Fantasy World-building

The Astor Chronicles, by Amanda Greenslade, is set in the magical world of Chryne, a world most easily compared with medieval times, though there are several important differences.

  1. Women are treated as equals (except by the antagonists).
  2. There is a level of consciousness or spirit realm called "the waves" which can be used for communication and warfare.
  3. Some of the believers of two deities on Chryne are endowed with magical abilities, most of which centre around the waves.
  4. The majority of the population are polytheist, however the main characters are theists (followers of one of the deities).
  5. Sentient animals (Rada-kin) are common throughout most of Chryne and their masters are sought-after for the work they and their animals can do.
  6. A race of chimera-like beasts called skyearls have a magical ability to fly and create gravity-defying platforms in the sky.
  7. In certain realms the presence of sentient animals and skyearls gives them an advantage over other realms where technology is not sufficiently developed for the same possibilities in architecture, warfare and communication.
  8. Disease is rare, healing is enhanced by spiritual magic and pain killing agents are common, so lifetimes generally last about 80 years. One group is also able to extend this time by cohabiting with the spiritual minions of one of the deities.

Click here to view large version of Chryne map.

(special thanks to Evelyn Doyle for help with its design)

The realm of Tanza, inspired by the incredible karst towers of Guangxi province, China.

Read more about Book One Talon
Read more about Book two Tanza

What is world-building?

When you write fiction there is a world within your story that is totally unique. This world may be based on the world around you, or it might be full of aspects from Earth’s history or made-up elements. World-building in novels is like setting the stage and the backdrops for a play, except you generate the look and feel of your world through words.

World-building happens naturally for some writers, and is a product of their own experiences, creativity and other books and media they’ve consumed. For others, world-building is a calculated and carefully-planned effort. Whether you set out to world-build or it happens naturally as part of your writing many drafts, it will include decisions about:

  • Where the story is set—what country, city, buildings, outdoors, vehicles etc.
  • What time period it is set in, or what similar Earth time-periods are you drawing from as inspiration
  • What social, cultural and religious structures exist in the world?
  • Politics—who is in power and what type of society to the characters live in?
  • What technology exists? What are the rules and laws for it?
  • What magic exists? What are rules and laws for it?

Once I have generated an idea for a world I like to create a map. That way, as I write, I can be consistent and logical with the number of hours or days it takes to travel from place to place. And I have an understanding, even if my characters or my readers don’t yet, of where the different political groups are located and where the story is heading. In epic fantasy this is even more important, as you tend to have realms warring with each other over religion, resources or land title. The position of these realms and their cities and resources is an important aspect of believability in epic fantasy.

World-building activity for grade 6+

Materials:

  • 1 sheet of cardboard, eg. thin cardboard packaging or a sheet of card purchased at a stationery store
  • Paint
  • Black markers

Instructions:

Come up with your own world map—do not use any characters or ideas straight from your favourite games, books or TV shows—be creative.

Start by painting the shape of the land in pale yellow or green. Paint the rest of the cardboard blue or blue-green for the ocean.

Add features and colours to your land to suit the world you wish to create. Some ideas:

  • Forests of darker green
  • Mountains of black, grey or white
  • Deserts of yellow or orange
  • Rivers and lakes of blue or brown

Feel free to use a colour scheme to suit your taste, and icons instead of realistic top-down views of landscapes. If you do want to make a top down view you might like to use a computer or tablet and refer to Google Earth app.

Next add human settlements, political markers and human embellishments to your map,referring to cartography throughout history (the art of map-making). Some ideas:

  • cities or markers and names of cities
  • dotted lines for borders between realms, states, provinces etc.
  • roads
  • map embellishments such as legend, a compass rose, inset boxes with information, borders and illustrations etc.

 

Creative writing activity for grade 6+

Materials:

  • The world map you created during the World-building activity above
  • A computer with Microsoft Word

Instructions:

Now that you've come up with an interesting world, it's time to invent some characters and a storyline to go on adventures in your world.

It's up to you which you work on first. Sometimes if you come up with a couple of intriguing characters then a story idea soon follows. Or perhaps you are the kind of writer who likes to plan out the story and plot first, then come up with characters to best tell the story.

It may help to follow the classic story-telling structure you will have been taught to use since grade 1:

  1. Orientation: set the scene, tell us about the status quo, let us get interested in the characters and intrigued by a hint of something about to go wrong in the world you have built...
  2. Complication: let the troubles come, whether it is an enemy army approaching, a plague breaking out, people disappearing, a crime being committed, someone getting lost.
  3. Climax: Towards the end of your story, increase the pressure on the heroes. Let the complication, troubles and difficulty become so demanding that the reader cannot stop reading. Let your reader start to believe that something terrible is going to happen!
  4. Resolution: Find some way to ease the pressure, such as the enemy being defeated, or the lost people being found.

  5. ADVANCED: Or, if you're looking for an extra challenge, come up with a way to resolve the conflict in your story that doesn't follow the typical pattern. For example, your resolution could be a cliff-hanger, a twist or resolve the major complication while introducing a new challenge. The trick is to let your reader feel that pressure ease, feel like the story has been resolved or at least come full circle, but without being a stereotypical storybook ending.

Questions:

What if I can't come up with any characters?
If you have done the world-building activity first you'll have some idea of the setting. For example is this an Earth-based story or something set on another world? Is it set in modern times, historical times or futuristic times? Once you know your setting, ask yourself what kinds of people or creatures would have been around, what would be interesting to read about, what would you find fun to write about?

If you're still struggling for ideas, it might be a good idea to get into a group and do some brainstorming for characters and plots that might suit the world you have created.

How long should your story be?
Anything from 1,000-3,000 words is a good length for a short story. Or if you are intending to write something longer just check with your teacher first, as he or she will be the one who has to find time to read your masterpiece!

What should I do with my story after the first draft is written?
Read it through yourself a few times, make some corrections, then show it to a trusted friend or family member. When it is ready, hand it in to your teacher or facilitator.

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Amanda Greenslade discusses her latest works and anything else of interest. This includes children, children's books, ebooks, writing, editing and publishing, fantasy, science fiction, creativity, graphic design, website design, technology, the Internet, animals, science and more!

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