be perfect.

Fantasy writers create worlds using their own style and voice. The process follows a path of logic. Even within similar fantasy settings, distinct points of diversity set scenarios apart. Carefully chosen words change the flavor of the backdrop. This backdrop establishes components that make up everything from authority structures, belief systems and even the geography of the landscape. These details lay the groundwork for a Pre-modern society and culture. Environment, learned behaviors, social organizations and beliefs all influence this culture. Adding culture gives the characters a structure within which to make choices, take sides and interact.


In a pre-modern fantasy world, religion is often tied in with government structure. In such a culture, laws reflect the religion's belief in right and wrong. For example, if the religion believes it is wrong to speak of those who have died, it would not be uncommon to find a law in the fantasy world that enacts punishment if one of its citizens speaks of the dead.

Religion can be based on superstition or reality. The fun of writing fantasy is that the writer can create a bizarre belief system as long as it makes sense within the plot and fantasy characters' lives.


Every fantasy contains some element of magic. It's part of what makes the world work. It doesn't have to be called magic, but the element must exist. Unlike Science Fiction, the magic in fantasy is not based on science but on a form of mystical magic that still must make sense to the reader. A base line of how and why it works must be drawn.

In my novel Windwalker, an ancient necklace holds healing properties. The history of the magical properties is passed from generation to generation through the oral telling of history. However, the magic of the necklace only works for characters from a specific bloodline. It's not called a magic necklace, but readers not only understand its powers, but also know when it will work and when it won't.


Language reflects origins. Fantasy writers develop different regions and languages for only one reason--to bring the two cultures together in some fashion within the plot.

Does your fantasy world have one language or more? Learning to communicate is a vehicle for character growth. Fantasy characters that survive a hostile environment only to find one other survivor that can't speak their language adds elements of conflict while forcing the two characters to work together.


Who is in power? How did they get to this place of prominence? When developing a pre-modern fantasy world, government plays an important role. Without structure, every character is free to do what is right from their point of view. However, if the government treats its citizens unfairly, it opens the door to a power struggle on some level. How the quest for justice develops and what it involves will depend on the government's structure. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

bullet Are indigenous people ruled by outsiders or enemies?
bullet Do settlements or colonies populate the fantasy world?
bullet How is the country, state or area divided?
bullet Is the government a democracy with rights exercised by the people?
bullet Are representatives elected?
bullet Is the government a monarchy?
bullet Does a patriarch or matriarch sit on the throne?
bullet Is there only one kingdom or several friendly or rival kingdoms?

Get Started Writing Fantasy

These basic elements will get you started. Plan to set aside time to write each day to develop the habit of writing. Have fun, take a class and hone your skill.Take a moment and pop over to epress-online blog and you can get a preview of my novel Windwalker.

My second young adult fantasy, Beyond the Fifth Gate, is due out in September. I'll keep you all posted.

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