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So you want to start writing fantasy. That's cool, I envy you, for starting out is often the most exhilarating part of creating and inhabiting your own world. Whether you're writing for a novel you plan to publish, or for a game such as Dungeons & Dragons, this series on how to write fantasy will hopefully offer at least some assistance in your quest for achieving great writing. In this piece, I am going to outline what I see to be the basics of writing fantasy. Walk with me traveller, for this is a journey that will benefit us both.
Before you start planning a new world, I cannot stress enough the benefit of a physical notebook, and some sharp pencils. It allows you the freedom to really think, and you can easily get it out whenever a great idea strikes you. Of course, once you have solidified a great idea in your notebook, it should always be backed up onto a laptop or some such device. With this momentary insult to your intelligence in the back of our minds, let us venture forth.
Perhaps the most important place to start, in my eyes, is to know the type of fantasy you're aiming for. Do you want the high fantasy swords and sorcery of Lord of the Rings, the brutal, cold medieval vibe of Game of Thrones, or the witty and whimsical Discworld feel? These all undeniably have benefits, but they all offer various pitfalls, and it should be a source of great thought before you begin with the creation of your world. We'll cover this in Part 2.
Once you've decided what type of fantasy style you are going to be writing, the next step I would take is to come up with some place names. It doesn't have to be every name for every place, it doesn't even have to be most names, but when I begin working on a new world I will make a list of the world name, any continents/islands, any countries, and one or two major destinations you may already have in your head. If you don't have any in your head that's fine, we shall cover that at some point as well. The advantage of planning place names is they give you something material to pin notes on, and they let you develop the feel of the place you're aiming for. Needless to say, if the huge castle in which the arch enemy of your entire storyline sits is called Honeysuckle Keep, you're probably in need of a bit more help than I can give. Or very funny. That is also a possibility. Also, with regards name-creation, if you are really stuck you can always take names from a fantasy name generator and edit them. My personal favourite is Don Jon fantasy name generator, the link for which is here.
Next, think about aesthetic. This is one of my favourite parts of worldbuilding, and I could literally do this for hours. Think of a place in your world, say for the sake of example the capital city of a country. Then make a quick note of the vibe you want the place to bring to your work. Is it a light, happy, and bubbly place, or is it a dark, sinister, and evil one? Once you have made up your mind, I would recommend trawling through pages of fantasy concept art and film stills, building little bits of aesthetic from parts you find attractive. I have taken little elements from video-games, films, books, and google image results for fantasy concept art. These are so valuable as they give you a real visual to draw from and add into your work, giving extra flavour to your audience's experience of the world you have created. Good ways to do this are Pinterest, which lets you save images to boards to use as reference later on, or just good old Google Images.
After this, I tend to draw a map. This map may never be seen by anyone other than you, or it may be on the first page of your blockbuster novel, but whatever its ultimate fate, a well-drawn map is invaluable to the actual act of creating a world. It allows you to think about geography, and the way this affects the land, as well as letting you place your cities, towns, villages, and other areas. Once a map is drawn, I tend to get a real buzz. This is my world, and there it is, no longer just in my head along with my imaginary friends and the useless knowledge retained from school such as the function of Mitochondria, but actually on paper. It's a good feeling. Trust me.
Now I know what you're thinking. I haven't mentioned characters, or actual storylines. No, I haven't. These are very much the final things I come to when building a new world, as they are not the world, they are a series of events that happen inside it. If you build a world around a pre-existing storyline, you run the risk of missing certain things that make the world more believable. However, if you place a story inside a pre-existing world, it becomes more believable immediately. So characters last, once the world is made. I like to call this my Seventh Day, when all the other hard stuff is done, I can sit back and make some characters. Just none called Adam or Eve. Bit cliché.
I hope this has gone some way to helping, and if this gets any views at all, I shall continue with this series with Part 2 - Choosing your Fantasy Type. Happy writing folks, and remember me on your travels!